What is ‘slow tourism’?
‘Slow tourism’ is first and foremost a state of mind. It’s a form of travel where we take the time to savour each moment, discover little details, get to know locals….and potter around doing all the other things which do not typically form part of a surface-level, whistle-stop tour of a place.
Slow tourism is what you should put into practice on the Opal Coast in Northern France! It’s a region perfectly suited to it.
If there is one thing we have learned from these last two years, it’s that the simple things make a huge difference to our well-being. The freedom to spend time with family, loved ones, nature. Many of us have come to have a new appreciation of walks in the fresh air and opportunities to meet up with family or loved ones.
Slow tourism is about taking this state of mind on holidays. Enjoying the things that are important, reconnecting with others. But above all, reconnecting with nature and what surrounds us. Taking the time to breathe, to think, to settle, to cut ourselves off from our hectic daily lives. To be at one with to our natural environment.
The Opal Coast will allow you to apply this ‘slow attitude’. Read on to learn about all that it can offer you: the activities to experience, the idyllic settings to discover and more.
Breathe the sea air of the Opal Coast
The Opal Coast is in northern France, running for 120 kilometres south from the Belgian border and home to endless sandy beaches, the longest one in France among them. It got this name because of the chalky stone cliffs and sandy beaches found there, which reflect the sun to create an opalesque light. Impressionist painters such as Monet and Manet loved this soft opal light and rendered it famous through their many artistic impressions of it.
If we had to select just one thing that will make you feel good during your break on the Opal Coast, it is breathing in this gorgeous, relaxing light and the brisk sea air. Walk the miles of beaches, but also take advantage of the opportunity to just sit back, listen to the sound of the waves and seagulls, feast your eyes on the sands and the cliffs and breathe. And, of course, paddle and build sandcastles, if you’re holidaying with young kids!
Also take advantage of your visit to the Opal Coast to get to learn new things and activities. For example, ‘sand yachting’! All you need is a little wind, low tide and an interest in thrills. It is a nautical activity that is perfect to do with your family because it’s accessible to all. It is also great fun. Contact the sailing clubs of Wimereux, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Le Touquet, Berck-sur-Mer or Merlimont.
1 – The must-see beaches on the Opal Coast
Here is our list of the must-see places on the Opal Coast for a ‘slow tourism’ holiday. Read on to discover and enjoy the most beautiful beaches of the northern France coast.
Bray-Dunes is a must. The beautiful National Nature Reserves of the Dune Marchand and the Perroquet will take your breath away. Moreover, its unique geographical position, being the northern point of France, makes it well worth a visit!
Le Platier d’Oye
In winter, we suggest you to visit the platier d’Oye which is both a polder and a bird sanctuary. Each year, about 230 species of birds stop over there, during their winter migration. You will also find a protected reserve of 391 hectares of exceptional fauna and flora.
Cap Blanc-Nez and Cap Gris-Nez together are one of the 13 national tourist highlights labeled “Grands Sites de France”. Cap Blanc-Nez is one of the jewels of the Opal Coast, which attracts many tourists every year to admire its striking chalk sea cliffs. Hiking along the top of the cliffs is popular: there is an established 6.5km route called the Cap Blanc-Nez loop which should be on your list if you like walking.
As for the Cap Gris-Nez – the closest point between France and England – it is differentiated by its sandstone and clay cliffs. Its lighthouse is also registered as a Historic Monument. Waymarked paths will allow you to explore the area, ranging from an easy 3km loop of the Cap Gris-Nez to the more challenging GR120 hiking trail or the Customs Officers trail.
The Slack Dunes
These dunes represent a superb preserved natural spot. Located between Wimereux and Ambleteuse, they are among the walks not to be missed on the Opal Coast. For a family walk past ponds, dunes and beaches, we recommend the Saint Jean Bay loop, starting from Wimereux (4 hours) or the Slack loop, starting from the Pointe aux Oies carpark (2.5 hours). Bright-eyed, worn-out children with pockets full of shell treasures guaranteed by the end of the day!
2 – The towns and villages to visit to soak up the culture and architecture
Reserve time to discover the charming towns and villages of the Opal Coast. Walk or cycle around them to best enjoy the green spaces, unique architecture and charm of their narrow streets. Take a breath, sit back and relax.
Discover the fort of the village of Ambleteuse, featured in the works of Vauban. Its wall dates from the 17th century.
Find out why this is one of the most visited fishing villages of the Opal Coast. Its streets lined with low houses with coloured shutters give it a unique character that you will love. Fishermen’s paths allow you to go back in time and discover the ancient fishing traditions of the village. At nightfall, from the beach, you can watch the return of the fishermen of today.
This charming seaside resort is located less than 10 kilometres from Boulogne-sur-Mer. It is a popular place for families and tourists from Northern Europe. You will find that it has a really charming waterfront with Anglo-Norman style houses.
Take a walk in the old town here, to discover the beautiful mix of styles of its varied heritage. Alongside the medieval buildings, you will see a castle and belfry dating from the 13th century. The Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and the Imperial Palace are more contemporary. Walk in the English and Renaissance gardens here and gaze upon the lake of mirrors.
Le Touquet or Le Touquet-Paris-Plage
This seaside resort on the Opal Coast is the best known in the Haut de France region and is famous for its Art Deco facades and 12 kilometre long beach which extends to Berck-sur-Mer. You can discover 31 iconic sites of architectural heritage and history. 20 of them are listed in the Inventory of Historical Monuments. If there is one must-see, it is the Bay of Canche Nature Park. A natural reserve of 45 hectares that you can discover on foot or by bike. During low tide, you might see seals.
3 – The waterside trails to follow
Apart from the beach, there are many ways to walk along the water. Along a canal, a river or a marsh. By walking, on a barge, on horseback etc. You will be able to walk in the open air in several ways.
The Audomarois Marshes
40 minutes from Calais, the Audomarois Marsh is one of the must-see places on the Opal Coast. This labyrinth of water and nature is a unique site that covers over 3,700 hectares. It is the last marsh of this size still cultivated today. We advise you to opt for a boat trip on the waterways to make the most of this marsh. However, you can also use the hiking trails to discover the magnificent vegetation.
Take a canoe trip on the Canche River. This place known for its abundance of trout and salmon is a small piece of paradise for canoeing or kayaking fans. Head to the valley of the Canche, and at the canoe kayak club of Beaurainville (only 25 minutes from Berck-sur-Mer) rent a canoe to paddle the 9 km from Guisy to Beaurainville.
Enjoy the charm of the fortified town and its scenic surrounds which inspired Victor Hugo for Les Misérables. Take advantage of two different hiking trails along the canals and the Canche River, with a breathtaking view of the ramparts: the Portus, a nice 5 km long path, and Les Pyroles, 10 km long. We suggest a boat ride on the Canche when you visit Petit Quentovic.
4 – Take a hack through this rider’s paradise
Whatever the season, the Opal Coast is a real joy for horse lovers. There are lots of possible itineraries allowing you to discover local treasures on horseback: from the coastline to the forests and the Audomarois marsh. You will be amazed by the diversity of landscapes you travel through.
The Opal Coast has many approved equestrian centres offering different horseback activities. You’ll find Equestrian Centres in the following spots :
Watincthun (Cap Gris Nez)Berck-sur-MerTouquet and Paris-PlageWimereux
Accommodation for a ‘slow tourism’ experience in the Opal Coast
There is nothing like camping to relax and really cut yourself off from your daily life. Staying in a campsite will allow you to re-find yourself and enjoy the simple things, while surrounded by nature and beautiful landscapes. Depending on your needs, you can choose a campsite with more or less facilities. Here is our selection of great campsites in Haut de France.