I’ve long been a fan of this coastal part of Northern France, partly because there are never too many tourists as they always hurry through. The cooking is always reliable, particularly at bistro level, and the stinky Marouilles cheese is one of my favorites.
The Côte d’Opale or Opal Coast stretches west from Calais along the English Channel and gets its name from the interplay of grey and blue, between sky and the sea. This is going to be my constant view for the next two days, with the white cliffs of Dover in the far distance.
Day 1: Calais to Wissant 21.5km, 5 hours
I arrive in Calais via Eurostar on a bright sunny afternoon. The weather is set fair and as I make my way to the beach I’m surprised to find it almost deserted, just a couple of dog walkers. I can make just make out the white cliffs of Dover as car ferries ply their way to and fro.
The tide is out so I make my way along the beach, on firm sand, passing numerous breakwaters.
After an hour, I reach Sangatte’s large radar mast and leave the beach to walk on a surfaced track on top of the newly renovated sea wall.
By now there are lots of people enjoying the morning sunshine, but I’m soon back on my own as I head off upwards into the countryside.
The views across the sea to the Kent cliffs are stunning, and the place is a magnet for tourists. I leave the crowds and pass more bunkers before descending to the beach. I can now make out the holiday resort of Wissant in the near distance and the other high point, Cap Gris Nez, far behind it.
It’s about another hour along the beach and I dodge kite surfers and wade shallow rivers before arriving at my destination.
Children are frolicking in the waves and the village is in full-blown holiday mode. Restaurants on the seafront promise Moules frite and platters of fruits de mer, but I settle for celebrating the end of my day’s hiking.
Day 2: Wissant to Boulogne 27.5 km, 6.5 hours
It’s another glorious morning and I set off early as I’ve more ground to cover today. My feet are slightly sore so I walk along the sand in bare feet, letting the salt salve my blisters. Hardy joggers and a couple of swimmers are my only companions and at the water’s edge tractors are buzzing around the mussel poles.
I’m aiming for Cap Gris-Nez so after an hour, leave the beach at La Sirène, climbing upwards through wildflowers towards the lighthouse. It’s visible for miles around and is an essential beacon for Channel shipping. I pass German bunkers as I follow the track down to sea level.
When I reach the shore, the track stays on the land, but there are still three hours before high tide so I prefer to walk on the beach. It’s slightly tricky as there are rocks and boulders to negotiate before I reach the small fishing village of Audresselles.