Travel: Discover the Opal Coast

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The Opal Coast (Côte d’Opale) is situated on a 120km long coast, starting from the Belgian border and ending at Baie de Somme. It offers wonderful beaches, lovely castles, astonishing architecture and delicious food. It is ‘opal’ by no accident – it is so named because of the beautiful interplay of blue and grey in the sea. There are also long green meadows surrounded by enchanted small villages full of white houses.

The Opal Coast is part of the Pas de Calais region which is quite popular for tourists because of its ideal location for short breaks from the UK and Benelux countries, including Belgium. Its breathtaking coastline and cuisine will make you fall in love with the region. There are many rural seaside resorts alongside with bigger cities and they all have an amazing atmosphere. Happily, they are all close to each other so you will have time to have a taste of a few.

Calais is the largest city in the region and has astonishing cathedrals, towers and forts and of course a lovely beach. Boulogne-sur-Mer was the major Roman port for trade and communication with Britain. There, you can see the famous Basilica of Notre-Dame cathedral, with a dome standing at over 100m. Ask Pas de Calais Tourisme if you need advice for a group trip. www.pas-de-calais-tourisme.com

What to do on the Opal Coast: In Boulogne-sur-Mer, your first stop should be Nausicaā Centre National de la Mer. The public aquarium is dedicated to the relationship between mankind and the sea. Once you go in, you will be immersed in the underwater world. Walking through the themed sections, you will sometimes see sharks under your feet, which is less intimidating knowing they are inside the aquarium. You can see how different species are being fed and hear from professionals more about them.

The highlight is watching the feeding of the sea lions. They have their own big pool with a theatre built around it for the audiences. The sea lions are introduced one by one and they enter the pool as if they are the stars of show. They jump around happily, respond to their own names, recognize shapes such as rectangles and most importantly are rewarded for each correct answer.

Amberjacks Route is mind-blowing, a diamond-shaped aquarium that is placed above your head. It is a magical room where you feel like you’re swimming next to them and the amberjacks are magnificent and far bigger than you could ever have expected. At the end of the tour, you will see a small village of penguins and you can stare for hours at how they communicate with each other.

Nausicaā is not all about the beauty of the underwater; it also raises public awareness about the need to manage the oceans andtheir resources in a sustainable way. The team offers a multimedia library, films, temporary exhibitions and other ways designed to improve our understanding of the issue. www.nausicaa.fr

After that, head to Audinghen and rent a bike with electric assistance from Maison du Site des Deux Caps. Enjoy the coastal bike road which is 23 km long and most of it is car-free. You will adore the view so stop and take photos of the landscapes. Of course, you can hire a bike without electric assistance if you want to burn some more calories. However, there are quite a few hills on the way, so the assistance can be handier than you think. You can hire the bike for a half or a full day so you do a small part of the route and chill on the beach in the breaks.

If you are not into biking you can try some Nordic walking. Walk energetically around the beautiful region with the help yourself of the two poles. The Maison du Site offers a course for beginners so that you can be prepared for some new experience. Take your time and enjoy the view, you may be able to see the English coastline on the horizon, especially at Cap Gris-Nez. www.lesdeuxcaps.fr

Your next stop is Calais, where Cité Internationale de la Dentelle et de la Mode de Calais traces the history of lacemaking in an innovative way. It is built in an authentic 19th century lace factory and the front entrance thematically resembles a huge perforated card. The city traces the history of lace, from manual production to the most contemporary creations. You can go back to the years of the industrial revolution by watching how a century-old mechanical loom is still working according to instructions provided by perforated cards. www.cite-dentelle.fr

Where and what to eat on the Opal Coast: French cuisine plus seafood makes the region a gourmet heaven. Not only that – the desserts and wines are also unforgettable. If you have completed most of the tours I mentioned above you will feel less guilty about eating like today is the end of the world.

Restaurant L’ilotvert combines lovely modern design with ‘bistonomique’ cuisine. It is in the heart of Boulogne-sur-Mer, a stone’s throw from the cathedral Notre Dame. The menu is not that long but I believe every dish is as delicious as the ones I tried. The highlight is the magnificent filet de Canette rôti.

Go local and visit Restaurant La Marie Galante which is situated near the sound of the waves. It is a small fisherman’s house a stone’s throw from the sea. The restaurant is typical for Audresselles and you can enjoy the best local dishes.

Restaurant La Chaloupe is in Wissant and specalizes in seafood. Try the wonderful Filet de Dorade and enjoy the great wine. The atmosphere is lovely and the design of the restaurant very welcoming.

Where to stay on the Opal Coast: Les Argousiers is a fairytale hotel just a 10-minute walk from the beach of Ambleteuse and its Fort Vauban. The hotel offers a relaxing atmosphere with beautiful bedrooms. It’s the ideal place to recharge your batteries after completing the long tours and trying all the lovely dishes. The breakfast is wonderful so the morning will be as good as the rest of the day.