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Boulogne-sur-Mer, northern France Years ago, when Boulogne-sur_mer was open to ferries from the UK, the town was a popular day trip destination. It was often the first French port of call (scuse the pun) for school kids. Its boulangeries inspired a lifelong love of French cakes and bread for millions of children subjected to ready sliced flavourless bread in plastic bags and sticky buns which whilst tasty, simply can’t compare with a jewel-like strawberry tarte. Coachloads of pensioners were disgorged in the car park of Auchan hypermarket and then let loose in the town to cram into smelly cheese shops and wander the market. Those with grand ambitions to drive south in search of the sun, disembarked from the ferry and stopped off in the town for a spot of shopping. However its ease of access somehow made Boulogne less valued than some French towns. Despite its historic centre, cobbled streets and ancient buildings. Its marvellous market, wonderful shops, delicious restaurants, great bars and cafés. Long sandy beaches where you can pluck mussels for your tea and roam the cliff tops full of poppies, climb Napoleon’s column, explore ancient forts, museums and cultural sites. And Nauiscaa, France’s National Sea Centre, the biggest aquarium in Europe. When the ferry route from Boulogne to the UK stopped. So did the tourists. The town suffered. Shops were no longer full of Brits ooh’ing and ah’ing over Maroilles, the local stinky cheese. The queue at the chateau museum on a rainy day had gone. The restaurants were no longer full to bursting with happy punters tucking into the local favourite – moules frites. But time has passed. And, things have changed.
Find real France Those who want their French fix without hours of driving, are discovering that Boulogne is a perfect day trip or weekend stopover. It’s very easy to get to. From Calais it’s just 20 minutes down the autoroute A16 (a toll-free part). And you'll find that Boulogne is a snapshot town of quintessential France. Perfect for those who love French food and wine, crave French culture and the café lifestyle – are discovering that this coastal city has it all: Medieval centre – check. Castle – check. Gorgeous countryside and beaches – check. Fabulous boulangeries and patisseries – check. Loads to do – check. And restaurants that you never want to leave because they’re so delicious – check. Which brings me to La Matelote, a Michelin Star restaurant that’s been shining a light on French gastronomy for more than 40 years. La Matelote In the March 3, 1888 issue of the New York Times a journalist wrote of “a galaxy of Gallic femmes a barbe”, ladies with beards, and of their popularity in France. In fact, so popular was the look that some women took to wearing fake beards and whiskers. In Boulogne-sur-Mer in the far north of France, one of the most famous of bearded ladies was Clémence Lestienne. Born Clémence Clarisse in 1834, she was known as much for the sweet treats she sold at markets in northern France as she was known for her looks. By the time she was 16 it was said that no one could compete with her gingerbread.
Author Michael C Higgins, PhD explo
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