Target Le Touquet-Paris-Plage
"Sarkozy orders holidays at home!" ran the Le Figaro headline, reporting the French President's current veto of vacations abroad for his political troops. "What hardship!" we thought. From Dover on SeaFrance, we hurried across the Channel to share Elysee Ministerial privations. Of course we're joking, because no country on earth is more perfect for holiday-making than France.We targeted Le Touquet, not only synonymous with tourism but obligingly less than an hour from Calais on the celebrated Cote d'Opale - truly a Next County destination. Coincidentally, it was a former proprietor of Le Figaro, Hippolyte de Villemessant, who was responsible for launching Le Touquet as a resort in 1876.
Some place-names put a smile on your face and Le Touquet is one of them, with its enchanting mix of beach, sea, pine forests and its unique atmosphere, at once cosmopolitan and family-friendly. The very words conjure up an image of 30's glamour, of stars and Royals like Noel Coward, Marlene Dietrich, Duke of Windsor, Ian Fleming - all habitués of the resort and still drawing admiring glances. View them at the 4-star Westminster Hotel & Spa's Hall of Fame, where signed photos of celebrity guests are as much an attraction as fabulous Art Deco interiors, Michelin-starred restaurants and the famous oak-panelled English Bar. Enjoy a meal in the gastronomic restaurant "Le Pavillon" and its contemporary sister brasserie "Les Cimaises", under the excellent Chef, William Elliott, a descendant of a Canadian WW1 veteran who stayed put in France. Elliott favours local produce and freshly-caught seafood, including lobster, turbot, sea-bass, and works with local market-gardeners in his eclectic vegetarian dishes. Sole meuniere washed down by a white Bourgogne Aligote 2009 sent taste-buds orbiting.
The "West" is northern France's greatest luxury hotel, built on the site of a charming wood-built casino, and owes its name to the Duchess of Westminster, who sponsored the military hospital which was housed in the casino in the Great War. Built in 1924 and located in the heart of the most fashionable district of Le Touquet, it is close to the Palais de Congress and the beach, between sea, golf courses and pine forest. The hotel has 115 rooms/suites and is one of the last in a tradition of legendary destinations where service is attentive, discreet and efficient under the inspired stewardship of General Manager, Monsieur Grattepanche. The "West" contributes hugely to the fascinating history of the resort which next year celebrates its official Centenary as a municipality (when it added "Paris-Plage"), its fame soaring exponentially during "The Roaring 20's."
In fact, Le Touquet has a history well over 100 years. In 1855, Alphonse Daloz planted a pine forest in a desolate coast peopled only by wild animals. Now the La Foret Golf Course (one of three) charts its way through Daloz' trees, as do families on horseback, hiking or cycling, inhaling the fresh pine-scented coastal air. Today, this quintessentially chic resort offers fine hotels as well as affordable gites and B&B's, starting at less than 50 Euros per night. Golf, polo, swimming, sand yachting, sailing, horse racing, riding, tennis (hosts of Junior Davis Cup), Le Touquet deserves its Title for Paradise for Sports. This January's Endurospale, a world-class motorcycle and quad bike racing 2-day event, swelled Le Touquet's less than 6,000 population to over 100,000!
Here, for relaxation, too, you are spoiled for choice, with a selection of Thalasso Centres overlooking the sea, not to mention the ‘West' Spa, the epitome of glamour. Step into the foyer's birdcage lift, all wrought-iron and retro (the ladies might expect Cary Grant to be there waiting to whisk them to dinner) and travel down a floor below the Michelin-starred Restaurants and English Bar. The Spa is an ultra-modern creation of cool, natural colours, wood furniture and stone walls; a partnership with therapy specialists Nuxe, who have acclaimed Spas all over France. It features a Sauna and Jacuzzi plus a heated indoor pool decorated with 20s murals.
On offer are traditional therapies, as well as such novelty treatments as Ayurvedic and Californian massages and plant reflexology. A "Wellness for Men" programme features special Sports and Swedish massage. Treatment rooms are spacious and uncluttered, and there is even a Double Cabin, where couples can enjoy therapies together.
Chromotherapy lights give cool changing colours, while soft soothing music and heated massage tables ensure you float into a relaxed beauty sleep.. ahead of that date with Cary Grant!
SEAFRANCE: (0871 423 7119) www.seafrance.com/booking
LE TOUQUET TOURIST OFFICE: (00 33 321 06 72 00)
(FIGRA, March 23-27, 2011, International Festival of News Reporting)
WELLBEING SPECIAL OFFER
‘Romantic Getaway' 285 Euros for 2
1 night, glass champagne, 3-course Dinner Brasserie ‘Les Cimaises', B'fast
266 Euros for 2
1 night, Green Fees - other packages, meals/Spa - available upon request
THE WESTMINSTER HOTEL & SPA: (00 33 321 05 48 48)