To the British, who are brought up on a culture of home-ownership and with a continuous supply of DIY and gardening programmes which are drip-fed to them via a plethora of television channels, many European towns may appear bland and characterless. With properties which often front straight onto pavements and windows shuttered tightly against prying eyes and either the sun or the cold, houses can appear austere and foreboding.
I am always curious (or perhaps that should be ‘downright nosy’) to know what goes on behind the facades and a quick peep or a more resourceful strain of the neck will often reveal pretty courtyards with colourful plants and tinkling fountains, ultra-modern designer kitchens or rabbit runs of corridors and polished wood or marble. Unlike the British who often feel the need to parade their accomplishments and possessions, the Europeans are generally not too concerned with displaying their homes and instead focus inwards.
Le Touquet bucks the trend. Sitting on the coast to the south of Calais this town is jam-packed full of beautiful buildings. I defy you not to gasp as you approach the town along long tree-lined avenues. Tantalising glimpses of the most amazing homes can be caught between the trees, or for an even better look, get out of the car and walk. Away from the edge of the road, smaller secondary pavements weave and dodge between shrubs and trees and swoop past manicured lawns. From these inner paths you can gaze freely at verandas, swimming pools, statues and turrets. Just as you think that you have found THE dream home, an even grander property comes into view.
The older buildings nearer to the town centre set a precedence when they were built. The Post Office is housed in an imposing mustard yellow stone building, designer shops jostle alongside a huge array of delicatessens and the market place has permanent stone tables tiled with pretty mosaic all ready for the traders to set up their stalls.
Even the smaller properties boast little wooden verandas or arched windows with multi-coloured shutters. On the promenade these quaint little buildings are being elbowed into the shadows by the inevitable rectangular apartment blocks, but if these bring holiday makers and money into the town we must forgive this minor intrusion..
The beach is MASSIVE. And windy. Land yachts nip along the huge expanse of sand and the wind whips up the fine sand, blasting it into bare legs and stinging the eyes. A few resilient souls lean into the gale force wind clutching their coats and jumpers tightly around them and strongly suspecting that no matter what time of the year they were to visit, the wind would still howl along that particular stretch of coastline.
I visited two establishments on my visit this time. One rather posh bar cum coffee shop which doesn’t deserve a name check here and the English Bar called Le Globe Trotter. On entering both places I checked that I would have access to Wifi (as I needed to work on my laptop). In the posh, lets charge silly money for a hot chocolate place in which the fawning proprietor assured me that I could use his Wifi, the waitress looked extremely puzzled when I complained that I couldn’t access the net and informed me that they had never had Wifi for customers. I didn’t feel quite so bad when I managed to throw the contents of my hot chocolate over their pristine linen table cloths and I certainly did not tip. Le Globe Trotter in contrast, had a lovely atmosphere and despite being themed as an English bar was really quite French. There was the old lady sat in the corner with her little dog and drinking her coffee, the men reading their newspapers with their beers and the bar man polishing glasses and listening to the radio. I sat there in my booth for nearly two hours, taking my time over a couple of beers, working on my computer and watching the wind howl up and down the street outside.