Our visit to this fortress village occurred during the winter of 2015/2016 when we had a three month housesit in Fruges, Northern France. For most people who nip across the English Channel, the northern French department of Pas de Calais is little more than a sprawling ugly port, a motorway and collection of hypermarkets.
There is so much more to this region than you may think.
Just 45 minutes’ drive south of Calais is the stunning medieval town of Montreuil-sur-Mer, the setting for part of Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables. Hugo himself spent many holidays in the village and fell in love with its charming character which dates back to the 9th century.
Much of this fortified town remains unchanged from the time of Hugo’s Jean Valjean. Montreuil-sur-Mer is built mostly inside grand ramparts which have for centuries been the scene of many wars and tragedies. Every year at the end of July, and the beginning of August, visitors get the unique opportunity to watch Les Misérables performed in an outdoor sound and light show.
The picture-perfect cobbled streets, lined by 17th century buildings make this town one of the most beautiful in Northern France. Though we explored in winter when patrons weren’t spilling out onto the cobblestones from fine restaurants and cafes, we could imagine it’s popularity during the warmer months.
To walk off those long lunches, there are grand churches, a 13th-century castle, views from the ramparts, two museums and interesting shops to explore. Another energy boost can be achieved by choosing some scrumptious and mouth-watering treats from the patisseries and chocolatier for your “le thé de l’après-midi”. We can recommend it, as we indulged in more than one or two chocolates. It would have been rude not too.
How could you not love a village that has a chocolatier on a prominent corner for all to see.
To stay longer than we did the village has a good range of hotels and even 300-year-old townhouses to rent.
Inside the walls are two pretty squares, one of which hosts a market on Saturday mornings with produce from the rural area. The market alone is well worth a trip over the ditch.
Despite the name, Montreuil-sur-Mer is no longer by the sea. It’s built on an estuary which has long since silted up. It is, however, only 20 minutes drive from the elegant seaside resort town of Le Touquet, which we visited on a few occasions. Which means both are doable for a day trip for an overdue potpourri of culture, intriguing history and finishing with a relaxing beach walk.