Thursday, 21 October 2010

France 2010, Hardelot Plage

There was much better weather the next morning so after breakfast we were in no particular rush to leave the cottage and stayed around the garden and entertained Molly before taking a slow walk along the village lanes to see the farm animals. Camille spotted us and came outside to say bonjour and then insisted on a guided tour of his garden with its immaculate vegetable plot overflowing with plump ripe produce. He couldn’t speak a word of English but he explained in great detail what everything was and how best to prepare, cook and eat it. I could follow some of this by picking out the odd familiar schoolboy French word but to be honest most of it was just a rapid Gallic blur.

Molly had no interest in the vegetables but she liked it when he took us into an outhouse to introduce us to his pet rabbit (I like to think it was a pet and not just being fattened for the pot) and a scruffy white dove in a tiny cage and she was very reluctant to leave. I had to bribe her out with a walk around the poultry pens and a quick lesson in bird identification. I knew that having seen it she wasn’t going to forget that rabbit and sure enough we had to visit the thing every day after this until the end of the holiday.

Mid morning and Richard and I went to the nearest supermarket about fifteen kilometres away and took Molly so that the girls could get ready for a trip to the sea and with the sun shining we planned to return to the beach but this time to visit the nearby resort of Hardelot in between Le Touquet and Boulogne. Richard and I had played golf there a couple of years ago but we had never visited the beach before.

To get there required a cross country journey through a succession of small towns and villages along narrow roads meandering through undulating countryside with golden fields of freshly cut hay contrasting with and harmonising perfectly against the rich green meadows with their herds of lazy grazing cattle. We reached the larger town of Dannes next to a series of ugly clay quarries carved thoughtlessly out of the countryside and then picked up the approach road to Hardelot and the beach.

Like most of this coastline Hardelot is lined with a ribbon of attractive white sand dunes decorated with wispy tufts of grass and facing out to the sea but what makes this place especially attractive is a six hundred acre forest immediately behind the coast line. In 1905, an Englishman, Sir John Whitley, who had already developed the resort of Le Touquet, bought huge amounts of this land and immediately set about developing Hardelot as a new and fashionable resort with an aspiration to create a world centre of excellence for sports. A number of new villas were built on the seafront and in the pine forests by the famous architect Louis-Marie Cordonnier, a friend of John Whitley, who designed these vast and unique villas that today characterize the small town.

We parked the car in a side street next to the tall villas with their wooden verandas and brightly painted woodwork and walked to the beach through immaculate open spaces and well maintained streets and I was struck with something that makes Hardelot stand out from other places in France and that was the total absence of dog shit and for once we didn’t need to be careful where we walked. Mostly in France they don’t mind offensive canine poops spread all over the pavements for people to step in and slip on but here they keep this place really clean and I was pleased to see signs on the promenade that made it clear that dogs were definitely not welcome in Hardelot.

Before going to the beach we found a restaurant with pavement tables on the edge of the promenade and as Molly was fast asleep we decided not to disturb her and stop and have a drink. Only one drink mind you because one thing that never ceases to amaze me is the bar and restaurant prices in France. There seems no real logic to it – Richard and I had a 30cl bottle of beer and each one cost €3.5 but I can buy six bottles of the same beer in Carrefour for just a few cents more and these excessive charges must result in hundreds of lost customers. I certainly won’t use the bars in France as much as I would, say, in Spain or Greece.

After Molly woke we spent an hour or so on the immaculately clean beach (surprisingly not Blue Flag) and Molly built some more sand castles and decorated them with shells in between paddling in the unexpectedly warm sea and running about on the firm hard sand. But the weather began to change as clouds swooped in from the west and took the sun away and with a stiff breeze blowing it was turning chilly so we decided to call it a day and return inland where the sun was still shining.

Getting out of Hardelot proved a lot more difficult than getting in and two or three wrong turns meant that we ended up in an unfamiliar location and we had to fumble our way along the narrow lanes trying to find our way back to Longvilliers. It wasn’t that bad of course and we did get to enjoy some more views of the countryside on the way.

Back in the cottage garden where we were sheltered from the wind and the sun was still shining we drank beer and wine and ate afternoon snacks, Sally crafted a wasp trap to distract and catch the little critters that were bothering us, Richard selected logs for this evening’s barbeque and Molly played in her pool and kept us entertained with her antics. It was a lovely garden overlooking Camille’s well stocked vegetable plot and with plenty of space to run about and play in. We were beginning to like this place more and more.

In the evening we did almost the same as the previous night with another fine meal outside under the stars, played some card games and the chit-chatted our way through a few bottles of strong lager and proceeded to the gin and tonic. Sometime just before midnight the alcohol took control and losing the power of coherent speech and the loss of essential muscle control which nearly led to a nasty accident while poking the logs on the fire I decided that enough was enough and retired to bed leaving Richard to straighten up the garden behind me.

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