The charming walled town of Montreuil is a perfect destination for a weekend away with its beautiful old houses and churches, its imposing ramparts and its cobbled streets - not to mention a good selection of restaurants and hotels. In fact its origins lie in Roman times when the sea ran up the estuary of the Canche as far as Montreuil. The first ramparts were built in the 9th Century by the Count of Ponthieu and in the 10th Century Montreuil rose to importance as the main sea port of the Capétiens. Like Arras, Montreuil was famous for its cloth industry from the 11th to the 13th centuries. The eight churches drew pilgrims from far and wide thanks to the relics of saints they held. The population grew to over 10,000 people and the royal castle of which only two towers remain today, was built in 1186, a charter having been granted by Philip Auguste. As the estuary silted up, the port fell silent and when finally the English took possession of the town, Montreuil emerged from the Hundred Years’ War in ruins. It was to suffer further when it was plundered by Henry XVIII of England and Charles V of Spain who laid siege but were rebuffed by the medieval walls. It fared less well in another siege in 1537 and finally succumbed to the plague in 1596.
Under Francois 1st, the town was recaptured and its fortifications modified and it subsequently became a major stronghold against the Spanish forces. In the reign of Louis XIV, Vauban strengthened and modernised the ramparts. However when the western flank of the Camp of Boulogne was installed in the town in 1837, the town regained a degree of importance, Marshals Soult and Ney making their headquarters there. Victor Hugo spent only one half day in Montreuil on the 4th September 1837 when he was on a voyage to the north with his mistress. Montreuil was immortalised by him when he decided to use it as the setting for “Les Miserables”. Every year it is performed in an outdoor ‘son et lumière’ at the end of July and beginning of August.
There are two museums in Montreuil. The Roger Rodière Museum in the 18th century hospital chapel has a collection of archeological pieces which chronicle the recent history of the town, as well as an impressive collection of funeral sculptures. The Hotel Acary has the ‘Musée de l’espoir de Franck et Mary Wooster’ in a property which Madame Wooster left to the commune on her death. There is a collection of furniture dating from the 18th–20th centuries and the architecture of the building is noteworthy too. From the ramparts you gain wonderful views of the surrounding countryside and just below them is the sleepy little riverside village of La Madelaine-Sous-Montreuil which also boasts a superb auberge/restaurant.
The 11th century Abbey of Saint-Saulve was built on the site of an even older monastery dedicated to Saint Walloy, founded by the Breton monks in the 10th century. Only the nave remains, the Imperialists having sacked the place in 1537, destroying the courtyard and the trancept. The Abbey is significant for the successful blend of Romanesque and gothic architecture which form one of the most beautiful ensembles of northern France. In the same square is the Chapelle de l’Hotel-Dieu, founded in 1200 by Gauthier de Maintenay and which retained its function as part of the hospital until 1992. Reconstructed under Napoleon the Third, this was followed by a restoration by Clovis Normand which only retained the flamboyant gateway of the 15th century. During the First World War, General Haig stationed his Headquarters in a chateau just outside Montreuil.
For a superb range of wine go to La Cave, Place Général de Gaulle, tel 03 21 86 20 21.
For Chocolate go to L'Atelier du Gôut in 9 rue Pierre Ledent, tel 03 21 86 41 44.
The 'Wine Society' has now moved from Desvres to the Courtyard behind Hotel Hermitage.
Visit the Wine society website
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Distance from Coquelles - Under an hour - 67 Kms (Approx)
Montreuil-sur-Mer Tourist Office, 21 rue Carnot, BP 13, 62170. Tel 0033 (0)3 21 06 04 27 / Fax 0033 (0)3 21 06 57 85
Copyright text : Sarah Francis
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