Le Portel is an unexpected pleasure for the few foreigners who have found it! This little known resort practically within walking distance of the town of Boulogne has an enviable beach of fine golden sand which stretches for 1.5 kilometres and a 27 hectare park on the cliffs with a variety of lush vegetation. A perfect resort for families, this little corner of Paradise is a ‘Station Kid’ meaning it has been categorised as being particularly suitable for children – and has also won the ‘Trophée d’Acceuil’ or welcome trophy for the entire region of Nord-Pas de Calais. It also has a national label for tourism for handicapped people as well as having been awarded ‘three flowers’ for a town with many flowers. There are special ‘tiralos’ and the lifeguards are at the disposal of handicapped people to help them on these devices to enjoy the sea, provided a third person is present. This is one of the cleanest beaches of the Boulonais and received the ‘Pavillon Bleu d’Europe’ in 1997-98-99 (category A for swimming water). The sea washes almost all the beach daily, leaving a lovely firm expanse of sand, perfect for children to enjoy.
Le Portel is steeped in history - much of it from the Napoleonic period for it was then that Bonaparte built the Fort de l’Heurt in 1803 when preparing to invade England (a course of action he later abandoned after the defeat of the French navy at Trafalgar, preferring to turn his attentions to war with Prussia and Russia). The name originated from ‘Ile aux huîtres’ or island of oysters but over the years ‘huîtres’ evolved into Heurt. Nowadays, the island is the territory of the ‘mouliers’ or moules fishermen whose labours bring forth the wherewithal for many a sumptuous dinner in the local restaurants. Of the earlier history of Le Portel, very little is known. It first appeared in the records of the domaine de Boulogne in 1339 and in 1415 mention is made that the sailors at Le Portel-Plage were engaged in looking after the fire at the lighthouse built by Caligula, called the Tour D’Odre.
The Fort d’Alprech was restored in 1999. Born under the third republic and built between 1875 and 1877, the battery was originally armed with canons and howitzers and blockhouses to accommodate over 100 men with their powder kegs. During the occupation, the Germans placed radar there. The site of Alprech was considered a defensive post from the earliest days and its lighthouse beamed out from 1842 until the Second World War. The new lighthouse, which is totally automatic, was erected in 1985. There was an aerodrome which was destroyed by the occupying forces in 1940, but today the Club ULM is installed nearby. The last fort, Le Fort de Couppes on the Mont de Couppes, was first built in 1545. Abandoned in 1550, it was Napoleon who rebuilt and re-armed it in 1803. In fact, Le Portel suffered badly in 1943 during two nights of bombardment which flattened 90% of the dwellings and killed more than 500 of the inhabitants. Subsequently the town was awarded the Croix de Guerre with a gold star for their sacrifice.
Le Portel Plage has many festivals, the most traditional of which takes place on Christmas Night – Le Guénel – when the children used to go from house to house with a lantern in their hand singing well known local songs and were rewarded with money or sweets. Nowadays the lantern has been replaced with a beetroot and a jury gives a prize to the finest ‘Guénel’. As with so many fishing communities, there is the ‘benediction de la mer’ when prayers are offered for the fishing community – and also the Carnaval which lasts from a Sunday to Tuesday evening and involves the fishermen dressing up in disguises and going from house to house tasting ‘crêpes’ without revealing their identity. On the second day, the ‘pecs-pecs’ as they are called, are disguised as fishermen with all sort of treats hanging from the end of their lines. Finally on Tuesday night, a ‘mannequin’ called ‘Batiss’ is burnt on the beach to mark the end of the festivities. There is also the ‘Fête de la Moule’ on which day, once a year, the restaurants offer their clients the chance to taste their fantastic fresh moules. All in all, for lovers of the best of seaside life, sun, beach and wonderful fresh seafood – Le Portel-Plage is waiting to welcome you.
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Distance from Coquelles - 36 mins - 36 Kms (Approx)
Tourist Office, 13 Place Poincaré, 62480 Tel 0033 (0)3 21 31 45 93 / Fax 0033 (0)3 21 31 82 83 www.ville-leportel.fr
Copyright text : Sarah Francis