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Le Crotoy is less than an hour’s drive from Calais in the Somme department of Picardy, Northern France. Facing south, this attractive seaside resort and fishing port is situated on the estuary of the river Somme, overlooking one of the most beautiful bays in France. The fine sandy beach is on the Bay of the Somme which gives protection from the open sea and supports a wide variety of wildlife, including a colony of seals and many species of sea birds.
There are approximately 3,000 residents in the commune of Le Crotoy who are known colloquially as Crotellois. The population increases dramatically over the summer months with visitors attracted to the beach and the proximity of the Ornithological Parc du Marquenterre, an area of natural beauty with lakes and marshes and particularly interesting salt water plant life – a big draw for bird-spotters. The town is a lively place with a good selection of cafés and restaurants, many having views across the bay towards St. Valéry-sur-Somme.
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In the 17th century, Le Crotoy was one of the most important harbours in the “Manche” (English Channel) area. The fishing industry has always been of great importance to the local economy and shrimping boats, called ‘seutréliers’, are still in evidence in the port. The tidal range of the bay exposes huge tracts of sand when the tide is out and this is where William the Conqueror hid his fleet before sailing to England in 1066.
At one time Le Crotoy had strong fortifications and a castle. Joan of Arc was imprisoned here in 1430 while awaiting trial. She was then escorted to Rouen where she was burnt at the stake. A monument on the seafront commemorates the time she spent in prison.
Jules Verne lived in the villa in the town centre called “La Solitude” from 1865 to 1870 and it was here that he wrote his famous novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. Other literary and artistic residents of French history who lived in Le Crotoy are the novelist Colette, Victor Hugo, the post-impressionist painter Georges Seurat, Toulouse Lautrec, Sisley and Degas. The light over the sea and sands has inspired painters for generations and several art galleries in the town continue this creative heritage.
Le Crotoy was very famous during the 19th century with Guerlain, the parfumier to the Empress Eugénie, attracting high society from Paris . Many of the homes of the rich and famous are still in existence and guided tours are available through the Tourist Office.
The bay of the Somme stretches for some 14 km like a giant scallop shell, with Le Crotoy a safe haven directly opposite St. Valéry. When the tide is out, it is possible to walk across the sands which takes about 3 hours. Although quite a strenuous trek, the visual rewards can be amazing with thousands of migrating birds flying overhead and waterfowl in abundance. All sorts of activities take place on the desert-like sands with people digging for clams, bird watchers and duck hunters striding out to their hides and shepherds guiding their sheep through the salty grasslands. Alternatively, horse-riding treks are a popular way of traversing the bay and clambering up the steep grassy cliffs known as ‘micro falaises’ – and potentially less muddy ! Excursions are available every day and it is advisable to accompany an experienced guide who can point out all the species of wildlife and describe the flora and fauna in detail. Sand yachting is a fun way to race across the sands which looks particularly colourful against the fantastic background skies.
The bird sanctuary at La Marquenterre is a unique biodiversity project and visitors come from all over the world to see over 360 species of migratory birds that stop off en route between Russia, Africa and the Arctic including greylag geese, herons, storks, egrets, pintail ducks and the Eurasian spoonbill. This 220 hectare conservation area is a mass of windswept sand dunes, reed beds and marshland and there is a guided 7 km designated nature walk giving a fascinating insight into this unique hinterland.
Le Crotoy has a historic narrow gauge railway, “Chemin de Fer de la Baie de Somme”, created in 1887, with steam driven engines which are now largely a tourist attraction. The Belle Epoque trains travel around the entire length of the bay connecting the town with Noyelles-sur-Mer, Saint-Valery-sur-Somme and Cayeux-sur-Mer during the season from March to the end of October.
For the more adventurous, there are bicycles to hire, tennis courts, kite surfing, kite flying, sailing and water sport activities available throughout the year. Boat excursions will take visitors out from the marina for seal watching and bird watching trips.
A market is held every Friday morning in the Place Jeanne d’Arc and on Tuesday mornings in July and August in the Rue de la République.
A jazz festival is held in May and there is an annual Fête de Mer, details of which can be obtained from the Tourist Office.
Accommodation & Restaurants
There are several well appointed hotels in Le Crotoy including Les Tourelles (2-4 rue Pierre Guerlain) which has rooms with views of the sea and an excellent restaurant with a terrace . Apartments for rental are available year round offering comfort and family rooms within walking distance of the sea and the shops. The Residence de la Plage offers visitors self-catering apartments with picturesque views and a choice of two swimming pools and a wide selection of leisure activities including relaxation therapies. There are also plenty of family run B & Bs which are excellent value and a campsite just outside the town with facilities for an environmentally friendly holiday in the countryside.
The restaurants serve delicious seafood. Shellfish and local sea fish are excellent, often accompanied by samphire from the coastal salt marshes. Fresh water fish dishes are also available supplied from nearby lakes. Game is a speciality and several varieties of duck are served with appetising sauces and produce from neighbouring farms. Pré-salé lamb is produced locally from sheep grazing on the salty pastures which have been credited with the ‘appellation d’origine contrôlée’ (AOC). Picardy is an area of gourmet foods cooked with passion and the seasonality of the ingredients is particularly observed in the restaurants of Le Crotoy. One of the finest dining experiences can be found at Chez Mado at 6 quai Léonard on the promenade by the sea and it is advisable to book ahead, particularly in the summer season.
By car it takes about an hour to drive the 102 km from Calais to Le Crotoy along the A16.
Distance from Coquelles – 1hr 10min – 102km (Approx)
By Rail -Picardy has an excellent rail network with frequent connections to Calais and other nearby transport hubs. The nearest station to Le Crotoy is Rue (8 km).
Main line trains to Paris take about 2 hours, starting from nearby Noyelles-sur-Mer.
OFFICE DE TOURISME – 1 rue Carnot – 80550 Le Crotoy – T : +33 (0)3 22 27 05 25