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Boulogne-sur-Mer: So much more than a school trip destination

ByEleanor Perkins

It was always the place to go on your annual school trip.

A bustling sea life centre just seconds from a sandy beach.

The day rounded off with an ice cream before boarding the coach back to Kent.

Take a wander on the beach and enjoy a stunning sunset over Boulogne
Take a wander on the beach and enjoy a stunning sunset over Boulogne

But while the groups of primary-aged youngsters in backpacks can still be seen piling into the now expanded Nausicca, there's something to be said about Boulogne-sur-Mer as a relaxing, accessible getaway for just you and a partner.

The real beauty is you hardly have to travel to feel like you're away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Pack a small case; beachwear, two day outfits and something nice for dinner and you're away!

Pack beachwear for a day on the sandy beaches of Boulogne
Pack beachwear for a day on the sandy beaches of Boulogne

My partner and I boarded a 9.40am Saturday crossing with P&O Ferries and it's no understatement to say we arrived by lunchtime.

That was even the case despite taking the more scenic coastal route along the D940 road via Cap Griz-Nez and Cap Blanc-Nez cliffs, and a stop off at a local beer brewery Brasserie des Deux-Caps.

During a 30-minute tour of the small site, we learnt all about the beer which launched in 2003.

Sample the goods at brewery Brasserie des Deux-Caps
Sample the goods at brewery Brasserie des Deux-Caps

There's only eight members of staff, two of whom were only too pleased to show us around and let us sample some of the goods.

Popular choices include their original variety, 2 caps, and a light coloured beer Blanche de Wissant - both of which you'll see again and again, on sale around the town.

They produce 360,000-460,000 bottles each year. 75% of the production is based in Boulogne while the other 25% is done in Belgium.

During the summer months, the brewery offers tours at 3pm every Friday.

We took a pit stop at beer brewery Brasserie des Deux-Caps
We took a pit stop at beer brewery Brasserie des Deux-Caps

Arriving it Boulogne - a mere 30-minute drive from the port - you'll be greeted with welcoming sandy beaches.

On a hot day, like were lucky to encounter, you'll be raring to dump your case and get set up by the water.

However, be warned the four-star Hotel La Matelote offer a strict 3pm check in policy and while they'll advise you where to park in the mean time (400m up the road at a pay and display), they won't change up your euro notes, so pack some coins.

The four-star Hotel La Matelote is situated opposite Nausicaa in Boulogne
The four-star Hotel La Matelote is situated opposite Nausicaa in Boulogne

The perks are, however, once 3pm has passed, there are two pull in spots directly outside the entrance where you can stop while you collect a key for the rear garages - a secure parking space about 100m away.

The hotel itself is primely located, directly opposite Nausicaa, and boasts 35 rooms many with superb sea views, a sauna, steam room, small pool and WiFi.

The restaurant's faultless evening meal is something to look forward to. Five courses starting with a welcome drink of berry cassis and champagne.

Evening dinner at Hotel La Matelote began with berry cassis and champagne
Evening dinner at Hotel La Matelote began with berry cassis and champagne

Delicious appetisers to follow with the likes of mini moules mariniere and a pea puree, followed by a salmon and asparagus starter.

A perfectly presented main course of duck in jus and a chocolate sensation for sweet will round it off, before coffee.

Another eating spot to consider is Brasserie Hamiot - just a five minute walk along the front - offering a vast menu at affordable prices.

Delicious smoked salmon and asparagus starter served at Hotel La Matelote
Delicious smoked salmon and asparagus starter served at Hotel La Matelote

Fill your days with as much or as little as you like.

We enjoyed a stroll on Sunday around the local fish market on Quai Gambetta and into the town.

The wide array of weird and wonderful foods and toys will certainly be a talking point. The fortified town and its old buildings are very picturesque.

If you do have children, the beaches are well kitted out with park style climbing frames and slides.

There's plenty to entertain children on the beaches of Boulogne sur Mer
There's plenty to entertain children on the beaches of Boulogne sur Mer

The number one choice of activity is, of course, a wander around the now expanded Nausicaa which opened to the public in May 2018.

Built in the shape of a manta ray, the new building houses a tank holding 10,000 m3 of water - equivalent to four Olympic pools.

Jellyfish are among the sea creatures on show at Nausicaa
Jellyfish are among the sea creatures on show at Nausicaa

This makes it one of the largest aquariums in the world with almost 60,000 creatures - from jelly fish, sharks and penguins - part of the community.

One exhibition even documents the expansion with photographs and maps.

Pick your spot and while away the time in front of this huge tank inside Nausicaa
Pick your spot and while away the time in front of this huge tank inside Nausicaa

Another explores mankind and the shores and how human behaviour around the world is impacting our oceans.

But the highlight for me was the manta ray itself, unmissable as it swims above you in an 18-metre-long transparent tunnel. The giant fish really is a sight to behold.

The show stopping manta ray at Nausicaa in Boulogne
The show stopping manta ray at Nausicaa in Boulogne

There is also a vast viewing panel, measuring 20 metres long and five metres high, which will also give spectacular views.

Allow at least three hours to enjoy all that's on offer.

Not to be missed: Penguins at Nausicaa in Boulogne
Not to be missed: Penguins at Nausicaa in Boulogne

End your trip with a visit to artisan cheese factory Fromagerie Sainte Godeleine.

The business was founded in 1984 by farmer Antoine Bernard, with 70 goats and making only one goat cheese, the Cabri Vert.

In 1990, he began crafting a cow's milk only cheese, the Fromagerie Sainte Godeleine.

Pop by artisan cheese farm Fromagerie Sainte Godeleine
Pop by artisan cheese farm Fromagerie Sainte Godeleine

Since 2002, the cheesemakers have won various awards for the quality and taste of their products and only last year opened this new production site.

Visitors can peer through the glass windows and see the entire process for themselves.

There's a chance to taste and buy the goods in the cafe bistro at the end.

A fish market comes to town every Sunday
A fish market comes to town every Sunday

Before heading home, stock up on your favourite French supplies from the excellent Cité Europe - a shopping centre located next to the French terminal of the Channel Tunnel at Coquelles.

With 140 shops ranging from clothes, shoes, homeware and of course a large supermarket, it's a brilliant way to fill time if you're running early for the ferry.

There's also a hypermarket, a 12-screen cinema complex and about 20 restaurants.

Admire the coastal views along the D940 road via Cap Griz-Nez and Cap Blanc-Nez cliffs
Admire the coastal views along the D940 road via Cap Griz-Nez and Cap Blanc-Nez cliffs

We travelled across the Channel via P&O Ferries who offer priority boarding and a club lounge service which helps makes the crossings something special.

On days when the weather isn't go kind, this will guarantee you a comfortable seat, privacy from the crowds, topped off with complimentary champagne and table service.

For a couple of extra pennies, being among the first 20 vehicles on and off the ferry it exactly what you want on the way home.

Crossings from Dover to Calais start from £49 each way. To book visit poferries.com

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