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Worldwatch: In the land of Asterix

Anant Narayan travelled to Boulogne, historic port town of France famous for its beaches, vineyards and Roman castle.

india Updated: Jun 12, 2006 14:28 IST

Boulogne may not find mention in the diary of a regular tourist. But Anant Narayan, who has a penchant for visiting exotic places, travelled to this historic port town of France famous for its beaches, vineyards and Roman castle.

It is often said that good things come in small packages. It is uncanny how certain townships in the bewildered locales of the French countryside have been catapulted into the tourist map. One such small beautiful beach town that I had the absolute delight of travelling was Boulogne.

In case you are puzzled as to how I managed to trot down to such an unfamiliar destination, it was all courtesy my trip to London when my aunt acquainted me with Boulogne. She had collected sufficient travel coupons over the past couple of months and we were all set to embark on my first-ever voyage to the exotic
French beachside on a hovercraft.

Our journey began with a two-hour drive from London to Dover, one of Britain’s most commercial ports and the place where our colossal hovercraft was anchored.

Once at Dover, the skyscraping white cliffs clubbed with the cool breeze and crystal waters of the English Channel were refreshingly enchanting. The hovercraft ride was an experience in itself.

The first striking feature was that we could drive into the lower deck comfortably seated in our cars. Once we found parking space, we proceeded to the upper decks. Since the hovercraft flutters a few feet above water surface, feeling queasy is not uncommon. But there is nothing like enjoying the gush of the arctic breeze on the upper deck especially with your favourite drink in hand. We covered the distance from Dover to Boulogne in a couple of hours.

Located at the mouth of river Liane, Boulogne took me by surprise. Not only does it stand out as the largest fishing port in France, it was also one of the few crucial links of trade and military movements between the Roman Gaul and Britain. Since I am sufficiently versed with the French language, I had an extra motivating factor to head towards the vignoble and champagne de la France in true French style.

La Plage de Boulogne
Once we reached, our first jaunt was to head straight for the beach. An invigorating ambience filled with glacial blue waters, bright sun, exciting kiosks and cool pliable sand all over formed a picturesque view.
One striking feature that sets the French apart from the rest is their bold, uninhibited and carefree outlook to life. Nudity on most French beaches is common.
I was more than a tad scandalised at first, but slowly I got accustomed to their liberal ways of life. A bunch of college students were engrossed in surfing and water polo.

Eastern Boulogne and Terlincthun Cemetery
The next thing on our agenda was a slew of military cemeteries where the martyrs of World War I were buried.
The drive from the beach to the cemeteries was speckled with vast stretches of exotic French vineyards.
Just a visit to these wineries was enlightening. There were barrels and barrels of pure French wine dated and stocked one above the other. I was amazed by the wide array of wine on display and the vast disparity in their prices depending on their date of brewing, quality and alcohol content.

The cemeteries unfolded a new chapter of history before me. Just a glance at the graves of young martyrs dotted all over the lush green premises filled me with a plethora of emotions patriotism, grief, pride and so on.
Soon we came upon the column commemorating the Grande Armée of Napoleon which marks the nucleus of the place.

I learnt that the first rest camps for Commonwealth forces were established near Terlincthun in 1914 and during World War I, Boulogne and Wimereux housed numerous hospitals along with other medical establishments.
The cemetery was built in 1918 and primarily used for burials from the base hospitals. Each grave has a different story to narrate.

Old town area
A trip to Boulogne would be incomplete if you did not visit the old town area.
The locals there informed me that a castle was erected at a corner of the old Roman fortifications, and the old town grew up within those Roman walls.

By the river, the lower town proliferated as a port-cum-fishing village.
Close to the grand Cathedral, the Rue de Lille has an amazing lineup of French restaurants. These mini pubs are always bustling with the usual rustic French delights a place where local villagers who congregate during festive times.