No longer on sea, this little walled town is a haven for those who relish the art of good living
Montreuil was certainly on sea in 874 AD, when its records began. But the River Canache silted up in the Middle Ages leaving the town on a hilltop. The delight here is the path along the 3km of ramparts, from where you get glimpses of the sea at Le Touquet, 18 km away. These days Montreuil is a treasure trove for discerning shoppers and gourmets. And glorious seasonal floral displays add to the welcoming ambience.
The tiny winding streets are lined with quaint houses and specialist shops. Antiques, locally-made chocolates and gorgeous fabrics are just some of the ‘finds’ to be made. And wine shops include Vinophilie (2, rue du Grand Sermon (33 (0)3 21 06 01 54 www.vinophilie.com) which stocks rare vintages, interesting glassware and all kinds of wine-related items. Market Day is Saturday.
Victor Hugo wrote Les Miserables in Montreuil contrasting the rural scene with the slums of Paris. An annual summer festival in the town commemorate this www.lesmiserables-montreuil.com. Historic buildings include the citadel, a listed ancient monument; Roger Rodiere Museum with artefacts illustrating how the town was influenced by the Church; and Saint-Saulve church and Saint-Nicholas Chapel with displays of sacred art.
The choice of bars, cafes, restaurants and hotels suit all tastes and budget. However, the ultimate choice for gourmets is the Chateau de Montreuil, once the country retreat of the Rothschild family. A member of the prestigious Relais & Chateau hotel group (www.relaischateaux.com) it has a 1-Michelin-star gastronomic restaurant and exquisitely decorated bedrooms. Owned and run celebrated Chef Christian Germain and his English wife Lindsay, it offers rare perfection.
Whatever the price level, everyone is seeking value for money these days. There are times when only the best will do. To celebrate special occasions perhaps, or making the most of rare time off. But disappointments happen all too often. Not here. I have been going to the Chateau de Montreuil, for an annual overnight treat, for several years and have to say that such superb food, deep comfort and attention to detail is worth every euro. From €210 for double room with special offers and ‘last minute’ prices on offer at times - highlighted in fuschia pink on their website (Chaussee des Capucins 4, Montreuil-sur-Mer). Closed all Monday, Tuesday lunch and all January.
Christian Germain’s philosophy is ‘flavour first’. All the products he uses are French, most locally sourced. These include vegetables and herbs picked in the chateau garden, fish straight off local boats and cheeses from Philippe Oliver’s famous shop in Boulogne. Diners are invited to visit the kitchens.
A set lunch (€35) can be served outside on the terrace, weather permitting. Three courses from the a la carte menu for lunch or dinner (€75). Samples of menus, and the wine list, are on their website.
For the ultimate gourmet treat the Chef’s Tasting Menu of seven tasting size (not that small !) courses, is served as a surprise (€90). Think asparagus with quail’s egg and pesto; turbot with fennel and samphire in a subtle sauce; tiny veal steak with fresh foie gras; lobster with port and ginger (wow); cheeses; crème brulee and apricot tarte tatin with home-made vanilla ice-cream. Courses can differ, and they check if there is anything you do not like. Jean-Luc Ama, the Sommelier, who has been here for 10 years, looks after the 600 entries on the wine list. With great knowledge and tact he discerns price ranges and tastes and is always happy to advise.
The Chateau has a small solar-heated outdoor swimming pool, and can advise about access to all kinds of activities from golf to watersports at Le Touquet and ideas for outings in the area. They have details and maps of country walks, interesting local villages and market days.
The Germain’s son runs Jeroboam, (1 rue des Juifs, 3 (03) 21 86 65 80 www.lejeroboam.com) a modern restaurant a few minutes' walk from the Chateau. Specialities include Cote de boeuf Charolais (rib of beef on the bone) with home-made Béarnaise, potatoes and salad followed by tarte tatin. Lunch menu from €17, evening from €25, plus a la carte. A wine rack, like a grand bookcase with a step-ladder, displays Jeroboams (equivalent to 4 bottles) of Champagne. This restaurant is in the courtyard of the comfortable Best Western Hotel Hermitage (Place Gambetta) From €90 double room to include buffet breakfast. And the French Showrooms of the U.K. Wine Society (www.thewinesociety.com) are behind this hotel.
Getting there: From Calais - 46 miles approx 50 minutes drive
P&O Ferries www.poferries.com 08716 646464 - enjoy a meal on board in Langan’s Brasserie. Upgrade to the peace of the Club Lounge for an extra £12 per person: includes glass of champagne and chance to have a shoulder and neck massage (the therapist will ask you to pay what you think it is worth - suggested price from £8: worth every penny, darling).
Eurotunnel: Folkestone-Calais crossing time 35 minutes www.eurotunnel.com