Hauts de France

Nord-Pas de Calais: Boulogne-sur-Mer.

by Bert Schwarz

The country's most important fishing port, Boulogne-sur-Mer makes a pretty good first stop in France, especially if combined with a swing north along the Côte d'Opale. The Basse-Ville (Lower City) is a bustling but uninspiring assemblage of postwar structures, but the attractive Haute-Ville (Upper City), perched high above the rest of town, is girded by a 13th-century wall. The biggest draw is Nausicaā, one of Europe's premier aquariums.

Boulogne sur-Mer

Story, Camera, Editor : Bert Schwarz

© travel-magazine TV 2016

Upper City

Boulogne's hilltop Upper City is an island of centuries-old buildings and cobblestone streets. You can walk all the way around this 'Fortified City' atop the ancient stone walls – look for signs for the Promenade des Remparts. Basilique Notre Dame , its towering, Italianate dome visible from all over town, is an improbably tall structure built from 1827 to 1866; the vast, partly Romanesque crypt reopened in 2015 after extensive renovations. The cultures of five continents meet and mingle inside the Château-Musée , one of the few places on Earth where you can admire Egyptian antiquities (some brought here by pioneering Boulogne-born Egyptologist Auguste Mariette) set alongside 19th-century Alaskan Inuit masks, and compare pre-Colombian ceramics from Peru with Grecian urns. A 4th-century Roman wall is thrown in for good measure, and all this is housed in a 13th-century fortified castle. Among the impressive buildings around place Godefroy de Bouillon are the neoclassical Hôtel Desandrouin , built in the 1780s as a private mansion and later used by Napoléon; and the brick Hôtel de Ville (1735), with its square medieval belfry (the ground floor is accessible through the town hall's lobby).

Nausicaá

Nausicaa © Bert Schwarz

At this world-class aquarium, huge tanks with floor-to-ceiling windows make you feel as though you're swimming with the sharks – and with over 1,000 other species, including sea turtles, California sea lions, South American caimans and African penguins, some of them hatched right here. Kids of all ages will find ecologically conscious exhibits and activities to engage them, including fish petting, feeding sessions and sea-lion shows (one to three a day). A new land- reptiles section opened in 2016. All signs are in English. Discounts are available for groups of four or more, including families. A new wing, currently under construction, was opened in 2018.