Day 1,596 of Traveling the World | Dunkirk (Dunkerque) and Calais, France; De Panne, Belgium | June 16, 2022

Visiting the beaches of the Northeast coast of France/Northwest coast of Belgium is quite an experience. First, it is very windy on the beaches, which makes it chilly when you are out of the sun. Second, you apparently don’t need to see any water when you visit – getting sun is the important thing. And third, views of the beach are somewhat obstructed by rows and rows (and rows and rows) of beach huts. They are small cabanas, and act as a refuge from the wind as well as a place to store your beach items and clothing for the day. It is very different from other beach areas we have been to.

First up, Dunkirk was our favorite beach, although we favor the French spelling, Dunkerque. (Why do we anglicize actual names, instead of honoring the way the country itself spells things??) There is a small area with beach huts (in the photo below painted as “Malo -Les-Bains”), but most of the rest of the beach is wide open. It has restaurants, crepe/waffle/and ice cream stands, and loads of people. There was a basketball tournament taking place, and grandstands were set up for spectator viewing. Of course, Dunkirk is known for its beaches in 1940, as 300,000 soldiers waited for evacuation back to Great Britain, just 50 miles away or so by sea. We watched the movie Dunkirk the night before to refresh our memories about the historical importance of the area. It is quite sobering to see the calm beach today, and imagine it crowded with over a quarter of a million desperate soldiers.

Downtown Calais was more enjoyable than its beach. Town Hall can be seen from around the city, and it is some stunning architecture. The sculpture of the Burghers of Calais in front of it is very moving…and magnificent! The beach was jammed with beach huts, some not in great shape, which made the beach seem a bit degraded. Many people sunbathed in Calais with no view of the water whatsoever, which we found so strange.

De Panne, Belgium is the location of our hotel, just over the border from Dunkerque. Ditto on the beach huts crowding the beach. But we must say, it was very crowded, with both children and adults enjoying the boardwalk area, eating, walking, and biking. We can just imagine it in another month, in the middle of summer, bursting at its seams.

We visited these three cities yesterday. Today we are taking a break, resting and reading in our hotel room. We try not to treat our travels as a vacation, where every single thing needs to be seen (there will be other years, after all), but as our life. Lying here on the bed and sitting in the chair, with the window open, we are feeling the breeze and listening to various birds cooing a hundred times in a row. It is nice. We have a view of trees and gardens, and there is no traffic noise. And Mike just “put the kettle on” for some afternoon tea. Heaven!

Dunkirk’s beach was very inviting. This is the reason people come here.
There was a basketball competition in this area of the beach. We saw several boys with Lakers shirts!
After the basketball court area was the children’s playground – you can see that the giant slide is a castle.
Not intentionally, we captured a photo of Bikini Beach with a woman in a full burqa walking by.
Malo Les Bains, one of the WWII embarkation beaches in 1940. Today it is a part of Dunkirk, and is just for leisure and sunbathing.
The older residential buildings have a Dutch character.
The ice cream store: ice cream not in FLAVORS, but COLORS!
This Victorian beauty is right on the beach.
On to Calais! This is their very impressive Town Hall, only dating to 1925 but looking much older.
Rodin’s sculpture, The Burghers of Calais, dating to 1895. During the Hundred Years War, Edward III demanded that six leading citizens of Calais were to leave the besieged city with ropes around their necks, and he sentenced them to execution by beheading. In this sculpture, they are unaware that their lives will be spared through the intercession of Edward’s wife, Philippa.
A Balloon Street! How fun!
We liked this old-time poster, announcing that a stage of the Tour de France will breeze through Calais on July 5.
In front of the lovely Town Hall garden, which is in front of the Burghers of Calais sculpture, which is in front of Town Hall, we find a bicyclist, likely a nod to the upcoming Tour de France visit. We don’t know whether the rainbow colors are in honor of Pride Month, or just to be festive.
Mike saw it first: this topiary peacock in Parc Saint-Pierre looked undone, without a tail, until he noticed that the flower bed behind the peacock’s torso was in the shape of, and formed, his magnificent tail!
It was somewhat disappointing to see Calais Beach for the first time and find it just covered in small beach huts, with no real view of the long sweeping beach possible. Being from California, our idea of a perfect beach is an uncluttered one, but some people rave that they love the view of the beach huts in Calais!
Behind the beach huts, away from the sea, was this long boardwalk with wooden lounge chairs for sunbathing. There are snack stands up and down the area. We saw four friends sunbathing between the huts and boardwalk, with absolutely no view of the ocean (seems crazy to us!).
Calaisfornia! Everyone wants to be in the US!
On to De Panne, Belgium! Bike riding is huge here, with the lane on the walkway to the left reserved for bicycles. Apparently, there is a tradition that children shriek loudly and constantly while riding bikes!
Restaurants and bike rentals lined the walkway along the right. The seagull sculpture and the bank of flags seem to mark a central point on the beach.
The yellow and white canvas was erected so that you can sunbathe with some blockage of the wind that the English Channel beaches are famous for.
A cute old house on the beach squeezed in between newer construction.
Along the beach, as far as the eye can see, are rows of beach huts...oh, and bicyclists!
A big attraction in De Panne is – get ready! – an amusement park called PLOPSALAND, whose name is taken from two TV shows: “Kabouter Plop” and “Samson and Gert.” Take Plop from the first, and Sa from Samson, and you get Plopsa – add “land,” and a park is born! This is the elaborate Plopsa Hotel adjacent to the park, since everyone learns from Disney!