Why you should follow the Apprentice candidates to Boulogne-sur-Mer

Down the road from Calais, this historic fishing port is worth a day trip - and not just for that cheese shop

In this week’s episode of The Apprentice, half of Lord Sugar’s aspiring entrepreneurs fail to enjoy a day out across the Channel.


Like millions of Brits every year, they board a ferry for France armed with a shopping list that includes cheese, snails and mysterious Leavers Lace. Cue a frenzied (if entertaining) afternoon of ropey French and befuddled locals. It’s not a great advert for the city where they end up or for Brits abroad, but Boulogne-sur-Mer really is worth checking out…

Just a half-hour drive south from Calais, Boulogne-sur-Mer is the largest fishing port in France but it’s steeped in history as well as seafood. 

What to see:

Instead of spending your day scurrying from shop to shop in search of a bargain, stroll the medieval ramparts and enjoy the views of the old port. The old town within was constructed on the site of a Roman camp, and boasts a UNESCO-listed bellfry, the literally unmissable Notre-Dame Basilica with its vast 83-metre dome, and a picture-perfect cobbled square, Place Dalton. 

History buffs ahoy:

Boulogne-sur-Mer is nicknamed the ‘City of Art and History’ and the Château Musée offers both. It was built in 13th century by Philippe Hurepel, the son of the King Philippe Auguste, and reconstructed in 18th century when it was transformed into a military barracks. The museum’s collections include the finds of Boulogne-sur-Mer native and Egyptologist Auguste Mariette and sculptures from Rodin in the fine art section.

Château Musée

Once a year, there’s also an enthusiastic reenactment of battles and fanfares in remembrance of when Napoleon installed a garrison of 185,000 men in 1803 after declaring war on Great Britain. 

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Children ahoy:

Families come from far and wide to visit the mighty National Sea Centre, Nausicaá, for its giant aquariums, touch tank where visitors can stroke rays, life-size fishing boat, presentations by animal carers and multimedia exhibitions for all ages.

And not forgetting lunch:

There is of course a fine cheese shop with a very patient owner: both Apprentice groups ended up buying wheels of cheese from Le Fromager on Grande Rue.

Snails, as they discovered to their cost, are a seasonal delicacy, and mussels tend to be scarce in summer. You can see what’s in season at the colourful market on Place Dalton on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. For seafood lovers, the Chamber of Commerce organises guided tours of the commercial port, Capécure, where the fish is auctioned, frozen, salted and smoked.

And if you’d rather leave the cooking to someone else, there’s no shortage of seafood restaurants and bistros.

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Other sights:

The medieval crypt of the Basilica de Notre-Dame contains the stone cannon balls used by Henry VIII when he captured Boulogne.

Built in 13th century, Church of St Nicholas, protector of sailors, is the oldest church in Boulogne.

Maison de La Beurière in the Rue Machicoulis is a museum about the life of fishermen in days gone by, when this house was a fisherman’s home.

On a hillside to the north of Boulogne, Napoleon surveys the city from the top of the 50 metre-high Colonne de la Grande Armée. From the top of the staircase within, Dover castle can be spied on a clear day. 


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