Detour to Gravelines
In 1890 the French post-Impressionist artist Georges Seurat spent the summer in Gravelines. During this time he painted his famous masterpiece The Channel of Gravelines, Grand Fort-Philippe which now hangs in the National Gallery. It’s a great view, but Gravelines is so much prettier in real life. See it here!
Gravelines is both a lovely seaside resort and a fortified and moated town. This small town is perched on the west side of Dunkirk on the banks of river Aa where it meets with the North Sea and it was this location that made the old port the obvious choice as the gateway to St Omer and remained so for centuries. However, Gravelines was eventually abandoned as a main trading/fishing port in favour of Calais, Boulogne and Dunkirk but is today an appealing marina ideal for tourism.
The town was initially fortified in 1160 but then later extensively modified by Louis XIV’s military engineer Vauban in 1706. The ramparts are in pristine condition and offer an interesting insight into 17th century town planning. It has 6 bastions that were used to position armaments on all sides and together with the moat offered protection for the town. A happy consequence is a lovely star shaped town, completely surrounded by water and greenery.
To see the surrounding fauna and flora upfront, take the Vauban Promenade from Rue de Dunkerque (Tel: 00 33 (0)328 65 3377). This is a boat trip a that sails around the entire 4km length of the ramparts. Choose between an electric, rowing or peddle boat if you want to go it alone. Otherwise join a guided tour boat where for 4 euros, you will be in the hands of a human guide, and handed an audio guide and a map detailing the various points of interest. Allow around an hour for this delightfully peaceful jaunt and take in the birds and other wildlife that have made their homes along the banks.