Montreuil-sur-Mer, the French people who fell in love with Victor Hugo
Why is it that the television channel France 2 considers this town as the second most beautiful in France? Montreuil-sur-Mer It is one of the most famous towns in the north of the country thanks to Victor Hugo. The French writer was only a few hours in it to rest and eat something, although they were enough for years later to inspire him to write his famous novel The Miserables. In gratitude, every summer all the residents of the town turn to interpret their work for visitors.
The most charming town in France? © Alamy
The first time Victor Hugo stepped on Montreuil-sur-Mer was in September 1837. He was returning from a trip through Belgium and was on his way to Paris, so it was probably the typical stop to refuel, eat something and, as the name of the town suggested, enjoy beautiful sea views. The author's first surprise was precisely that: Montreuil-sur-Mer no longer had a sea. Its commercial port, which formerly served as a means of communication with Brittany, was accumulating sediments over the years and its coast was a little more than 16 kilometers away. Victor Hugo's disappointment was for posterity thanks to a letter he sent to his wife during the trip in which, in addition, he suggested a name change to Montreuil-sur-Plaine (Montreuil the plain).
In his text, the author described the place as a walled citadel that offered excellent views of the hills and to the fields that surrounded her. He talked about its narrow streets, some of them cobbled, his encounter with a carriage, the two churches, the old canyons of his fortress and the people who inhabited it. A pastor, a child with an apple or a woman crying in front of the square were some of the key characters of his trip. What they didn't imagine then is that, 25 years later, would be the protagonists of the famous novel The Miserables: the work with which Montreuil-sur-Mer would end up filling with glory and attracting hundreds of readers every year.
The streets of Montreuil-sur-Mer © Alamy
The first stop to follow the author's steps is the Hôtel de France, a small outdated-looking building chosen by Victor Hugo to spend the night. He made dinner at Roy's Relais, the restaurant located in its inner courtyard where today the colorful flowers of its walls make it one of the most welcoming corners of the town. From there, or maybe from the room 12b where he stayedIt was where the famous playwright wrote to his wife telling him the details of his fleeting visit.
Open since 1578, the Hôtel de France welcomed throughout its history illustrious characters. Among his clientele is also the writer Laurence Sterne, who stayed in it while working on his book A Sentimental Journey; Napoleon Bonaparte, during the long journeys on the way to one of his many battles; or the British general Douglas Haig, when the citadel served as headquarters for the British army. All of them, in addition to other more current guests like Gérard Depardieu or Mel Smith, they are fondly remembered for the hotel, although their success is undoubtedly due to Victor Hugo and The Miserables.
In his room 12B Victor Hugo stayed on his brief visit to the village © Hôtel de France
The author does not cite the name of the town in any of the pages of the novel, but simply limits himself to dropping that it is about "M-- south M--". Through his stories and the letters sent to his wife it has been found that Montreuil-sur-Mer is the place where history develops.
Some of the places that inspired the author, in addition to the aforementioned hotel, they were Clape in Blas, a small cobbled street where the small crafts of the town were located and that today have become charming shops of handmade products. He too old castle of the citadel, where its ruins currently host the Les Miserables Sound & Light Show, a musical performed by practically all the people in which more than 400 volunteers get into the skin of the protagonists to recreate the work that gave them fame.
The military past of Montreuil-sur-Mer © Alamy
A walk through the historic center of the town will allow us to move to another era. Without having suffered major changes more than some damage caused by wars, Montreuil-sur-Mer remains almost like the time Hugo describes it: walled, with low buildings, brick and stone walls, streets where it is possible to open the arms and touch their sides, or facades completely covered with plants and flowers. A quiet and pleasant place whose story also keeps some of the darkest chapters of warfare.
And it is that the literary route is not the only one that can be done in this small town of Nord-Pas de Calais. Also included in Paths of memory, for having served as headquarters for the British during World War I on the western front, Montreuil-sur-Mer has an Indian cemetery in Neuville, where the bodies of more than 20 soldiers fallen during the battle are found; the citadel, which has a permanent exhibition on the role of this town in history; and a sculpture in tribute to the British general Haig located in the square Charles de Gaulle. Actually, it is a replica of the original, as the first one was withdrawn by the Germans during World War II.
British general Haig, legacy of his warlike past © Alamy
Despite the damage caused by the different conflicts, Montreuil-sur-Mer is considered one of the most beautiful villages in northern France. A contest organized by the television channel France 2, in which the spectators choose the places they like most in their country every year, This 2016 has placed it as the second most charming town in the country, only behind Rochefort-en-Terre (Morbihan), in French Brittany.
WELCOME TO THE NORTH (OF FRANCE)
The call the opal coast by the color of its waters, it is dotted with small towns that are characterized because instead of wine, beer is produced here; The most common sport is the carriage, which consists of drive a tricycle through the sand playing with the wind and the boom; the cliffs that surround the region, being the Cap Blanc Nez and Cap Gris Nez the best known and whose names refer to the color of their stones; and for his people, who, as Dany Boon’s movie showed us, Welcome to the NorthThey have a cheerful, open character and a somewhat special accent. Yes, the whole region is full of friteries.
The nearest airport to visit the north of France and get closer to the most beautiful villages in the area is Lille, the university city that is located between Brussels, Paris and London. The latter thanks to the fact that the popular one is in the westernmost part of the country Eurotunnel. Many of the routes dedicated to design and art, culture, military, cinematographic or literary battles, like the one that has led us to Montreuil-sur-Mer, the sealess town that inspired a great story.
He enamored Victor Hugo, will he make you fall in love? © Alamy