To understand just how much the lyrics of the famous song by Renaud strike a chord in Boulonnais, you have to go to one of the major maritime events which take place there throughout the year.
The Gainée Boulonnaise in June
The Gainée Boulonnaise is the name of a traditional dish in Boulogne made from fish, vegetables, onions and crème fraiche. It is to Boulogne-sur-Mer what bouillabaisse is to Marseille. It is also the name of a great event which traditionally takes place at the start of June on the Quai Gambetta. Over two days, a huge fish dish is created in front of onlookers (peeling, fish filleting, etc.) by members of the ‘Club des 100 Cravates’, the event’s organisers. The profits are donated to local associations.
The Fêtes de la Mer
These are not to be missed! For four days every two years (on odd-numbered years) in mid-July, the maritime world is celebrated during the Fêtes de la Mer. Events include a gathering of tall ships and traditional boats, outings on board heritage sailing boats, ships open for visits, nautical parades, a village of maritime expertise and traditions, a sea market, songs and dances, seafood tastings, exhibitions and many activities for young and old alike. Several tens of thousands of people make the trip for event.
The Bénédictions de la Mer
The Bénédictions de la Mer are a cultural tradition aimed at remembering sailors who have gone missing and are very popular in Boulonnais and in the former fishing ports of Le Portel and Equihen-Plage in particular. In Le Portel, it closes the great folk festival called ‘La Flotille et du Patrimoine Portellois’ which takes place at the end of June/beginning of July. The blessing ceremony is followed by a procession through the whole town. In Equihen-Plage, the blessing takes place each year on Ascension Day. The procession of sailors and worshippers holding banners first stops at the foot of the Calvaire des Marins. After a prayer is said for all those who work at sea, everyone processes down to the sea defences, where the ‘Cercle Nautique’ decorates a boat. From there, the Abbot blesses the sea.
The Fête de la Moule
Mussels are the central focus in Wimereux in mid-July. Thousands of food lovers
come to enjoy the traditional mussels and chips cooked by the ‘Amicale des Municipaux de la Ville’ and in the resort’s numerous restaurants and brasseries. There is also the added bonus of events in ‘Place Albert 1er’ to enjoy and a procession in the afternoon on Sunday. Mussels are also celebrated in Equihen-Plage where one of the largest mussel beds on the Côte d'Opale is located. This takes place in July. Volunteers prepare the shellfish in the afternoon and then sell them that evening, After they have been eaten, there are events to be enjoyed!
The Grande Procession
Every year at the end of August, Boulogne-sur-Mer welcomes thousands of pilgrims during the Grande Procession. According to legend, in 636 a boat with no crew or sails carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary ran aground in Boulogne. At that very moment, worshippers praying in the chapel where the basilica stands today saw a vision of the Virgin telling them about what had occurred. From then on, Boulogne became one of Europe’s major pilgrimage sites. For several years now, the procession has become a very colourful spectacle. The maritime population mixes together with pilgrims from across Europe. It is an occasion where the fishermen's wives can dress in their best and wear the ‘soleil’ headdress, which denotes a royal port.
The Fête du kipper
In August, Equihen-Plage celebrates an iconic product in Boulonnais - the kipper! Kippers are herrings which have been split in two from head to tail, had their bones removed and then salted and smoked. Enjoying kippers, the entertainment and some great time together is the order of the day during this friendly festival!
The Fête de la Beurière
This is to the people of Boulogne what the carnival is to the people of Dunkirk - an unmissable festival which celebrates those who have shaped the city. Over two days in September, come and enjoy the fascinating world of fishermen with sea shanties, entertainment and food to enjoy... It is the perfect occasion to explore the traditional fishermen’s district in Boulogne.
The Fête du Hareng
Herring has created the wealth of France’s most important fishing port for some time. It would be impossible not to celebrate it in Boulogne-sur-Mer! The Fête du Hareng takes place in November every year. The ‘Pêche Animation’ association offers herring to enjoy, as well as a whole programme of events and musical performances. Come on down to the quays to enjoy something different and the friendly atmosphere.