Every year in spring, Berck-sur-Mer — a charming seaside resort town on the Opal Coast of Pas-de-Calais — hosts les Championnats du Monde de cerf-volant (the World Kite Flying Championships) and the beach and seafront are transformed into a magical sight.
Literally hundreds and hundreds of brightly coloured kites hang in the air, and the day I went the azure blue sky provided a perfect backdrop for the wonderful creations. The beach thronged with school children flying homemade kites; kite flying fans; tourists; and teams from all over the world practising formation flying patterns and aerial ballet manoeuvres that were so impressive, that people stood open-mouthed or broke into spontaneous clapping all around.
No one really knows where kite flying originated from, but most people defer to the Chinese some 3000 years ago as the creators of kites, in which they cite a story of a simple paper kite being used as a form of communication during a rescue mission.
These days, and certainly at the Berck-sur-Mer Kite Championships, there was nothing simple about the kites on display. Some of them were enormous — an octopus kite that was floating serenely above us was 27 metres long; some were funny like the huge Homer Simpson with his pot belly hovering above the crowd; others were hugely creative with long spirals and beautiful tails, and all were wonderful to look at.
A 40 m long lobster kite taking off
Like every French festival I’ve been to, it was an excuse for everyone to get out and about and celebrate their heritage and passions. There were numerous food stalls, people dressed in traditional costume, cool National Police dudes posing in the spring sunshine, and the ubiquitous game of pétanque on the beach.
A particularly nice touch at this festival was the jardin du vent (wind garden) that was set up — an exhibition by local artists and school children featuring wind powered devices.
The organisers of the event also created a wall of voeux de Pâques at Easter (wishes for Easter). Everyone was encouraged to write a message for peace or good wishes on a piece of paper and tie it on a wall to flutter in the wind. It was very reminiscent of the prayer walls that you find in Tibet and I was astonished to see that there were thousands of messages put up by Day 4 of the championships.
The Pas-de-Calais region of France is really quite unspoilt and this festival just seems to me to illustrate that perfectly. The local tourist office for Berck-sur-Mer has been plugging this event, and quite rightly, as it is a wonderful day out, but it’s not just about tourism. This ten-day event is as much about celebrating a wonderful sport, encouraging children to participate and enjoy the day, and simply appreciating this lovely seaside resort as much as anything.
A Bretzel – Image credit: lafeechocolatee.canalblog.com
Although there were plenty of stalls set up selling kites, souvenirs, arts and crafts, locally produced gourmet specialities and goodies, and lots of food and beverage areas, you could also enjoy a whole day here without spending a bean. I’d recommend though if you have a bean, spend it on a tarte au poire or bretzel (a traditional local cake) from one of the great pâtisseries or a flammekeuche, a Flemish influenced pizza dish made with sour cream from one of the brasseries in the town.
I came away from this lovely little resort on the North coast of France feeling uplifted and inspired and with some lovely photos, which I hope you’ll enjoy.