Sat 20 Sep 2014

Montreuil – not just a place to buy wine

La Tour Blanche in Montreuil's CItadel

La Tour Blanche in Montreuil’s Citadel

In my 11 years at The Society I have been lucky enough to have visited Montreuil-sur-Mer well over 100 times having had oversight of day-to-day activities in the showroom as well as in my capacity as Tastings & Events Manager and latterly as PR Manager. Just this week I have finished reading Thomas Keneally’s brilliant The Daughters of Mars, which brought home to me another side of the history of this area of Northern France. Though known variously as The Society’s French outpost, home to a pair of Michelin-starred restaurants and the inspiration behind the first half of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, this year it is the town’s crucial role in World War I that has come to the fore.

General Headquarters had been based in Saint Omer since October 1914. With the slow but sure advance of the German front line it was decided in March 1916 to move GHQ to Montreuil – further from the front line but closer to the ports of Boulogne and Etaples, the latter also being the location for a large training base and a 20,000 bed military hospital site, as well as having direct rail links to the front on  the Somme.

French president Raymond Poincaré and HM King George V. Field Marshal Haig looks on.

French president Raymond Poincaré and HM King George V. Field Marshal Haig looks on.

The logistical side of the war effort has often been overlooked in this year of centenary commemorations. The British Expeditionary Trust has put that to rights with an excellent exhibition, Le Monde à nos Portes (The World at our Gates) set up in tandem with the Musée de Montreuil in the Citadel. The story of Montreuil and the Côte d’Opale is told through an excellent photographic record. Pictures of King George V, Field Marshal Douglas Haig and Président Raymond Poincaré in the streets of Montreuil are displayed alongside a whole host of British, French, Canadian, Italian, American and Indian soldiers and backroom staff.

belle epoqueThe communications centre was originally in the theatre on what is now known as Place Général de Gaulle, but this was moved to the casemates of the Citadel in early 1918. There were telephony improvements as the war progressed, but towers in the Citadel and along the rampart walls were still used as lofts for carrier pigeons for messages between the front at GHQ.

From the early 20th century’s Belle Epoque where well-to-do French and British tourists flocked to the French coast from Deauville to Le Touquet through to the dismantling of GHQ in 1919, this excellent exhibition marking the years when Montreuil was at the epicentre of the war effort is well worth a visit.

Next time you head to Montreuil to stock up on any of the 200 wines for sale on the spot, or to pick up your pre-ordered cases, be sure you make time to visit the Citadel, which also has its own fascinating history. I learn something new every time I go.

Ewan Murray
PR Manager

Categories : Miscellaneous


  1. John F. Marcham says:

    Our family “discovered” Montreuil over 20 years ago when we stayed in the area at a friend’s house. It was a bit “run-down” then and quite e few houses were in a dilapidated state. However parking in the square was never a problem. The town has thrived since and we enjoy our visits to the Wine Society there very much. Regrettably parking in the actual town can be a problem, especially on a Saturday.
    But if you do go into the town there is a wonderful cheese shop in the square, it is quite small but has the most amazing selection of local and regional cheeses.

    • Ewan Murray says:

      Thanks for your comment, John. You’re right, Caseus is indeed a wonderful cheese shop. My personal favourite shop in the town (other than The Society’s showroom, of course!). Montreuil has certainly upped it’s game onmn the last 20 years. Hard to believe that on 20th January next year we will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of our move from Hesdin to Montreuil.

  2. Norman Gooding says:

    Members who, like the writer, are a little more than mature in age may like to know that the exhibition Ewan refers to is in the casemates. This involves a flight of steep steps some 50 in number with nothing to hang on to but a soggy flexible rope. For entry and exit. The exhibition is purely photographic, no artifacts. Many have been used before in an exhibition some years ago in the town hall. The aged or infirm may not find it “vaut le voyage”.

    Otherwise, I fully second the remarks above re M. Caseus and the excellent variety of restaurants in this ever-charming town. But, beware, the Jeroboam has been sold and is currently being renovated. Scheduled to re open in a couple of months under Froggie ownership with cuisine traditionelle.

  3. Ewan Murray says:

    Thanks, Norman. And by Froggie, I guess you’re referring to Alexandre Gauthier, chef patron of Michelin-starred Auberge de la Grenouillère and owner of Froggy’s Tavern in the centre of town who has indeed purchased le Jéro. It will be interesting to see what he makes of it, now our friends François & Céline have moved on. Reste à voir, as they say in those parts. Personally I can’t wait to try it!

  4. Neil Bailey says:

    Just to endorse Ewan’s view of the GHQ exhibition. I have visited Montreuil countless times, but usually only stopped for a few hours. Last week booked a 3 night stay to coincide with the Wine Society Dinner (held in Froggy’s as the Jereboam is closed)and took the opportunity to visit the exhibition – very interesting and worth the challenge posed by the steps! Montreuil has blossomed over the years, but the restaurants are very variable – of those we tried last week Le Darnetal offered the best balance between quality and price – and easily the friendliest warm service that seems encountered.

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