With forests, sea coast, rolling pastures and marshes, filled with game of all kinds, Montreuil was considered a culinary Shangri-La, even as early as the 13th Century.
Left: Abbatiale Montreuil-sur-Mer in 1817
The Bishop of Amiens, (a town not on the doorstep in the 14th century), published charters in 1311 and 1316 regarding culinary matters in Montreuil, allowing its cooks to make cugnots, a kind of brioche with spices and a melting sugar centre, which became a specialty of the town.
On gala days, meals combined luxury with quantity. The salons and the great halls were opened, silverware unpacked. Porcelain statuettes from Germany, pyramids of fruit and baskets of flowers decorated the tables. Meals lasted for hours, and if they took place at night, guests would not get up from the table till the early morning. If guests lived in town, the host made it his duty to take them home.
18th century travellers write of the quality of the coaching inns, the Renard d'Or, the Hotel d'Angleterre, and the Relay du Roy, serving the marvellous and witty specialities of woodcock and snipe pate. These were presented with the birds' heads surrounded by pastry a la stargaze pie (left), trout and frogs legs from the Canche and excellent seafood. (Montreuil being a important stop on the ‘route-des-poissons’ from Boulogne to Paris) Arthur Young (1741-1820), travelling on the eve of the French Revolution was surprised to find so many of his compatriots established in Montreuil.
Laurence Sterne, considered the father of travel writing, evoked with pleasure the quality of the "Cour de France” hotel.
During the Roman era, Montreuil was connected to the sea by the Canche river. Ramparts were built in the 9th Century, and by the 10th Century Montreuil was main sea port of the Capétiens. As the estuary silted up, the port fell into disuse. During the Hundred Years' War, the town suffered badly and was largely ruined. Over the centuries, Montreuil was in the sights of conquering armies, but always the Ramparts offered considerable protection, something the British Army had uppermost in their minds when they chose the town to be their command centre during the First World War.
Montreuil is the setting for part of Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables, where it is identified only as M....sur-M... in past translations.
The protagonist, Jean Valjean (going by the name Father Madeleine), is for a few years the mayor of Montreuil, as well as owner of the local factory, and it is where the character Fantine lives, works, and later becomes a prostitute before dying in a local hospital. Hugo had spent several vacations in Montreuil.
Les Misérables is being performed this summer 2017 in Montreuil-Sur-Mer from July 28th to August 7th