Town resort

The tourist resort is a place created by and for tourism. However, after their emergence, from the mid-19th century, some of them changed.

A path to the economically diversified town

In certain cases, the influx of the non-tourist population that settles there is not numerically significant to change the status of the place. For example, in Saint-Jean-de-Monts, the residential settlement of mostly elderly residents does not call into question the predominance of tourism. However, other economic drivers are now attracting new residents who are not tourists as they live there all year round or for a long period. In the case of Saint-Jean-de-Monts, it is “residentialisation”: making neighbourhoods better places to live. But the process can be more assertive. Several resorts have thus become diversified towns, or urban districts, in the sense that the population and economic roles are no longer limited by tourism. They have become suburban municipalities or urban districts and are no longer frequented by tourists, as shown by the low accommodation capacity and by the pace of life which is no longer dictated by seasonality.

However, the function that gave rise to them or that triggered their development always leaves its mark.  On the one hand, the quality of buildings originally made for tourists underpinned the choice of residence there by well-off individuals. On the other hand, the promenade and the beach embellish the life of the inhabitants, especially since the industrial development in the south of the residential area has led to an increase in the facilities available there. Finally, this does not totally exclude the presence of temporary inhabitants who come for the day to enjoy these facilities.


For example, Malo-les-Bains founded by MP Gaspard Malo, a former fisherman who became a fish wholesale trader before entering politics in 1848, has very limited accommodation capacity today. The founder of the resort had bought 657 hectares of dunes from the town of Dunkirk to establish an agricultural estate. At the time there was not much interest in soil science, the darkened soils due to the decomposition of the softwood thorns were an illusion, and faced with failure the owner decided to convert to tourism. Success this time paved the way for autonomy. The municipality of Malo-les-Bains was founded in 1891. The old postcards show a beautiful row of magnificent villas on the seafront (Ill. 1), some of which have stood the test of time, a vast casino, while the grid plan is testimony of the real-estate development (Ill. 2).

Ill. 1. On the left, a postcard showing the waterfront before the practice moved to warmer coasts; on the right, the promenade and its seafront villas in 2018 (Cl. Johan Vincent).
Ill. 2. On the left, in the early 19th century, the massive stretch of sand dunes extends to the west of Dunkirk. On the right, Malo-les-Bains remained an autonomous municipality in 1950. The grid plan and sea-facing layout, with a promenade, reveals the design planned to offer a pleasant view to tourists (source: Géoportail).

But swept away by the wind of change in practices, the shift to hot baths and the aesthetics of the tanned body, the resort lost its tourists. Permanent residents flocked in and took over a high-quality habitat. In 1950, Malo had 12,100 inhabitants and Dunkirk 21,100. The resort was made part of Dunkirk in 1970. The tourist heritage remains: several seafront villas, well preserved due to the decline in attendance, continue to enhance the rehabilitated promenade.

It is customary to use the term “preserved” when a building has stood the test of time. However, this would suggest that a strategy has been implemented to ensure its conservation. It is therefore not at all consistent with the reality of a late and recent patrimonialisation of the waterfront in a destination that was until recently forsaken because of changes in social norms. Today, the place comes alive especially on weekends due to the influx of city dwellers of the agglomeration, and even from further beyond. As a result, the neighbourhood’s reputation is somewhat tarnished due to parking difficulties.

Ill. 3. Price of apartments in the agglomeration of Dunkerque: while the area of Malo-les-Bains is not the most expensive (the highest prices being in Saint-Pol-sur-Mer, a municipality associated with Dunkerque since 2010), prices are by far higher than in the town centre.
Ill. 4. Excerpt from L’Obs magazine – Special real estate supplement – of 23 September 2021.


Sainte-Adresse, which is still an autonomous municipality, has witnessed the same evolution. Property prices also show a reverse pattern, with the centre more accessible than the outskirts, again marked by its seaside past. Prices for old apartments are within the range of €3,200 to 6,000 per sq mt, i.e., 50% higher than in the centre of Le Havre (€2,200 to 4,000 per sq mt). The journalist states that the Nice of Le Havre is the “chic and expensive suburb” (L’Obs of 23 September 2021).

Ill. 5. Excerpt from L’Obs magazine – Special real estate supplement – of 23 September 2021.

In the old resort, since the Cassini map shows an original village nestled at the bottom of a “valleuse” (a depression in the land surface of the plateau which permits access to the sea), away from the shore, Monet painted Terrasse à Sainte-Adresse, Les régates à Sainte-Adresse and La plage de Sainte-Adresse in 1867.

Ill. 6. Postcard sent from Sainte-Adresse in 1914 (source: Whatsthatpicture from Hanwell, London, UK, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Philippe VIOLIER