Équihen-Plage, the French town of inverted house-boats

As its name indicates, Équihen-Plage (Équihen-Beach) is a coastal town located in the extreme north of France, in the Pas-de-Calais region. It barely reaches 3,000 inhabitants, but during the summer its population increases considerably because in recent decades it has become one of the favorite vacation spots for the French.

Its magnificent beach of more than 3 kilometers in length and the careful quality of its natural environment have earned it the coveted European blue flag on several occasions. Unlike other coastal areas, Équihen has managed to stay away from wild urbanization, conserving its natural spaces, which means that tourists do not have many options to choose from when looking for accommodation, except for camping and little else.

One of these options is what gives the town its greatest peculiarity: numerous houses created with large inverted boats that are rented during the summer, or are even permanently inhabited.

Today they are focused on tourism, but it was not always like that. Until the beginning of the 20th century, Équihen was a small port that lived exclusively from herring fishing. Life was not easy and resources were scarce, so since the middle of the previous century, fishermen began to recycle the boats they retired from service, using them to build houses.

The only house-boat that survived the war / photo Joel.herbez on Wikimedia Commons

Although it may seem otherwise, they were the ones with the greatest resources within the most disadvantaged families, who could afford to remove a boat for this purpose, which, after all, was cheaper than building a traditional house.

For this, the boat was inverted, with the keel now working as a roof and waterproofing it with tar. It was placed on a wooden or stone platform, and a door and windows opened in the hull. These dwellings consisted of a single room, which spanned the entire length of the boat, where they cooked and slept in a shared space.

The curious houses already caught the attention of visitors in the first decades of the 20th century, a time from which there are numerous postcards with photographs that reflect the precariousness and misery of those years. Already then they began to be called quilles in the air (keels in the air).

Luckily things were improving and little by little life in Équihen was transformed thanks to tourism, so that by the end of the 1930s the boats were abandoned and more stable and comfortable houses were built in their place.

Modern houseboats today / photo Bertrand Hodicq on Wikimedia Commons

During the Second World War the few remaining houseboats were completely destroyed, either as a result of bombing, or used as firewood. At the end of the war there was only one standing. It is still in place, preserved as it is and converted into a symbol of the town.

In the 1990s, Équihen wanted to recover that aspect of its past as part of the local heritage, encouraging the construction of new houseboats in the local campsite, precisely in the same place where the old ones once stood, on the cliffs near the descent. to the beach.

But now using modern techniques and providing them with all the comforts that the ever-growing tourism demanded.

It is not the only place where you can see these curious constructions. In Great Britain, Scotland and other places in France there are isolated examples of houses built in a similar way. In Sizun, in French Brittany, there is perhaps the most impressive of all, built with a ship 30 meters long, 15 meters wide and 7 meters high.


Sources

Équihen-Plage (official website) / Équihen-Plage Côte d’Opale / Patrimoine de France / Wikipedia