“It always amazes me that people choose to endure hours and hours driving on a motorway or suffer queuing in airports in their quest to enjoy a taste of France” says Janine Marsh, Editor of web magazine The Good Life France. In today’s guest post, Janine shares a wonderful insight to the ‘real’ France which is literally on our doorstep…
Just across the English Channel, and only 35 minutes from the UK by train, you’ll find yourself in Calais and poised to make a startling discovery – the gorgeous Opal Coast of northern France.
For many, Calais is the gateway to France, they hurtle off the boat, onto the motorway and head south, but if you just turn left instead onto the D940 you’ll find yourself on the glorious Opal Coast road and deep in the heart of real France.
Just minutes from the port you are able to drink in the sight of rolling fields, pine forests and vast sand dunes. The road runs from Calais to Boulogne and beyond, winding its way up and down hill and through charming traditional fishing villages where you can stop and buy fresh fish from the locals who sell the day’s catch from their front gardens. The wonderful views from the tall cliffs Caps Blanc Nez and Gris Nez as they peer across the Channel at their English counterparts, the White Cliffs of Dover, are dramatic and inspiring. Numerous traditional boulangeries, charcuteries and pretty little brasseries line the route; you’ll even come across a museum or two and a fort designed by Louis XIV’s military engineer Vauban.
First out of Calais is Sangatte, where you will find a lovely sleepy seaside town which exudes an air of sleepiness with a spotlessly clean, empty stretch of sandy beach.
Just 4 km on and you come to Blériot Plage named in honour of Frenchman Louis Blériot who took off from here in an aeroplane and was the first person to cross the English Channel by air.
Audresselles is a charming little village; there are small rock pools filled with crabs, beautiful beaches, pretty village houses and dotted with informal restaurants. Everywhere you look there are small fishing boats and some of the houses in the village have homemade boards advertising the sale of the day’s haul of locally caught fish.
The quaint little villages along this road are picturesque, timeless and authentic, like Wissant, one of the last places in France to use a flobart – a traditional fishing boat. This town is where President Charles de Gaulle used to take his annual holiday and it’s also the place where Julius Caesar launched his invasion of Britain.
A little further on is Wimereux, with its beautiful Belle Époque villas and lovely sandy beach with brightly coloured beach huts and a lively street market. Boulogne is the next town along and quite different – vibrant and colourful. Visit the old town with its beautiful Basilica, chateau museum and bunting lined roads. Napoloeon stayed here to plan his invasion of Britain and his statue sits high on a hill facing away from the Channel and towards his beloved France. A place of ancient buildings, gourmet fromageries, chocolatiers and fabulous patisseries, though my favourite shop is the pharmacy which is almost unchanged since it was founded in 1847. Charles Dickens shopped here when he lived close by and said that “If (Boulogne) were but 300 miles further off… how the English would rave about it”.
The town is home to Nausicaä, the biggest aquarium in Europe – it’s not often you’ll get a chance to stroke a ray but you can here! Boulogne is France’s biggest fresh fish port so, as you can imagine, sea food restaurants are plentiful.
And on the way home, if you think Calais is somewhere to simply drive through to get to and from the ferry port – think again! Over the last year Calais has been rejuvenated – don’t miss the Calais Lace Museum with its amazing lingerie collections. Climb the Belfry, visit Rodin’s statue in front of the lovely Town Hall and shop for cheese, chocolate and wine in the town and enjoy a meal at one of the many outstanding restaurants – those in the know head for Le Channel which overlooks Calais’ yacht harbour with its colourful fishing nets.
Discover northern France’s spectacular coastal secret – right on the doorstep of Britain.