Welcome to Wednesday and the second in our Wanderlust Wednesday features, but if you missed the first Wanderlust Wednesday feature on Toulouse you can catch up here! Today with the help of photographer Fleur Challis we are exploring the Nord- Pas-de-Calais in the North of France.
The Pas de Calais area and Nord-Pas-de-Calais is a region bordered on the north by the English Channel and the North Sea, on the northeast by Belgium, and on the south by Picardy. It is made up of just two departments, the Nord (59) and the Pas de Calais (62). Historically, this region covers most of what was once the French part of Flanders, and the old province of Artois.
The area is of course well known for its battlefields and remembrance of the many soldiers who died there in both the 1st and 2nd World War, and there are many remembrance trails for those wishing to visit the memorials. The Pas de Calais is not generally the first place that people think of visiting as they hurtle down the A16 to a warmer climate…….It is however, in our opinion, a real unspoilt gem of a find if you take the time to visit…….
Getting to Nord-Pas-de-Calais
One of the biggest advantages of this area is its accessibility from the UK. It really is incredible to be able to disappear into stunning countryside after only literally half an hour of driving from Calais or alternatively meander along the amazing coastline to find yourself in real France! As someone who used to bypass this area in favour of the south – not spending 10 hours or so on the road is great – especially if you have already travelled from the north of England – once you get to Calais, you’re almost there!
We love the tunnel for its quickness – it takes just 35 minutes from Folkestone, but the ferry is also great to soak in the journey and watch as France emerges across the channel.
The climate of course is not the same as the south, there is no getting away from that – but the weather is usually slightly warmer than the UK – that stretch of channel does make a little bit of difference!
Of course in thinking about accessibility, taking the Eurostar from Ashford in Kent gives you fast access to places like Paris and Lille, making it incredibly easy to go for just a day or a short break.
Resources for Traveling:
What to do in Nord-Pas-de-Calais
The Cote d’Opale is famous for its stunning coastline, with its chalk cliffs and gorgeous resorts with sandy beaches. If you like seafood, then it really doesn’t get any fresher or more local than the food served at many of the lovely fish restaurants on offer in the region. The beaches are stunning, and often empty, with big skies and wide open spaces. The dunes are fabulous for an afternoon picnic with a little wine or champagne (we loved St Cecile plage – very quiet, great to just relax)
Great for a lovely drive along the stunning coastline. Le Touquet is another gem well worth visiting, with the bonus of having an airport too. The old town is really worth spending time wandering around the streets, with its lovely cafes and eateries, and vintage shops for browsing. Its a resort frequented by Parisians, known for its chic mix of faded charm and eccentricity! If you love waterspouts then there are plenty of options for kitesurfing, windsurfing and sand yachting!
Boulougne of course is always a great place to visit – its the largest fishing port in France, and hosts wonderful markets, with of course some of the freshest fish to buy or savour in the many restaurants around the port or the town.
Inland the countryside is beautiful and our favourite areas are the Le 7 Vallees, which offers Hesdin as one of the main towns; well worth a visit with its lovely square lined with cafes and the imposing Hotel de Ville that dates from 1572. (see pic) the surrounding countryside with its forests and meandering villages are very pretty – one of our favourites is the village of Douriez, off the tourist track, which has a lovely restaurant L’estaminet de l’andeouiller always busy, serving seasonal, local produce.
Montreuil-sur-mur is a beautiful walled medieval town, with cobbled streets, imposing ramparts and beautiful architecture. The town is famous for Victor Hugo using it as a setting for Les Miserable, and as such every year the town pays homage to the author by producing a ‘son et lumiere’ at the for of the ramparts. One of the biggest highlights of the year is Bastille Day on the 14th July when the whole town is taken over by a huge Brocante, with practically every household taking part alongside professional dealers; its definitely one of our must do activities of the year.
If you fancy a city break, then Arras has to be top of your list – its actually the capital of the Pas de Calais region. Its an elegant city, with two attractive squares offering many bistros, cafes and boutiques, with views of the fabulous collection of 155 unique facades of Flemish baroque architecture.
There is a museum of fine arts situated in the ancient Abbey of St Vaast, and also worth exploring are underground tunnels – Les Boves – a network of some 16 miles used for sheltering soldiers during the war, as well as being used as a hospital.
The Gothic Belfry of 75 metres on the town hall is worth the climb – the views are incredible.
The 12th century Cistercian Abbey and gardens situated in the heart of the Authie Valley, featuring over 5000 rare plants within 8 hectares – these stunning gardens are well worth a visit, particularly in July when the roses are out.
Where to stay
A list of some great places to stay:
www.lagrangedesophie.net – Wonderful boutique B&B with homemade breakfasts and wonderful hosts a few minutes drive from the town of Hesdin.
loubarre.com – Incredible manor house in the countryside 20 minutes from the city of Arras.
www.chateaudemontreuil.com – Luxury Chateau with gastro restaurant in Montreuil sur mer.
www.lagrenouillere.fr In the countryside, not far from Montreuil sur-mer and Le Touquet
www.moulindefillievres.com charming 18th Century Mill on the river Canche
Perfect for honeymooners!
Looking for something with a little romance?
www.maisondeplumes.com Boutique B&B in the 7 Vallees.
Where to Eat
Of course no trip to France would be complete without visiting wonderful places to eat:
la.garenne.pagespro-orange.fr/– Characterful and rustic – full of objet d’art – restaurant that can cater for parties of up to 40 people.
www.greenbistrot.fr – Gourmet restaurant in the wonderful beach resort of Wissant.
www.estaminetdelandouiller.com – Authentic, country style French food at its best, in the beautiful village of Douriez, not far from Montreuil sur-mer- great for meat lovers!
www.chateaudemontreuil.com/ – Luxury Chateau with gastro restaurant in Montreuil sur mer.
The Pas de Calais really is a surprisingly wonderful mix of culture, glorious countryside, authentic gastronomical delights, and a seaside idyll. Its real France – real close!