Get ready for Summer! Nord-Pas de Calais

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Our fortnightly series of travellers' guides to holiday destinations goes to French Flanders. Adrian Phillips reports



Why go here?


Calais is just a place to stock up on cheap booze, right? Wrong.

Explore beyond the port and you'll find sights and flavours to rank among France's best. Nord-Pas de Calais – "Calais County", if you will – has pretty fishing villages and elegant seaside resorts, medieval fortified settlements and proud Flemish towns, sand dunes, rolling hills and fields of grazing donkeys. There's culture in Lille, beach-side promenading in Le Touquet, and the perfect backdrop for moules et frites at Boulogne harbour. All this is 20 miles from Britain; it's real France, real close.

The great outdoors

The 125km (78 miles) of coastline has plenty of beaches, from Bray-Dunes on the Belgian border to Berck-sur-Mer on the cusp of the Somme; try kite surfing, sand yachting or sea kayaking (longecote.fr). The lush Avesnois area in Nord-Pas de Calais' eastern toe is superb for cycling, walking and riding; consider basing yourself at ValJoly (valjoly.com), a family-friendly resort. Greener-fingered pleasure-seekers should visit the region's parks and gardens (parcsetjardins-npdc.com); Les Jardins de la Ferme du Mont des Récollets in Cassel is the top attraction of this kind. Local festivals see the region's communities at their most joyous. Douai hosts a three-day Festival of Giants (from 10 July), with 20-foot figures, while Maroilles has an event in honour of its pungent cheese on 14 August.

The history trail

With a dearth of natural features to protect the region's borders, settlements required sturdy defences, and the legacy is lovely fortified towns such as Le Quesnoy, Gravelines and Bergues. Nord-Pas de Calais bore witness to the horrors of trench warfare; tourist offices at Arras (ot-arras.fr), Béthune (tourisme-bethune-bruay.fr) and Lens (tourisme-lenslieven.fr) can provide information on tours of the First World War sites. The Wellington Quarry (carriere-wellington.com) at Arras – part of a network of tunnels used by allied soldiers to surprise the Germans during the Battle of Arras – houses a touching museum. Moving forward to the Second World War, La Coupole (lacoupole-france.com) is a vast bunker near St Omer, from which Hitler had planned to launch V2 rockets on Britain. It now hosts a fascinating exhibition about the history of rocketry.

The retail therapy

You don't have to stray far from the port to buy fine food and wine – in central Calais, Le Terroir (leterroir-calais.com) is renowned for its wines, pâtés and foie gras. Moving along the coast, the Philippe Olivier shop (philippeolivier.fr) in Boulogne is arguably the best for cheese in the whole of France – indeed, Philippe is known as "The Big Cheese". Lille's Wazemmes Market is one of the most colourful and sensual you'll find; visit on a Sunday morning, when bargain hunters sift through everything from puppets to swimwear, while the scent of flowers and fresh produce wafts from the covered market hall. If you want to pick up a piece of exclusive Caudry lace – whether a finished tablecloth or a stretch of material from which to make your own regal wedding dress – you can do so at the shop in the town's Museum of Lace and Embroidery (museedentellecaudry.fr).

The inside attractions

Nausicaä (nausicaa.fr), the French National Sea Life Centre in Boulogne, is a family favourite. Alongside star-turn species such as sharks and seals, multimedia displays carry visitors to exotic islands or into the deep on a 3D virtual submarine journey. Opposite the sea centre lies a street of typical 19th century fishermen's cottages on the side of the cliff. One of these dwellings – Maison de la Beurière (00 33 21 30 14 52) – has been opened as a museum, showing original furniture and personal effects. Fishing families endured a tough time; eight people lived in this house, and the children slept in a kitchen cupboard. Don't miss the top-quality Museum of Flanders (museedeflandre.cg59.fr) at Cassel (cassel-horizons.com), which casts a keen light on Flemish culture. Caudry is the place to get lace fit for a princess – the material for Kate Middleton's dress came from the town. Calais' award-winning Lace and Fashion Museum (cite-dentelle.fr) uses multi-media displays to show the importance of the craft to the region; there's a second museum at Caudry itself (museedentellecaudry.fr).

The places to eat and drink

Sample some Flemish specialities in a traditional estaminet, such as rustic Het Kasteelhof (00 33 28 40 59 29) in Cassel, one of the best, serving local beers and regional classics such as andouillette (a strong-flavoured sausage). For quirky character, head for Chez Tante Fauvette (cheztante- fauvette.com) in St Omer. This homely restaurant seats just 15 diners, and the menu changes daily according to the whim of the chef.

Compact Facts

How to get there

P&O (poferries.com) operates regular services from Dover to Calais; crossings with a car cost from £39 per person. Châtellerie de Schoebeque (schoebeque.com) in Cassel is an elegant conversion of an 18th-century château that once played host to both Marshal Foch and King George V, with rooms from £175 per night. La Grange de Saint Hilaire (grange.saint.hilaire .free.fr) offers chalet-style accommodation right in the heart of the Avesnois countryside, with rooms for two from £48 per night

Further information

Nord Department of Tourism (tourisme-nord.fr); Pas-de-Calais Tourism (pas-de-calais.com). Cross-Channel France: Nord-Pas de Calais, Bradt (£13.99; bradtguides.com) is the only guidebook devoted to the region.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'