Insider's Guide: Nord-Pas De Calais
Sunday 25 September 2011
This week we explore Nord-Pas de Calais with
Ellie Philpott, senior communications executive at SeaFrance (seafrance.com), which operates up to 30 daily car-ferry crossings between Dover and Calais.
1. Let the locals introduce you to Nord-Pas de Calais. Log on to the website Greeters 62 (uk.greeters62.com), choose an area, and then pick a local enthusiast who will give you a free guided tour. For example, Philippe's speciality is the war museum La Coupole at St Omer. His hobby is Flemish popinjay archery and he'll be happy to give you a demonstration of that, too.
2. On the slopes of the Mont des Récollets, at La Ferme du Mont des Récollets (tourisme-nord.com), sits Manu de Quillacq's stunning garden inspired by the early Flemish painters. Manu loves to take visitors around the garden and also puts in a regular appearance at his traditional Flemish café in nearby Cassel.
3. Alexandre Gauthier is one of the youngest French chefs to have earned a Michelin star. This spring, his restaurant, La Grenouillère (00 33 3 21 06 07 22; lagrenouillere.fr), reopened after a huge refurbishment, which also involved the creation of eight African-style hunting lodges.
4. For an insight into the First World War, head to the Wellington Quarries (carriere-wellington.com) at Arras. Excavated by New Zealand miners during the war, in 1917 they provided shelter for thousands of troops.
5. Nord-Pas de Calais is full of winding, tree-lined roads where you can uncover real France. Take the undulating D940 from Calais to Boulogne, which sweeps along the clifftops to the unspoilt coastal towns of Wissant and Wimereux. Track inland and follow the tiny D127 through the rural idyll of the Vallée de la Course. There are plenty of local auberges and cafés where you can pleasantly while away the time.
6. The Audomarois marshlands are a fascinating place to see the migrant bird population and local animal life. The traditional way of exploring is by electric eco-friendly boat or kayak, but you can also hire E-solex bikes and Citroë* 2CVs from Les Belles Echappées (les-belles-echappees.com).
7. There aren't any vineyards in Nord-Pas de Calais, but there are still a few local tipples to try. Visit Christophe Noyon's brewery, Brasserie des 2 Caps (2caps.fr), which he started at his father's farm in Tardinghen a few years ago. For something lighter, Hubert Delobel makes a very pleasant sparkling wine from redcurrants on his farm near Montreuil (perledegroseille.com).
8. This coast has huge stretches of sand which are perfect for walks or sports such as horseriding and sand yachting. Le Touquet (letouquet.com) is one of the best places to have a go, with the town's sand-yachting club offering one- and two-hour taster sessions and the local riding school catering for beginners.
9. One of the smelliest cheeses in the world comes from northern France, Vieux Boulogne, and there are plenty of specialist shops where you can try it. Cheese heaven is one of the stores run by Philippe Olivier (philippeolivier.fr) in Boulogne and Lille.
10. Tony Lestienne's fine-dining restaurant La Matelote (la-matelote.com) at Boulogne is popular with locals and visitors alike. If it's out of your budget, look no further than the restaurant at the Nausicaa sea life centre opposite. Tony is also responsible for the menus there.
To find out more about holidays in Nord-Pas de Calais and across France, visit the website of Abtof, the Association of British Tour Operators in France (franceyesyoucan.com).
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