Who says the Channel Tunnel is no place for a cyclist?

The hills round Calais make a perfect day's circuit, but there's the awkward obstacle of the sea. Simon O'Hagan finds a way through
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The Independent Travel

We were our own little Transit of Venus - a tiny blob of activity traversing a corner of one of the wonders of creation. Like the transit, our moment of glory was fleeting, but in a way that was the beauty of it.

We were our own little Transit of Venus - a tiny blob of activity traversing a corner of one of the wonders of creation. Like the transit, our moment of glory was fleeting, but in a way that was the beauty of it.

I refer, of course, to a day trip to France by bike. It is easily done. You just might not think of doing it. Perhaps the trouble is that cross-Channel hops have come to mean cheap booze and cigarettes, and not much else. There is, as they say, a healthier alternative.

Let's explode another myth while we're about it - that north-eastern France, especially the area around Calais, is really rather dull, best sped through on your way to more interesting and scenic places. It's not true.

Since you cannot take your bike on to a Eurostar train, cyclists have two ways of getting to France - on a ferry, or, the way I did it last week, through the tunnel on Le Shuttle. And no, I didn't need to take my car as well.

Eurotunnel's cyclist service deserves to be better known. What you do is this: get yourself and your bike to the terminal at Folkestone (you can leave your car there). Put the bike on the back of a trailer. Get in the mini-bus that is pulling it, and then let Norman the driver take you on to Le Shuttle and deliver you to the other side. Remove bike from trailer and away you go. It's brilliant - and at £16 return, excellent value.

Getting out of the terminal at Coquelles does involve negotiating the odd roundabout, but you are quickly on to the coast road heading west, where traffic - by English standards - is light. And what a fabulous road it is, rising and falling (not too steeply) as it follows the line of the cliffs - past Cap Blanc-Nez and Cap Griz-Nez, and on towards Boulogne.

For those bothered by the fact that you can still see England, try the tucked-away village of Escalles. It could be anywhere in France, and the Restaurant du Cap (tel 00 33 3.21.85.25.10) is an excellent place for a lunch stop, all the better if you like seafood. Wissant and Wimereux are handsome seaside towns with sandy beaches that stretch for miles.

Check out the rolling pastures inland from here, in particular the road from Audinghen to Marquise. Its highest point affords wonderful views in all directions.

Then it is probably time to head back to Le Shuttle. Your Transit of Venus is nearly over. But in this instance, it surely won't be long until the next one.

GIVE ME THE FACTS

How to get there

Simon O'Hagan travelled to Pas de Calais in northern France courtesy of Eurotunnel (08705-35 35 35; www.eurotunnel.com) and Pas de Calais tourist board (00 33 3 21 10 34 60; www.pas-de-calais.com).

A return day ticket on Eurotunnel costs £16 per person with a bicycle. For the day trip, depart Folkestone at 8am and return from Calais Coquelles at 6pm. The number of places on the mini-bus is limited to 12.

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