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Sifex France Guide to Pas de Calais

Famous for the ‘Burghers of Calais’ commemorated by Rodin’s statue in front of Calais’ Mairie, a morning’s shopping in Calais, followed by lunch in the seaside resort of Wimereux is easily achievable. It was near Wimereux that John McCraw, soldier poet who wrote ‘in Flanders Fields’ died of pneumonia in 1918. For golfers, Hardelot nearby has two courses. Boulogne, with its imposing Basilica at the top of the old town, has a vibrant Saturday market, wonderful seafood restaurants and great charm. Once a busy ferry port, most visitors now arrive by motorway from Calais. There is an amazing ‘sea world’ called ‘Nausicaa’ open all the year round whilst on the beach sand yachting and windsurfing are ‘de rigeur’.

Along the coast of the Cote d'Opale, Le Touquet has always been popular with the Parisians, particularly in the 19th century. With the ‘Paris Plage’, over 6 miles of sandy beaches, many chic boutiques, a Casino and a smattering of smart hotels and grand villas amongst the pine trees, this is a year round resort. The golf course is well known and there is even a small airport. At St Omer the basilica is all that remains of what was once a Gothic Cathedral, surrounded by ancient 17/18th century houses and a number of canals. The town was once a busy medieval port with its produce travelling to Gravelines by barges. The countryside surrounding the town is fertile and many cauliflowers and much chicory is produced.

Inland the countryside is criss crossed with river valleys. The Authie, the Course and the Canche all have a plethora of attractive sleepy villages along the way. This is rural France where sugar beet is produced and life moves at a gentle pace. Hesdin is very pretty and Montreuil with its ramparts is enchanting and equipped with a first class Relais and Chateaux hotel. It was here that Victor Hugo wrote part of Les Misérables.

The town of Arras, scene of much fighting in World War II, on the River Scarpe has beautiful houses dating from the 13-14th Centuries. The two vast squares have wonderful architecture and the stone, all excavated from beneath the town, left an incredible labyrinth of underground passages which came into their own during the wars. On the gastronomic front, there are the usual regional delights to sample, one of the best known of which is a thick Flemish soup named ‘Hochepot’ with everything under the sun in it. Seafood dishes proliferate, many of them based around herring and the further north you go, beer is often drunk in preference to wine.

© 2003-2006 Sarah Francis

Sifex France Guide to the Departments in Nord/Pas-de-Calais

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