Making the most of a short trip to the Calais area by Richard Davies.
Like many of us, you might be planning a shopping trip to France to enjoy some of the high quality affordable wine and food. There are plenty of ferry crossings from Dover to Calais, and chances are for ayour shopping trip you will be aiming to get on a ferry at Dover and hop over to Calais just for the day or a quick overnight stay. Calais is well catered for when it comes to supermarkets – even hypermarkets – and wine shops, and it’s great fun to load up on fine wines and delicious cheeses, with perhaps a few cases of those small bottles of beer the French do so well.
But what about after your shopping trip is over? What else does Calais have to offer?
The truth is that, for many of us at least, Calais and the surrounding areas don’t really hold much appeal. At first sight the area all seems a bit industrial, and, well, exactly what it is; a transport hub, and not the place we want to spend our holidays. Once we land at the ferry port, many of us either drive right on through until we reach our preferred destinations in western and southern France, or we head for the cheap shops and supermarkets, then turn home (hence the term “booze cruise”).
But isn’t it a real shame to just turn around and go back? Why go to all that trouble to get on the ferry to France only to see the inside of a characterless hypermarket. However, if you do want to spend a few hours in France, but not venture too far from the Calais ferry port, where should you go?
Calais itself has a few things to offer, such as the clean, long beach, or the famous Rodin statue of the Burghers of Calais statue (but there is a copy in Westminster), the World War II museum or the amazing architecture of Calais town hall. But Calais is also pretty busy and full of tourists heading to or from the ferry port. If you have a bit of time to spare, it’s much nicer to experience one of the quieter, smaller, and frankly prettier villages in the area.
So we to put together a list of ideas of some of the most picturesque towns and villages to visit near Calais. Hopefully our list will help you make the most of your day trip or short overnight trip to Calais and beyond.
Pretty Villages Near Calais
Saint-Valery-sur-Somme is just over 1 hours drive west along the coast from Calais. Here you can take a walk through the narrow, winding lanes of the Courtgain area, where the streets are lined with colourful sailor’s cottages, and eventually find the marina and sea front that looks out over the wide open Bay of Somme. Saint-Valery-sur-Somme is a pretty, unspoilt seaside town sitting at the mouth of the Somme river. Parts of the town show that it was once a medieval citadel and are still surrounded by castle walls. There’s a market on Wednesday and Sunday mornings, a pretty abbey church, and plenty of cafés and restaurants to enjoy in the village or by the harbour. There are nice walks to be enjoyed along the coastal front, or just meander through the lanes and the medieval gardens by the village ramparts. If you are staying a bit longer than a day trip, you might also consider kayaking in the bay, or a boat trip along the Bay of Somme coastline. If you are visiting during July and August you might come across one of the free open air concerts on Saturday evenings.
Audresselles is just 30 minutes drive from Calais. If you are pressed for time on a day trip, then this is one of the pretty towns to enjoy where you won’t need to drive too far. Just get onto the A16 motorway for around 15 miles, then take exit 44 towards Calais-Saint-Pierre. Audresselles is just a mile or two from the A16, but a whole different world to the hustle and bustle of motorways and ferry ports.
Audresselles has a beautiful beach, facing the Channel, with a fortunate mix of some sandy areas, rock pools and pebble, with the pretty village and some cliffs behind to compete a beautiful landscape. Plus on a good day there will be an amazing view of the white cliffs of Dover across the Channel.
Audresselles dates back years but has always been a fishing village, and it still has plenty of the traditional fisherman’s long houses in the centre. There’s a pretty church to see, an old coaching inn and some lovely streets to wander through, especially allée Maurice Boitel.
And because of the magnificent beach, there’s plenty of wildlife to see here too, including plenty of birds (oystercatchers, sandpipers, curlews, bitterns…) and some black-headed seals along the coast.
If you are really short on time, or just sick of driving, then consider the short 20 minute hop from Calais port to the pretty village of Ardes. The village is inland from the port, so no beach or promenade walks, although there are some enjoyable walks by the lakes to the north of the village. The lakes also offer some good angling and sailing opportunities. But in the village there is a pretty square and 2 wonderful churches – Chapelle des Carmes and the Eglise Notre Dame de Grâce – cobbled streets and a few shops, cafés and restaurants. There is a weekly market on Thursday mornings in the centre of the village. If you are staying overnight, then the B&B at Le Manoir de Bois en Ardres, is considered by many as the best in the town
Montreuil is a little further away from Calais than some of the other villages mentioned here, but it’s still under a 1 hour or so drive (we did it in 50 minutes). Plus you will get to say you’ve visited the place where part of part of Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Misérables, was set. Victor hugo was known to have spent some time in Montreuil.
The town is also known as Montreuil-sur-Mer, although it actually sits on a river (the Canche) and is about a mile or so from being “on sea / sur mer”. The full name comes from a time the sea was further inland, and it is usually still used in order to differentiate this Montreuil to the one near Paris.
The town is approached up a steep road where you will see the medieval ramparts that surround the centre. There are plenty of shops, cafés and a few good restaurants to enjoy, and 2 or 3 good hotels should you want to stay over night.
One of the most enjoyable things to do in Montreuil is simply to wander the picturesque cobbled streets, then along the ramparts for some amazing views, then back to the village centre for something to eat or drink in one of the restaurants around the main village square.
Busnes is a 50 minute drive straight down the A26 from the port of Calais, away from the coast. It was traditionally a farming village in a rural area. It’s fair to say that the village of Busnes probably wouldn’t have made our list a few years ago, but these days it is well known as the location for the 2 star Michelin restaurant Le Chateau Beaulieu
This is probably the most famous and best acknowledged restaurant within 1 hour drive of the port of Calais (or indeed Dunkirk or the Eurotunnel terminal near Calais). The restaurant is run by the famous chef Marc Meurin and is considered one of the best in the Calais region (hence the 2 Michelin stars). And better still, if you want to stay over night, there is a magnificent hotel as part of the complex. The hotel and restaurant are set in beautiful grounds where you can walk and relax, enjoying the fresh air after your journey. There is another, less expensive restaurant on-site, Le Jardin d’Alice, plus you can even take the opportunity to learn how to cook like a French master at one of their cookery lessons, then enjoy a relaxing massage or beauty therapy available in the hotel.
Bergues is about a 40 minute drive east of Calais. In fact the village is situated just a few miles or so south of Dunkirk, the other main ferry port in the area. Bergues is an extremely pretty location, and sometimes compared to Bruges in Belgium, mostly because of its winding canals and amazing 13th century belfry, which is the town’s most visited attraction. The belfry has been through some hard times, being damaged in various fires and wars, but it has been rebuilt many times and the 50 bells are still in tact to ring out to herald various festivities in the town.
Bergues also offers almost 5km of medieval ramparts to walk along and enjoy some lovely views. There is a market on Mondays, and plenty of restaurants and cafés in the town, which gets quite buy with many French tourists these days since it was the location for the French film Welcome to the Sticks. The title in France is Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis, and it went on to become one of France’s most popular films, hence the attraction of Bergues to visitors these days.
Map of the 6 villages near Calais
About the author: Richard Davies is a freelance writer based in Germany. He writes on all aspects of travel, in particular ferry travel, city breaks and camping in Europe.