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Guide to Pas-de-Calais
Situated in the North of France this is the closest department to the UK and the region is often referred to as the ‘gateway to France’.
Pas-de-Calais (department number 62) is located in the region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais and has an estimated population of 1,441,568 (approximate in 1999).
The capital of the department is Arras with the towns of Béthune, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Calais, Lens, Montreuil and Saint-Omer within the immediate area.
Why you should visit Pas-de-Calais for your next holiday in France
Visit the understated Pas-de-Calais for its long sandy beaches with elegant seaside resorts and its varied landscape further inland. The department is conveniently located just across the channel with holiday properties not costing the earth.
Pas-de-Calais enjoys a rich maritime cuisine with delicacies including:
- Anguilles au vert - eels cooked with spinach and sorrel leaves in white wine.
- Flamiche - a flemish word for cake. This delicacy can be either sweet or savoury.
- Maroilles - a local strong cheese.
- Andouillettes - speciality of Arras. These small sausages are made from offal and are commonly served with chips or mashed potato.
- Tarte a gros bords - an open top sweet custard tart.
Given Pas-de-Calais' close proximity to the UK, the climate tends to be fairly similar to the South of England. The region also sees its fair share of rainfall, which helps to keep Pas-de-Calais' countryside a vibrant green.
What to see in Pas-de-Calais
Arras is the capital of the department and is often used as a base for people visiting the historical battleground sites of the Somme. The town reflects a strong Flemish influence and many consider it to be one of the most beautiful towns in France. There are many historic buildings, including the town hall and two town squares each lined with stone-pillared arcades. The squares, Grand'Place and the smaller Place des Héros, hold weekly markets on Saturday mornings. The belfry of the town hall has a viewing platform where you can enjoy the sites of the town from above the crowds. Underneath the square runs a labyrinth of tunnels carved into the chalk rock. Here the inhabitants of Arras used to store wine and food - and seek refuge in times of war.
Béthune is a charming town which has overcome great devastation at the hands of the world wars. As with Arras, the town has a Belfry, for which it is famed. The stylish red brick of the Flemish architecture is clearly visible and there is also some Art Deco to be spotted. Béthune is a shopper's paradise and boasts a wonderful selection of boutiques, luxury gift shops and exclusive interior design shops.
More unusually for a town in the North of France is a dry ski slope, popular with locals and tourists. Other sporting activities traditionally associated with the region such as fishing, horse-riding, walking and cycling can all be found close to the town.
Along the Opal coast you will find the attractive town of Boulogne-sur-Mer. It is the biggest fishing port in France and faces Britain across the channel. In days gone by it was a busy ferry port and today focuses on fishing and tourism for its economy. An interesting history awaits you in the old walled town, which sits on ancient ruins. Take a step back in time and spend some time meandering around the cobbled streets. The lively fishing port delivers delicious top quality fresh fish to the many restaurants in the town, which cater for pockets of all sizes.
Boulogne-sur-Mer has a rich military history and you will find Napoleon's column, which stands looking across the channel just outside the town.
Calais is the main gateway into France and welcomes tens of millions of visitors every year. Tourism is big business in the town and as you would expect, the town centre thrives with day-trippers and holidaymakers looking to stay a little longer. A weekly market is held every Saturday.
Lens is one of France's large Picarde cities along with Lille, Valenciennes, Amiens, Roubaix, Tourcoing, Arras, and Douai. From 2009, Lens will be the location of the Louvre-Lens, a new satellite museum for semi permanent and rotating exhibitions. It will also feature a multi-purpose theatre and conservation spaces open to the public.
The pretty town of Hesdin is situated in beautiful countryside on the edge of the Fôret de Crecy. Quaint little streets and the River Canche, which runs through the town, give Hesdin its familiar French characteristics. However, the town still oozes a distinctly Spanish feel, uncommon in this region of France.
Montreuil is a peaceful town located not far from Le Touquet, which enjoys glorious views and a relaxing ambience. The town is encircled by ramparts and the majority of the buildings date from the 17th and 18th centuries. Victor Hugo famously wrote Les Misérables and set part of the story in Montreuil.
The quiet town of St-Omer is surrounded by a network of canals. The town is home to the only Gothic church in the region with the Basilica, dating from the 13th to 15th centuries. St-Omer frequently features throughout history. Since medieval times, a thriving bustling market has taken place on Saturday mornings.
Le Tourquet is a chic seaside resort, popular with Parisian bathers. The beaches back onto an affluent and architecturally diverse town dotted with pine trees. There are morning markets on a Tuesday and Saturday held in a semi-covered market place, rue du Metz.
How to get to Pas de Calais
Lille Airport is served by a number of airlines. Air France will take you from Heathrow to Lille. Alternatively, BMI provides flights direct from Leeds Airport, while Lydd Air will fly to La Touquet. Ryanair runs flights from Dublin and Glasgow to Beauvais.
The best ferry ports for this area are Calais, Boulogne and Dunkirk.
Go by Eurostar direct from the UK to Lille in under an hour and a half or take the Eurotunnel from the UK to Calais.