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There's a tendency to think of the Nord-Pas de Calais as an area of France that we rush through when heading further south - which is a pity. Every time I explore the region, I'm impressed by the clear impression that I have most definitely entered France with all that means in terms of ambience, way of life - and most especially way of eating.

Particular favourite places? Well, let's start with Ardres, a small town close to a lake with beautifully planted public areas, a delightful square with one of those art-form patisseries and an excellent British-owned wine merchant and enough good restaurants to keep anyone happy from Monday to Friday and the weekend as well.

If Ardres is a good example of small-town France, then Le Touquet is the epitome of Parisian chic and sophistication transported to the seaside. The Christmas shops and lights are wonderfully tasteful, the cultural events are impressive, the seafood is exceptional, the super-luxury houses set in woodland are well worth a drive-by and the people watching is superb. Oh, and for outdoor lovers there's a huge beach to stroll and some famous golf courses to play.

Less well known but delightful in a different way is the seaside town of Wimereux, which has quite an Anglo-Norman feel with its beach huts and painted seafront houses. Equally charming is the historic town of Montreuil-sur-Mer, which is actually quite a way inland, but has some lovely medeival architecture and a very French feel.

If I want to blow away the cobwebs of a good lunch and stretch my legs, then I climb the slopes of Cap Blanc Nez or Cap Gris Nez, take in the fabulous coastal views, reflect on the history and look back at Kent, feeling how cool it is to be so close and yet 'abroad'.

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