I love Christmas shopping in France – especially at atmospheric French Christmas markets. Food, wine and presents from France have an extra cachet – and they offer great value with nice finishing touches like tasteful Christmas wrapping. And there’s no need to go far because the Pas de Calais - the area closest to the ferry port and Eurotunnel terminal and our region of the month – has all you need for a Christmas shopping break.
Christmas shopping is a great excuse for a long weekend or midweek short break before the flurry of the festive season sets in. In the Pas de Calais region we have owners offering cosy gites, studios, converted barns, country houses and chateaux that are ideal for a November or December stay and close enough to restaurants for some relaxing nights to enjoy the local cuisine after you’ve shopped and dropped.
In Calais, the shopping opportunities are many. In town, you’ll find cheese, Calais lace, cakes, fish and seafood specialities in the shops and from Friday 12th to Sunday 14 December the town centre is dominated by a Christmas market. Boulogne holds its market the same weekend.
Just outside Calais is the vast and impressive Cite Europe retail centre with 147 stores, 20 restaurants in the Cite Gourmande hall and parking for no less than four thousand cars. Boulogne holds its St.Nicolas Parade through the town centre on 6th December, followed by a firework display, so the whole town is buzzing that weekend.
One of Boulogne's – and indeed France’s - most famous shops is the Philippe Olivier Fromagerie. I just love the array of massive whole cheeses, the wonderful aromas and the air of serious devotion that surrounds making your choices. You’ll also find some really good shops for wine and chocolates.
Other Christmas markets in the Pas de Calais are open every day from late November right through December, with lots of colour, extra cultural events and entertainment. Famous markets are held in Bethune, Lille, Arras and Licques, which includes a lively turkey parade.
Many small towns across the region also have their own markets which can offer a really joyous experience, joining the sense of community and practicing your French. At all the markets, look out for gifts, crafts and local produce and savour the smell of mulled wine and the sound of carols. You might even find a French-style Christmas pudding, which is heavy on the dried fruits and rum.
Finally, it would be a shame to visit the region and not take in the coastline. My insider tip is to take the D940 coast road between Calais and Boulogne and stop off at Cap Blanc Nez or Cap Gris Nez to blow the cobwebs away or take a stroll through the village of Wissant to its massive beach lined with rolling white cliffs and often bathed in a beautiful light that makes the colours of the sand and sea truly sing.