Located in the far north of France, the department of Pas-de-Calais is the closest to the UK. It’s a land of rolling countryside, forests and rivers. Dotted with pretty villages, there are historic cities, elegant seaside resorts and fabulous beaches.
Here are some of the best things to do in Pas de Calais:
120 kilometres of varied coastline boasting golden sandy beaches, dunes, cliffs and wild beaches dotted with seaside resorts makes up the shoreline of the Opal Coast. A place with a rich heritage going back thousands of years where Julius Caesar stood and contemplated the invasion of England and centuries later Napoleon did the same.
The Opal Coast earned its name thanks to the special quality of light that artists tried to capture here in days gone by. Painters have flocked here for centuries, it was a favourite place of JM Turner who adored the light. The view across the English Channel from the cliff tops along by Cap Blanc Nez and Cap Gris Nez is stunning…
5 brilliant beaches
There are dozens of great beaches to stop off at all along the Opal Coast, here are a few of our favourites:
Hardelot: Golden sands, a chic little town and never crowded. Charles Dickens lived here in the 1800s and loved the area.
Berck-sur-Mer Great for families, clean, safe and the perfect kite flying beach plus the little beach huts are so pretty!
Merlimont: Another family favourite with its long expanse of golden sands
Le Touquet: Town and seaside combine in this swish little resort which is a Paris secret and was once THE jet set place to go, nicknamed the “Monaco of the north”. The beach at Le Touquet was voted as one of the top ten in France by Trip Advisor users. (Photo above at sunset on a sunny day).
St Cecile Plage: Empty beaches with beautiful views, huge dunes to run up and down and a tranquil little town.
5 Historic towns
Arras: Historic and charming Arras is a place to walk and wonder. Incredibly much of the old town was re-built after being destroyed in WWI, but you would never know. With its tall Flemish style houses, cobbled stone squares it is a beauty…
Boulogne-sur-Mer: If you’ve never visited the old town you’ll be very surprised to go through the vast stone gateways and discover you’ve stepped back in time. Pretty, quirky, little shops and charming restaurants in the rue de Lille.
Montreuil-sur-Mer: Victor Hugo visited this town in 1847 and never forgot it. The history of this place goes back millennia. Today it is a pretty place of cobble stones squares, narrow alleys, ancient houses and a lovely walkway all around the town on the ramparts giving magnificent views over the surrounding countryside.
Saint Omer: the quintessential rural French town with a history. A lovely town square, little shops, great restaurants, brilliant boulangeries and a great ambience. Take a boat tide on the Marais, the marshlands of St Omer, to spot wildlife galore.
Wimereux: This small town is an off the beaten-track seaside resort that people can’t help falling in love with. Colourful and elegant with lots of Belle Epoque style villas, plus quirky shops and plenty of cafés and bars. You won’t only go there once!
Basilica Notre Dame
La Chartreuse de Neuville: The Charterhouse at Neuville sous Montreuil (near Montreuil-sur-Mer) was founded in the 14th Century. An incredible monument with a long and rich history. Open from April to November, visit the beautiful gardens and take a guided tour to see the stunning interior and cloisters… www.lachartreusedeneuville.org
The Basilica of Notre Dame in Boulogne-sur-Mer: The crypt of the church has been carefully restored and is the biggest in France. Dating back to Roman times, it is astoundingly beautiful and houses many precious treasures. The Basilica is a beautiful building, famous for the many miracles said to have come from it’s most previous relic, a slither of wood from a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Musée de Beaux Arts Arras: A great museum in an ancient Abbey. There’s a super collection of paintings, sculpture and porcelain plus an exhibition about the history of Arras.
Agincourt centre: The Medieval Historical Center of Agincourt (revamped in 2019) reveals the history of the legendary battle of the Hundred Years' War.
Sound and Light Show of Les Miserables in Montreuil-sur-Mer. Shows take place on the town’s ramparts in July and August. A brilliant night out for the whole family as hundreds of local people present a musical show in the town that inspired Victor Hugo to write the story. See the tourist office website for details.
5 things you shouldn’t miss
Market Le Touquet
Nausicaa: The National Sea Centre is the biggest aquarium in Europe. More than 36,000 animals including sea lions, penguins, giant tortoises, shark and an incredible array of fish. Book a backstage tour and meet the animals in the nursery, take in a show, gaze in awe at the colour and size of the many forms of sea life and watch as sea lions swim under your feet in a glass tunnel. www.nausicaa.co.uk
Markets: There are street markets in almost every town but a few you shouldn’t miss are: Le Touquet – Saturday morning the listed art deco market is a hive of activity and there are some great stalls selling such diverse items as wicker baskets and second-hand hotel linen.
St Omer – Saturday morning, lovely market in front of the Renaissance style town hall, great atmosphere and the best vegetables anywhere in the area – straight from the marshes where they’re grown close by…
Hesdin – Thursday morning, vibrant, buzzing, fun market that sprawls out into the streets around the church in the centre of town – great for people watching!
Horse riding: Romantic rides in the forest, exciting rides along the cliff tops, up and down dunes or on the beach – there are lots of opportunities in the area with equestrian centres in Le Touquet.
La Coupole: A visit to this enormous bunker left over from World War II, located 5 km from Saint-Omer, is sobering and astounding. It is among the most impressive remnants of the Second World War in Europe. It was from La Coupole that the V2 rocket was to take off, the ancestor of all modern rockets. It is now a History and Memory Centre and today, on the launch site, there is a spectacular Planetarium which offers an unforgettable journey into space. www.lacoupole-france.co.uk