Calais - A Great Day Out Across The Channel
Have a great day out and bag a bargain to boot, says Channel-hopping expert, Sharron Livingston
If you find yourself with a spare day, why not inject a little ooh la la with a short hop across the Channel to Calais?
As daytrips go, Calais is not just a fun day out but also the best place to bag a boozy bargain. Thanks to the tax differentials between the UK and France, you can save between £1.50 and £3 on a bottle of wine and up to £8 on Champagne. But this French coastal town is full of other surprises too. It has an attractive beach, gorgeous surrounding countryside, gastronomic restaurants, fresh seafood and cheeses galore to drop into your cooler bag.
Start the day at a leisurely pace by picking up an early ferry at Dover and feel good that there are no airport queues and no carbon footprint to speak of. It takes just 90 minutes to cross the 26 miles to France and for a little extra, upgrade to club lounge on P&O where you can read the papers, drink lashings of tea and coffee and sip a glass of bubbly to get you in the mood.
Once on French soil, drive through the town centre to see Calais’ most imposing landmark – the Flemish-style town hall with its beautiful belfry. In front of the Town Hall is Rodin’s famous life-size bronze sculpture, The Burghers of Calais, recalling the last moments of the Hundred Years’ War. Beyond that is Parc St-Pierre, home to a war museum and a memorial to the unknown soldier.
Then take your inner wine connoisseur to CHP French wine outlet and revel in its extensive fine French wine selection and great value Champagnes. Their own-label Champagne is amazing value at around £11 but there are many other bargains including Lanson Black Label £16.50, (UK £24).
Alternatively, head for Calais Vins or their sister outlet, Franglais. Run by brother-in-law duo Jerome Pont and Olivier Vermisse, both these shops have an amazing bar-a-vins wine dispenser where 25 or so wines, stored at their optimum temperatures, are regularly available for tasting. Ask about their ingenious ‘Petit Frères’ (little brothers) scheme where small owner-run French vineyards have been scoured for delicious cheaper alternatives to the expensive wines. One fine example is Château Pétrus from the Pommerol region of Bordeaux - it’s a great wine but so is the Château Recougne Bordeaux Superior (£4.50) sourced from a neighbouring vineyard, that tastes similar but at a fraction of the price.
For boozy bargains in general, try newcomers to Calais, Boozers and Cheers. These are huge warehouses abundant with bargain wines and great-value beers - 25cl bottle of Stella 20p (27p UK) - and well worth a visit. Otherwise go for what you know at Tesco, Sainsbury and Oddbins where your favourites are sometimes half price. To give you an idea, Jacobs Creek Shiraz in the UK costs around £5.50 but in Calais just £3.75.
A shopping spree would not be complete without a visit to the hypermarkets where grocery shopping is generally up to 20% cheaper. Particularly good bargains are Persil washing powder, fizzy drinks, Arabica coffee, chocolate, olive oil and Le Creuset pots and pans.
The most charming way to shop in Calais is at the market on Place d’Armes. Join the locals as they shop for their lunch. Delightful flower arrangements lead the way to stalls selling great-value flower bulbs. Follow your nose to the food section and pick up strings of garlic, especially the smoked variety at just £5.50 per kilo.
Locally grown chicory, home-made honey, and various farm-produced jams are enticingly cheap. Other must-buy French delicacies include northern France’s famed fish soup, foie gras and speciality saucissons (sausages) such as pork and mushroom, pork and walnuts and even pork with cheese or olives.
A huge selection of cheeses is available from La Maison du Fromage et des Vins – a cheese and fine wine shop owned by one of France’s finest sommeliers – Arnaud Crespo. Ask for a tasting of any cheese that takes your fancy. Camembert (£3.70 – UK £4.10 per kilo) and Brie (£4.03 – UK £4.60 per kilo) are always popular but why not try a cheese that is not so easy to come by: Maroilles (£4.00 per kilo), one of Northern France’s classics, is both richly flavoured and highly pungent.
The Crespo family also runs a highly regarded gastronomic restaurant, Le Channel, overlooking the harbour. Dishes are imaginative (curried cod on a bed of rice or soup with mussels cooked in beer) and cleverly presented too. La Pléiade, also near the harbour, has equally superb traditional yet modern dishes but with a wider meat ensemble, including French beef tournedos, Guérand salt flower and Cubebe pepper, mushrooms stuffed with macaroni and foie gras. Seafood lovers could also try Aquar’aile – a restaurant that sits atop a block of flats so that you can tuck into an eye-poppingly big seafood platter while enjoying the sea views.
If time allows, try Le Grand Cerf just 20 minutes from Calais by car. Apart from the great French menu (crab in filo pastry, braised ox in beer, and redfish fillet with herbs), getting there is part of the fun. It is an enjoyable drive along the twisting, narrow D940 coastal road that passes through tiny fishing villages and the magnificent headlands of Cap Blanc Nez and Cap Gris-Nez. Take the time to ramble between these cliffs for some breathtaking vistas and a view of England on the horizon.
A gastronomic meal in France can take up a whole afternoon – time you could spend shopping at Cité Europe shopping complex or for designer clothes at the factory outlet Marques Avenue next door. So, for a simple lunch, grab a baguette, some camembert and a bottle of your favourite vino at the hypermarket and have a picnic on the lovely soft sand beach. Later, walk it all off by following the curve of the promenade past neat, colourful beach huts, perhaps stopping at a terrace café to enjoy a drink and watch seagulls as they follow the ferries in and out of the port.
ZA Marcel Doret, Calais
CD 215 – 62186 Frethun, Calais
Zone Curie, Rue Gutemberg, Calais
Tesco Vin Plus Cité Europe
122 Boulevard du Kent, Coquelles, Calais
Avenue Roger Salengro
Route de Boulogne
Parc la Française, Avenue Charles de Gaulle, Coquelles, Calais
Boozers Wine and Beer
Route Nationale de St Omer
Cheers Wine and Beer Warehouse
199, rue Marcel Doret, Calais
Cité Europe, 1001 boulevard du Kent, Coquelles, Calais
Centre Commercial, Av. Roger Salengro
Route de Boulogne, Coquelles
1001 boulevard du Kent
Marques Avenue Shopping Centre Boulevard du Parc
Place D’Armes, Calais
(Saturday and Wednesday mornings)
La Maison du Fromage et des Vins
1 rue Andre Gerschel
3 boulevard de la Résistance, Calais www.restaurant-lechannel.com
255 rue Jean Moulin, Calais
Le Grand Cerf
34 Av. Ferber, Marquise
32 rue Jean-Quéhen 62100 Calais
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