For many Francofiles, a holiday to France means crossing to one of the major ports, be it Calais, Caen or Cherbourg and then motoring through the delights of the French countryside to distant destinations.
But stop…what about the area around Calais itself? What does this area, strangely known as ‘Nord-pas-de-Calais, have to offer?
This region of France is made up of beautiful and dramatic coastal areas as well as some stunning countryside. The hills of Flanders and Artois lead right up to the Côte d’Opale, or Opal Coast, with beaches surrounded by dramatic cliffs. The seaside resorts in this area (Berck-sur-Mer, Le Touquet-Paris-Plage and Boulogne-sur-Mer) have great beaches and water sports activities.
In the east, the plains of Cambrésis give way to groves and woods of the Thiérache and the Hainaut. The Avesnois Natural Regional Park, together with the Caps et Marais d’ Opale Regional Natural Park and Scarpe-Escaut Regional Park, offer over 3500km of paths to explore.
France for Families has been in touch with one of our gite owners in this area, Nicola Debono, to ask ‘what’s so special about the strangely titled Nord-pas-de-Calais’.
Nicola, who are you?
My husband Joe and I are the owners of Auberge des Chevaliers, a farmhouse and gite complex in the ‘Seven Valleys’ area of Nord-pas-de-Calais. We live in the property’s renovated farmhouse all year round and are currently in the process of giving the farmhouse and the gîtes a well-deserved facelift, which we hope will enhance guests’ holiday experience. It’s not a short-term project, it’s an ongoing labour of love!
Luckily, Joe is a qualified carpenter and joiner with over 30 years’ of experience and he’s thoroughly enjoying updating the gîtes to the highest standards, using much care and attention to detail.
I’m a qualified registered nurse (recently retired), so looking after people has always been my vocation. I hope to continue using these skills at Auberge des Chevaliers, guaranteeing wonderful, stress-free holidays for all our gîte guests!
We’ve been holidaying in the “Sept Valleés” for the last 30 years, having fallen in love with the area’s natural beauty and diverse environment.
Hesdin is a typical French town, with it’s imposing ‘Mairie’ and cobbled town square surrounded by restaurants, bars and shops. Hesdin is a progressive town and hosts various events, from an annual Brocante (flea market) to promoting artists and putting on sound and light shows. Plus it frequently has fairs setting up in the square – great for the kids. The local market on Thursday mornings is absolutely not to be missed!
If you’re into your cars then there is a classic car show on the first Sunday of the month from April to October.
Hesdin has been a focus for historic events throughout it’s long history, from medieval times to the last World War. The area is well known for its World War history and remembrance sites.
Where would you go for a spectacular night out?
‘Les Miserables’ is a spectacular light and sound show staged in the grounds of the castle Montreuil-sur-mer, the town where Victor Hugo wrote the story. The cast are all locals of Montreuil and provide great entertainment for all the family and is a wonderful end to an evening after dining at one of the many restaurants in the town. This year the show takes place on the 27th, 28th ,29th and 30th July, also the 3rd ,4th,5th and 6th August. Further information can be found at www.lesmiserables-montreuil.com.
Which seaside resort would you buy an ice-cream from?
St. Valery-sur-Somme is a pretty seaside town with plenty of interesting shops, good restaurants, bars and ice-cream parlours! Market day is Sunday morning, selling local produce until lunch time at which time local lunch time dish is ‘moules et frites’ (mussels and chips). You can also relax and enjoy a steam train ride through the countryside and along the Somme.
Any good outdoor sports activities in the area?
The French are well known to be keen cyclists, both seriously and as a fun family activity. The roads reflect this as they are well maintained and are ideal for all standards of cyclists.
In our area there are many designated routes, from 40 kilometre runs for dedicated cyclists to routes suitable for all the family. All routes pass through beautiful rural countryside and towns and some through forests as well.
There are also many dedicated routes for walkers, hikers and ramblers to suite all tastes with rest areas for lunches and to admire the scenery.
Golfing is a popular game and France is no exception, we are lucky to have some very good, well maintained courses in our area, amongst these is the Nampont St. Martin set in the grounds of the 14th Century Chateau and consists of two beautiful full length courses, of which we have unfortunately only played a few times, so far!
Where do I go for French beach action?
The superb beaches of the Opal Coast are only 40 minutes away from us. Along the 26 miles of flat beaches and sand dunes can be found numerous picturesque towns and villages. Among them Le Touquet is one of the largest and is a bustling town full of restaurants, bars and shops selling memorabilia, not forgetting the beach and amusements along the water front.
What’s the best attraction for the kids?
If you want to treat the kids and enjoy a fun family day out in France, then head to Parc Bagatelle, a theme park with plenty of rides and excitement in Merlemont, on the coast, just south of Boulogne-sur-Mer.
There’s lots of choice for all ages ranging from toddlers to teens, with a good variety of rides. The entrance fee is very reasonable and the park is generally spotlessly clean with friendly staff who speak English. A good day out!
Where else would you recommend?
All the towns and villages have their own unique charms. Berck-sur-Mer is notable for it’s numerous events during the season, including the annual international Kite festival held in April. Berck is also the venue for Motorcycle rallies among the sand dunes.
Looking for accommodation in Nord-pas-de-Calais, or anywhere in the Calais, near the ferry port of Calais? Check out the range of gites, B&Bs, houses and Villas in this part of northern France.