Calais

Calais

From England it's the gateway to France: at just 21 miles from the white cliffs of Dover, Calais is for many the historic entry point to France. It's the main passenger ferry port and the second largest commercial port for Anglo-French trade. Calais is just a hop, skip and a jump from Belgium too.

However, Calais is not just a ferry terminal: it's worth a visit in its own right. The capital of lacemaking sits between wild landscape and savage seas, with impressive chalky cliffs mirroring those on the English side of the channel.

Once upon a time Calais actually belonged to the English. It was under English rule from 1347 to 1558, and was captured after being beseiged for a year. The story goes that six representatives with the city's keys offered themselves up with nooses around their necks to Edward III in order to save the rest of the citizens. Edward's queen, Philippa of Hainaut, was touched by their bravery and pardoned them. Spot Rodin's masterful bronze statues of these six courageous men, dating from 1885. Versions also exist in London, in the United States and in Japan. You can see the statues in front of the Hôtel de Ville and Belfry. This magnificent Flemish Renaissance style building is a Unesco world heritage monument.

Calais has always been known for its fine lace, and became the world leader in the early 20th century. Fine and elegant, it has been employed by designers such as Sonia Rykiel, Christian Dior, Calvin Klein, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Christian Lacroix and Chantal Thomass, patron of the Cité Calais International Lace and Fashion Centre. Ladies, you'll find the finest Calais lace in all the chic department stores and lingerie boutiques, it is used by labels such as Chantelle and Aubade. The Cité Calais International Lace and Fashion Centre and the Museum of Fine Arts and Lace in Calais should be top of your list of cultural excursions in Calais.

Calais has had a passionate and turbulent relationship with the wind and the waves, the sea being an integral part of its soul. Whether with friends or family, the "Opal Coast" beckons: with its long stretches of beaches of fine sand and stunning coastline, the shores near Calais and at Sangatte-Blériot are perfect for a walk in a natural and unspoilt environment. Just 10 minutes away, the cap Blanc Nez (cape "white nose") and cap Gris-Nez (cape "grey nose") offer fantastic views over the channel, with the Bay of Wissant (from English "white sand") between the two. Here over 30 km of chalk cliffs unfold along the coast, gulls wheeling high overhead. On clear days the panorama includes the Kentish cliffs across the Straits of Dover. The blue sea, the green meadows, and the yellow fields of oil seed rape make the "Opal coast" a colourful place. In summer the Festival de la Côte d'Opale features big names from the current music scene.

Less than an hour away, the Touquet Paris-Plage is a fashionable seaside resort, while half an hour from Calais, Boulogne-sur-Mer is the capital of fishing in France. If you're visiting Calais with the family, check out the National Sea Centre, Nausicaa, where the little ones can keep their feet on terra firma while discovering all the wonders of the ocean.

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