The Channel Tunnel leads you to your destination within just a few hours making this area incredibly accessible. No long hauls for us! Although it is close, the destination feels very un-English and a world away from my Shropshire home.
The Pas de Calais is usually synonymous with British day trippers looking for cheap booze, but it actually boasts delightful countryside, a relaxed atmosphere, beautiful beaches and a host of gastronomical delights.
With a gite as our base and the whole of Northern France as our oyster we enjoy exploring the local areas by car. We discover villages and chic towns, beaches, woodland and nature reserves. We also enjoy immersing ourselves in the culture of French food.
French food is revered around the world. Our family is vegetarian so much of the French cuisine is off the menu, but the joys of the Patisserie, the Boulangerie and the beers and wines are very much part of our culinary enjoyment.
From the little local patisseries of the villages to the range of delicacies available at the Hypermarche, the French make the most exquisite pastries, tartes and gateaux. I could eat the tiny choux buns filled with coffee flavoured creme patisserie all day!
The local Saint Omer beer is so, so cheap but so refreshing. Nothing beats enjoying a few chilled beers in the evening. They even do a non-alcoholic version that tastes just as good. I don't consider myself a connoisseur of fine things...but I know what I like and I like good quality/cheap products!!
It is a little embarrassing to admit to going to McDonald's whilst in France...but they serve a dessert that is ridiculously good. The Choco-Glace is a warm chocolate brownie covered in whipped ice cream, chocolate sauce and chopped nuts. It beats the McFlurry hands down. It is my fast food find of France!!!
As far as places are concerned Hesdin was a real find. A quaint market town in the heart of the Seven Valleys area that was hosting its own festival when we were there. The village was decorated with straw effigies...it had a slightly horror film-esque vibe! Giant, illuminated animal puppets marched through the streets after dark. During the day the cosy restaurants with tables out in the town square, the boulangeries selling amazing French Bread, the vibrant market selling local produce and the 16th century Renaissance style town hall made a picturesque but buzzing town. For an area so close to Calais, the flavour of Hesdin is so quintessentially French. You don't have to travel too far to immerse yourself in the culture, heritage and French-ness of Northern France!
Flanders is immortalised in the poetry of World War 1 and the history of the Great Wars is always present. There are many sites, monuments and grave yards dedicated to this time in history which is so very humbling. My older children were particularly moved experiencing the reality of the Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon poems they had learned about in school.
Boulogne is another town we generally think of as being a port, somewhere to travel through en route to more exotic climes. But if you stop and look around you will find a walled town, home to the cathedral of Notre Dame. Every bit as beautiful as its Parisian counterpart, the architecture and the artwork is outstanding. We always light a candle and remember loved ones. I love the boutique shops and cafes that are found in the old town.
Open your eyes to the unexpected and you too can discover the hidden French gems on England's doorstep. For a weekend away or for a week's holiday, this destination is close, cheap and cheerful for family fun!
**My Travel Tips entry for travelizer.co.uk**