It may come as a surprise to many who live in the UK that right on the doorstep of England is a gastronomic delight called Pas de Calais. This little region has much to offer day trippers and visitors who are food lovers. From street markets and supermarkets to specialist gourmet food shops and artisan producers of cheese, wine, chocolate, cakes, bread, meat and vegetables – everything you need for a fabulous French feast…
What’s the food like in Calais?
Most people think of Calais as a giant port, somewhere to drive the car through as they whizz off to Paris, Normandy or further south. The vast majority of the more than 10 million people who enter and exit France for the UK by boat or train in this little northern corner of France simply aren’t aware of the hidden charms of this little region called Pas de Calais. Eyes glued to the motorway, foot down on the pedal to take advantage of the speedy auto routes, they may, from time to time be distracted by the sight of an enchanting village in the distance, church spire gleaming, an ancient chateau standing tall, a lake with boats… but they hurry on.
Those that do take the time to explore a little further will certainly find rich rewards. This may be one of France’s smallest regions and it certainly doesn’t have the sunshine of the south but it still has a huge amount to offer visitors – including fabulous French produce. Here are just three fab foodie reasons for a day trip to France and don’t forget to bring your cool bag and shopping bags to carry it home in!
1. Markets for day trippers to Calais
Almost every town has a market, local produce takes pride of place, artisan cheese and dairy producers are plentiful and you can easily buy organic fruit, jam, veg and meat and farmyard-reared chickens. You’ll also find local specialities like fish freshly caught off the coast, chicory which is produced in vast quantities in the north, cabbages from St Omer, strawberries from Samer and all manner of pork delicacies from local farms.
Worth a mention:
Etaples on a Friday morning, a biggish market with a good choice of food products as well as clothes and hardware. Lots of lovely cafés to enjoy a rest and fabulous fish restaurants with seafood fresh from the sea…
Le Touquet on a Saturday morning held in a beautiful art deco building – it’s covered so if it rains you’ll keep dry…
St Omer – lovely Saturday morning market full of colourful locals and the best vegetable range we’ve ever seen, relax in the square afterwards or enjoy a meal in one of the several very good restaurants like Le Cygne or Dries Kalders…
Hesdin on a Thursday morning, typical rural French market in a town that looks as if time has stood still, lunch at Belle Epoque in the main square is the perfect way to make a day of it…
Details of all the markets in the Pas de Calais within a short drive from the port of Calais or Eurotunnel, a chance to pick up some fresh, seasonal, local produce to enjoy while you’re in France or take home.
2. Supermarkets near Calais
Generally, supermarkets in France are on a par with the best of those in the UK. Bigger supermarkets have an in-house butcher and fishmonger and will display signs for goods supplied by local producers. They do of course have great wine shelves heaving with bottles from all over France and they’re often the source of many a bargain buy. Particularly popular is the butter with little salt crystals, pretty tins of biscuits and French sauces and marinades.
You’ll find plenty of Lidl and Aldi stores in this part of France but the main French contenders are Auchan, Carrefour and Leclerc. Calais town has Cité Europe shopping mall and huge hypermarkets; Boulogne is home to Auchan and Leclerc hypermarkets plus a sizeable shopping area with specialist food shops which will keep the most ardent shoppers happy.
Worth a mention:
Intermarché supermarket which promotes “inglorious food”. In order to promote quality over looks, they give “ugly” fruits and vegetables, those that don’t fit the perfect size and look, their own aisle and sell the produce at a discount (see their hugely popular video below)
Read more about Supermarkets in France
3. Town and village shops near Calais
The bigger towns will offer a great choice of cheese shops, butchers and boulangeries where the aroma of freshly baked bread on the premises will be all the encouragement you need to linger and depart with a soft baguette, croissants and a beautifully made cake. You’ll also find patisseries, fromageries and specialist charcuteries which sell all manner of meats, many of the butchers will be able to tell you where the produce came from and when.
Go off the beaten track and buy direct from artisan producers. The Seven Valleys area, a short drive from Calais is home to a plethora of cheese producers like Valerie Magniez who makes cheese with passion, Beussent chocolate factory (one of only three in France that produces from the bean to the bar), wine and cider makers and snail farms. Along the coast you’ll discover breweries, fishermen selling the day’s haul from the garages and sheds at their homes along the D940 Calais to Boulogne coastal road, and organic fruit and vegetables farms with shops.
Stop for lunch and try the local favourite, moules et frites (mussels and chips), washed down with locally made beer and served with a warm welcome.
There are so many shops and towns where you will discover fabulous foods that any visitor will find a new favourite to add to the list.
Off the beaten track on the gourmet route in Calais – A passion for produce