Glass of bubbly in hand, I find myself relaxing by the waterside, soaking up the sun next to the hubby, while our two children play happily together in a field full of daisies.
I know what you’re thinking – I must be recounting a dream. Well, you’d be wrong. This was a real, idyllic and picturesque escape my family and I enjoyed in the French village of Aire-sur-la-Lys – just an hour’s drive from Calais. Our destination in Aire-sur-la-Lys was Lodges de Malbrough, which is run by the lovely Marie-Pierre Robin, who speaks very good English. This beautifully maintained site boasts two self-catering, open-plan lodges, each of which comes with its own small pond and free paddling boat to use, and a fully mobile barbecue. The living and catering facilities are top notch and the large balcony which wrapped around the waterside, and was more of an outdoor living area, proved a delightful retreat. We whiled away many a happy hour, lounging on deckchairs, soaking up the landscape, with glass of fizz in hand, watching our kids play in the sunshine.
It’s not only an extremely peaceful spot but also a great springboard to explore the best the area has to offer. Whether it’s the arts, history, striking architecture, food, wine, or outdoor pursuits that float your boat, you’ll be spoiled for choice – and all within an easy drive away.
What to see in Aire-sur-la-Lys
Just some of the places we enjoyed exploring were Bethune, Arras, Saint Omer, Houdain and Boulogne-sur-Mer.
The WW1 battlefields, trenches and memorials are also easily accessible from Air-sur-la-Lys as much of Pas de Calais, and the neighbouring Le Nord, was devastated in the conflict. It’s an unforgettable experience. And while I’d argue that it’s incredibly important, especially for younger generations, to see the impact and fallout of war, it’s not for everyone. So if venturing onto the former battlefields is too upsetting, there’s far more to these regions for a fabulous family holiday.
The beautiful city of Arras is a fabulous, atmospheric, and architecturally striking place to visit – decimated during WW1 but rebuilt – but I’d advise allocating yourself a day to visit it, to include travelling time.
Bethune is equally as beautiful, with its 15th century sandstone belfry and amazing bell system, which you can explore. And in its historic Grand Place you can stand on the exact spot where proclamations were once delivered, as well as where the city guillotine used to stand. The architecture here is impressive, and just one of its many highlights is the Hotel de Ville – like Arras, Bethune was also devastated in WW1 but rebuilt – and in the estate agent’s with the blue facade in the same square you can also visit this city’s underground caves, too.
Nearby the atmospheric, old city of Boulogne-sur-Mer, with its fabulous walled streets and ramparts, is also home to the great Nausicaa Sea life centre. With 36,000 animals in a 5,000 sq m exhibition space and 4.5 million litres of water, it’s certainly impressive, and my children, aged eight and 10 loved it.
And at Lens there’s the Louvre-Lens displaying objects from collections at Musee du Louvre in Paris – there was a particularly fabulous touchscreen treasure hunt for the children to find objects, which kept my two entertained for at least an hour while we perused the exhibition.
If your children like the Go Ape centres in the UK, then you can bet they’ll love the pretty Parc d’Olhain at Houdain which has its own aerial tree adventure as well as a host of other activities, including golf and cycling.
Another, more relaxing family outdoor pursuit was exploring the marshes at Clamairais, St Omer, by traditional boat with ISNOR boat tours with a guide – and I can highly recommend the restaurant here also as we enjoyed a mouth-watering lunch.
And if the sun is shining you’re also within an easy drive of many seaside towns, like the chic 19th century resort of Wimereux; the fishing villages of Ambleteuse, and Audresselles; Cap Gris-Nez cliff; and Audinghen (Maison des Deux Caps).
Although, I have to confess that the highlight for us, as parents, was a tour of the petite Persyn juniper gin distillery in Houlle, where we sampled its delights (and brought some home!).
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Prepare for your stay in Pas de Calais by visiting visit-pas-de-calais