Calais is close enough to the UK to make it an easy day trip to France for both sightseeing and shopping and despite the ups and downs in the Sterling/Euro rate it still has a lot to offer shoppers – a taste of France that is practically on your doorstep at just 90 minutes by ferry and 35 minutes by train.
Calais has recently undergone a major clean up and enhancement programme and with its gourmet seafood restaurants, excellent boutique wine and food shops, this coastal town is a must for shopaholics and anyone craving a taste of the good life France style.
Shopping in Calais
Arriving in Calais a surprising number of people and certainly almost all of the coach trip visitors head straight to the big hypermarkets like Auchan and Carrefour. There are some great wines to be had there but by doing this, visitors miss out on the excellent wine shops and gourmet delicatessens that can be found in the town. Going to the specialist shops, you’ll get far more of a personal experience, advice from people whose lives revolve around the products they sell and whose passion and knowledge will really enhance your understanding – and your purchases. Most if not all will be happy to give you a free tasting too so if you’re keen to take something home but have never tried it before – ask for a taste in the shop.
Cheese, chocolate and other lovely local products
One of the best places in Calais for shopping is the Rue Royale which has recently undergone a renovation and is an absolute must for foodies. There are at least a dozen bars and cafés, and plenty of speciality shops that are well worth popping into. For instance at No. 56 is Brulerie de La Tour where 70 different types of tea are on offer and at 67 is Au Royal Chocolate, a quaint chocolate shop whose sweets were enjoyed by King Henry IV more than four hundred years ago. The great British Dandy Beau Brummell lived close by and it is highly likely he would have enjoyed the same type of sweets from this shop as you can today.
If it’s cheese you’re after, you need only follow your nose to La Maison du Fromage et des Vins at 1 rue André Gerschell. A vast selection of cheeses are on offer here from local producers and all over France and there is a good selection of wine and champagne.
Another ‘must’ on any shopper’s list is Les Délices de la Mer on Boulevard La Fayette, an old-fashioned fishmonger that gets its produce direct from the fishermen.
Wine shops in Calais
Of course in France what goes best with food is wine. One of best boutique wine shops in Calais town is The Wine Bar (52 Place d’Armes). Prices range from €1 – 10,000 and they pride themselves on knowing the producers and learning their clients’ taste. Le Terroir, at 29 Rue des Fontinettes also has a bottle of wine to suit every budget. The shop has been there for 30 years and has a loyal clientele amongst those visiting Calais for shopping.
Just outside of the main town is Cité Europe, a vast shopping mall with hundreds of shops and… Terre de Boissons, a fabulous new shop that is unlike any off licence you will have seen before. With an enormous range of beers (a choice of around 1000 – yes we did say 1000), wines – you can choose from 1200 different varieties, spirits – quite possibly the largest selection of whiskies anywhere in Europe and tasting bars galore – this is one not to miss.
What to see on a day trip to Calais
Calais is not all about shopping, in the town there are attractions where you can while away the day – the most famous and most visited being Rodin’s sculpture of the Six Burghers of Calais which you’ll find in front of the Town Hall. Recently cleaned, the statues depict the surrendering of the keys of the besieged city of Calais to the English King Edward III. Few day-trippers realise that Calais was English for more than two centuries. Rodin fans will really enjoy the permanent Rodin exhibition at the nearby Musée des Beaux Arts. On loan from the Rodin Museum are a number of artefacts which depict the studies in clay, plaster and metal that Rodin undertook to create the famous Calais Burghers sculpture.
A few steps from the famous statues you’ll find the beautiful town hall (where Charles de Gaul was married), the Belfry with its 360º views over town and from where you can see Dover Castle on a clear day. There is a raft of great places to visit in Calais – check out our top ten things to do – it may surprise you.
Where to eat out in Calais
Shopping and sightseeing are good for building an appetite and Calais has some excellent choices for food.
As you’d expect from a coastal town there are plenty of seafood restaurants and traditional French dish moules marinières (mussels marinated in white wine) is on pretty much every menu. Try La Sole Meunière at 1 Boulevard de la Résistance with its view overlooking the yachting basin for an excellent fish menu and a really fabulous service. You don’t have to go far to find another great eaterie Le Channel at 3 Boulevard de la Résistance is funky and innovative with a great menu and very reasonable prices in a fantastic setting. Le Grand Bleu (8 Rue Jean-Pierre Avron) has recently been taken over by an avant-garde young chef who previously worked in Paris where clients included the rich and the famous and whose reputation for glorious food in Calais is growing rapidly. For something with a little more of a traditional French feel and an excellent menu try L’Histoire Ancienne at 20 Rue Royale where chef Patrick Comtale will cook you a delicious and memorable meal.
Shop opening times in Calais
Most shops in the centre of Calais are open between 9am and 7pm (local time), Monday to Saturday. Generally they close for lunch between midday and 2pm although many independent stores now remain open at this time. Cité Europe is open from 10.00 – 20.00 Monday to Saturday (until 21.00 on Friday). Food shops in the town such as those selling fresh bread and cakes, as well as wine stores, open on Sunday mornings. Many cafes and bars open throughout the day and on public holidays.