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Discover real Pas-de-Calais: heritage, history & heavenly beaches

Nip across the Channel and discover real Pas-de-Calais, a land of authentic fishing villages with a timeless beauty, Belle Epoque seaside resorts, historic towns, and world class cultural attractions…

The Opal Coast – perfect for beach lovers

Strung like pearls, tiny fishing villages and seaside resorts dot the shoreline of the Opal Coast. These hidden gems have long lured tourists, celebrities, royalty, and jet setters, as well as artists drawn to its light-filled beauty. Le Touquet Paris-Plage was once the jet set capital of Europe. It was home to the biggest hotel the world had ever seen in the early 20th century. Impressed by the town’s glamour, Ian Fleming wrote Casino Royale based on Le Touquet’s casino. The Scottish actor Sean Connery signed his first Bond contract there. Charles Dickens loved this area saying, “if only it were but 300 miles further off… how the English would rave about it.”

If you’re sporty – you’ll be in your element. There are activities galore from sailing and horse riding to sand yachting and golf.

If you’re more into culture and history, you’ll be spoiled for choice with festivals and events. Don’t miss the annual crab festival at tranquil Audresselles (June), and the herring festival at historic Etaples (November). Plus there are loads of markets and museums, there’s always something going on.

One of the most beautiful coastal roads of France

And for those who want to relax, the endless sandy beaches are perfect for the whole family. Follow the D940 road around the coast, up and down hills, a route that’s lined with stunning scenery. You’ll pass through authentic fishing villages where you can buy the freshest of just-caught fish from the front gardens of fishermen. Stop off to discover memorials and museums like the Todt Battery, Museum of the Atlantic Wall in Audinghen. Then take in the glorious clifftop scenery as you drop into the lovely seaside town of Wimereux.

Napoleon I was responsible for Wimereux’s development. He commissioned the foundation of a town and a port for his Grand Army. It was from this part of Pas-de-Calias that the Emperor intended to conquer England, clearly visible on clear days from the Opal Coast.

Nearby Merlimont-Plage, once a small fishing village, that became a seaside favourite with Parisians thanks to the arrival of the rail, is ideal for families. You can climb the dunes, visit a nature reserve, and go fishing the French way – on foot with a bucket or net at low tide. There’s also the Bagatelle theme park that’s bags of fun and suitable even for the youngest.

And at Le Portel, along the coast of Boulogne-sur-Mer, there is a feeling as if time has stood still with the little fishing cottages, wooden fishing boats parked on the beach, and fabulous views over the English Channel.

Perfect for history buffs

Boulogne-sur-Mer – A city by the sea

Boulogne-sur-Mer is where you’ll find a beautifully preserved old town. At it’s heart is the Basilica Notre Dame which has the biggest crypt in France (dating back to Roman times). Cobbled stone streets, ancient buildings, a chateau museum, quirky shops, and scrumptious restaurants – and don’t miss the UNESCO listed Belfry where you’ll see cannon balls fired on the town by King Henry VIII.

There’s also the biggest aquarium in Europe here. Nausicaá has sharks that swim around you in a glass tunnel, fish, sea lions, penguins, turtles, crocodiles, and many species of the marine world. With several events each day, including feeding the penguins, sea lion training sessions, and backstage tours – it’s an unmissable stop in the town. Plus, there’s a fabulous market which takes place on a Saturday morning. And nearby you’ll find one of the best cheese shops of northern France – Philippe Olivier – just follow your nose!

Montreuil-sur Mer – the town that inspired Les Misérables

Or, head to Montreuil-sur-Mer, a picture-perfect town perched on a hill. Go in the Summer to watch the townspeople dress up for a show stopping performance of Les Misérables. It’s performed on the ramparts in homage to Victor Hugo’s famous story which was inspired by his visit to this town. Wander the cobbled streets lined with ancient houses. Enjoy the stunning views over the countryside from the ramparts encircling the town. And pop to the old citadel with its fascinating little museum.

Agincourt – the Legend

The totally revamped Agincourt museum (2021) aims to tell the true story of the great 15th century battle and provides new detail about the Anglo-French conflict dubbed The Hundred Years War. The Agincourt museum gives a lot of information in an easy and digestible way – in French and in English. Try games like Sovereigns of the Hundred Years’ War. Discover what soldiers ate and words from the Middle Ages. You’ll discover details of daily life, the clothes of the period, the illnesses, and medieval medical treatment.

Perfect for Culture Vultures

Museums and Unesco listed belfries

The world class Louvre-Lens museum is a branch of the Paris Louvre. There are hundreds of artworks covering 5000 years of history. The museum itself is an architectural marvel and with regularly changing exhibitions, it’s a cultural giant of France.

Look out for the UNESCO-listed belfries of the region. They were built in the Middle Ages as a symbol of the freedom of local communities. There are six remaining in Pas-de-Calais (with many more in the Nord department and in Belgium). You’ll find them in the historic towns of Aire-sur-la-Lys, Arras, Bethune, Calais, Boulogne and Hesdin, now a tranquil little market town but once a stronghold of the Spanish crown.

Cite de la Dentelle et de la Mode de Calais – Calais Lace and Fashion Museum of Calais hosts a permanent exhibition including fashion designs, lace samples and lingerie. Each year the museum hosts a world class exhibition. 2023 showcases a unique and astounding collection of designs by one of France’s greatest couturiers, Yves Saint Laurent. The City of Lace puts on events every week including lace making demonstrations, sewing workshops, weaving, silkscreen printing and more for children and adults throughout the summer see their website for more details

With so much to do year-round, any time is the perfect time to visit Pas-de-Calais.

Discover heaps of things to see and do in Pas-de-Calais: visitpasdecalais.com

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