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Montreuil-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais

The charming walled town of Montreuil-sur-Mer in Pas-de-Calais, known as the Carcassone du Nord after the famous walled city in the South of France, is a perfect destination for a weekend away with its beautiful old houses and churches, its imposing ramparts and its cobbled streets. This beautiful little hill top town is less than an hour’s drive from Calais Port and offers a wonderful experience of real France … real close to the UK.

Most people are very surprised when they visit the first time not to find any sea as the name sur-Mer implies. In fact the sea did reach Montreuil-sur-Mer centuries ago and there was a thriving sea port there but as the estuary silted up the port fell silent, the sea receded and the town found itself 10 miles inland and in financial ruin in the Middle Ages. Its misfortunes continued when in the 16th Century it was plundered by Henry VIII of England and later Charles V of Spain who laid siege but couldn’t quite get past those thick rampart walls.

It’s done rather better since then and is now a thriving little town set in beautiful countryside and a short drive from its chic neighbour Le Touquet.

Victor Hugo passed through the town in 1837 and was so impressed by it he decided to use it as the setting for “Les Miserables”. The people of the town are rightly proud of this nod from the French legendary author and every year they pay homage and perform an outdoor ‘son et lumière’ at the foot of the ramparts with hundreds of locals taking part – it is an unforgettable night out with horses, cannon, costumes and music – a magical atmosphere. The great man’s name appears everywhere – on street signs and restaurants in the town celebrating this prestigious connection.

Field Marshall General Sir Douglas Haig was based in the town for a significant amount of time in the First World War and there is a statue dedicated to him in the Town Square. He chose the body for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Hôtel de France courtyard in the town and the arrival of the casket of the Unknown Soldier at Victoria Station, London from Montreuil-sur-Mer is commemorated to this day in the form of a plaque on Platform 6.

There are lots of restaurants and hotels in the town which is a bit of a tourist magnet all year round thanks to its cobbled streets, medieval houses, tiny little alleyways diving off the main town and up to the ramparts and the fact that there always seems to be something going on here and around. It has been this way for many years and fans have included Napoleon Bonaparte, Gerard Depardieu, Laurence Sterne and famous British horse racing legend Lestor Piggot amongst many other well-known names.

Shopping in Montreuil-sur-Mer

There are lots of little boutiques, chic interior design and craft shops, delicatessens and charcuteries, chocolate shops and quite possibly one of the best boulangeries in the region.

Montreuil-sur-Mer Antiques Fair held each Bastille Day sees the town transformed for an Antiques Fair of epic proportions. The whole of the centre is pedestrianized and stalls are set up, both professional and individuals, and it’s not hard to bag a bargain here.

Things to do in Montreuil-sur-Mer

Visit the Tourist Office to see whats on – they have lots of English Language info and are very helpful – you’ll find them next to the old castle entrance

Kite Festival at nearby Berck-sur-Mer April

Don’t miss the huge antiques market held every year on Bastille Day 14 July.

Les Miserables Son et lumière 26/7 – 4/4 2012 book tickets on line or at the Tourist Office in Montreuil-sur-Mer

In August enjoy Les Illuminations – The weekend closest to August 15th sees all the local attractions and main buildings lit up against the night sky to create a stunning illumination.

Day of Street Painters – Artists gather on the Ramparts to paint their image of the surrounding landscapes and then they are displayed in the place Verte in the afternoon for all to enjoy.

Wander round the 2.5km ramparts of the town and enjoy the spectacular views or shop – there are lots of little boutiques, antique shops, speciality food and wine shops

Have a meal at one of the fabulous restaurants – we really like Bistronome and Caveaux. For cocktails, don’t miss Le Douglas pub. Push the boat out at Michelin starred La Grenouillere.

Have a coffee or a drink in the main square and watch the world go by – there are loads of cafés and brasseries to choose from

Pick up some fresh fruit and veg or a bargain at the weekly Saturday market in the main square

Visit the 11th Century Abbey de Saint-Saulve. The church has some of the richest treasures of any church in northern France. There are some beautiful and ancient reliquaries dating back as far as the 8th Century. And the monumental Charterhouse at the base of the town, La Chartreuse de Neuville

River Rafting – white water kayaking on a professional course or a slow downstream paddle on a rubber duckie taking along a pique-nique basket to be enjoyed at the most enticing river bank at the bottom of the hill in Montreuil. Hire from 4 Rue Du Moulin des Orphelins.

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