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My French Life: Home is where the heart is

Pas de Calais life
My village, winding roads and country houses

As you probably all know by now, I have a home in the department of Pas de Calais, in the region which is unimaginatively called Nord-Pas de Calais (the other department being Nord).

It is one of the smallest regions of France.

It is the most northerly region of France and is nicknamed by the sunny southerners as “the north pole of France”.

It is considered by many Brits to be the gateway to France – it is estimated that more than 20 million people arrive in France through the ports at Calais and Dunkerque and on Eurotunnel.

The vast majority don’t stop – they charge onto the motorways and toll roads and head to the south. The most popular place for visitors is the City of Lille in the Nord since Eurostar goes direct from London to the centre of Lille.

I used to be the same but when I started taking my Dad on shopping day trips to Calais (a port town) and spent a bit of time mooching around I discovered that the region is surprisingly beautiful once you get off of the motorway.

Pas de Calais life
Hardelot Beach on the Opal Coast

The Opal Coast with its dramatic cliffs, sandy beaches, historic and architecturally rich seaside resorts, golf courses, international kite festival, equestrian facilities and beach sports is magnificent. The sky has a special luminescent quality which is why it was called the Opal Coast by the artists who flocked to paint the beautiful scenery along its shores.

The countryside is lush and fertile, rivers and streams criss cross the land; there are sleepy villages, the lovely SevenValleys, fortified towns, amazing cathedrals and churches and 50 museums in the region. Weekly markets in almost every town are a way of life and there are more than 3000 flea markets a year – including the Braderie de Lille, the largest flea market in  Europe with more than 10,000 stalls!

I started to write about where I live and through that I’ve met many people and made many friends. I’ve written for magazines and newspapers and I like to share my love for this place.

Pas de Calais life
The historic old town of Boulogne is magnificent

I recently got an email from a lady who asked if I wouldn’t mind giving her a bit of advice about Pas de Calais – she was considering moving here from London.

We emailed a bit and then we spoke on the phone and she told me that she actually started to think about moving here since she saw an article I wrote for The Telegraph!

Well you could have knocked me down with a feather! I wrote that article quite a while ago, about how I came here with my Dad for shopping trips (he did love his wine and whisky and said he could never find a better choice anywhere else in the world) and looked beyond the motorways and the shops of Calais and found my idea of paradise.

I’ll tell you more about this lady and her story as it progresses if she’ll let me, but I read in the French newspapers this week that I am not alone in loving it here. Canadian researcher Pierre Coté recently conducted an online survey in France – they wanted to know where people liked to live and how they felt about where they lived – and they had 20,000 people respond.

Pas de Calais Life
The main road of Aire-sur-la-Lys

Guess what?

Nord-Pas de Calais came out overwhelmingly as the place where people are most happy!

People here are the most cheerful in France. It’s official. I know it rains a bit more than in the South, it’s a  bit colder than the south – but other than that I can honestly say we can hold our own in every other way here in the north pole of France. This is a region that loves to party, any excuse and they’re pretty good at making one up; traditions and heritage are valued and honoured.

Pas de Calais Life
King Herring festival Etaples in the rain!

People here love to get out and about – there is always something going on somewhere from son et lumière shows performed on ramparts, open air concerts, exhibitions galore. Giants are celebrated, there are brocantes, festivals and fetes and a bit of rain never dampens the enthusiasm that much.

Expats who live here – and there is a surprisingly high percentage of Brits, Belgians and Dutch and I know lots of South African, Australian and New Zealand expats too (not many Americans though) – find a place where community and neighbourliness are a way of life. People often say “it’s like Britain was in the ‘50s”. I wasn’t born then so I don’t know if that’s true but people here are friendly, good manners are important, looking out for each other is normal. In a shop everyone will say hello as you walk in – not just the people who work there but the customers. It’s the same in restaurants and bars.  When you ask someone the way they will stop and help you, I’ve been walked to locations by locals who were worried I’d lose my way! Not just in my little village but in many towns and villages.

So the lady who told me that she thought about moving here because of what I wrote in The Telegraph – for me, this place is wonderful and although I will always be a Londoner  – my heart is now in Pas de Calais.

A bientôt


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