To resume on my day out in Pas-de-Calais, we were in Calais on Saturday and after a pleasant visit in the town, as the sun was shining, rather than take our usual A16 fast route back home we decided to meander round the Opal Coast D940 road for once and I’m so glad we did. Although we live in Pas-de-Calais, we sometimes forget to look around us as daily life requirements take their toll – there’s a rush to get all the animals fed, the house renovated, the website updated, the this, the that… the blah blah blah…
Following the coastal road up to Boulogne from Calais takes you through lots of charming and quaint villages; there are amazing views along dramatic cliff top paths, lovely little seafood restaurants in fishing villages dotted along the coast, miles of pristine sandy beaches and wonderful ancient buildings, monuments and relics.
First out of Calais we came to Sangatte which for most people in the UK is famous because of its associations in the press with refugees camping before trying to jump ship, van, lorry or train to the UK. What we actually found was a lovely sleepy seaside resort with a spotlessly clean, empty stretch of sandy beach. There were a few hotels and Chambre d’hôtes (B&Bs), little patisseries and charcuteries and an air of pervading sleepiness and bird song – it was absolutely glorious. Just 4 km on and you come to Blériot Plage named in honour of Frenchman Louis Blériot who took off from here in an aeroplane and was the first person to cross the English Channel by air.
Just 15 minutes out of Calais and you’ll find Cap Blanc Nez – and from here you can get a great cliff top view across the Channel to Dover – the day we went there was cloud but visibility was good and we could clearly see Dover’s White Cliffs. We spotted something brightly coloured on the edge of the cliffs, pulled over to investigate and discovered a group of mad French men paragliding off the edge of the cliff with their brightly coloured parachutes just bobbing above cliff level!
Wissant, between the two Caps – Cap Gris Nez and Cap Blanc Nez is an unpretentious and pretty village – it’s where Charles de Gaulle used to take his holidays and it’s easy to see why. The sand dunes on the beaches are fabulous, the views are wonderful, the beaches are stunning and perfect for surfers – it never gets packed. Wissant is the place from where Julius Caesar set sail in 55BC to conquer Britain and the views across the Channel are amazing – the Cliffs on the other side seem so close.
Nearby was a riding school in an ancient old fortress farm, I don’t ride as I lost my nerve when I was young having fallen off a horse and stupidly refused to get back on but… this place was so stunning that I actually wanted to learn to ride just so I could go in and look around. The riders bring their horses over to the cliffs for an outing and if I were a horse rider I wouldn’t be able to resist giving the horses and myself the chance to wander about on the cliffs in the fresh sea air either (well perhaps a Shetland Pony in my case!).
Audresselles was next on our stopping route, it’s a really charming little village, there are small rockpools filled with crabs, beautiful beaches, pretty village houses and dotted everywhere lots of informal style food restaurants. Some of the houses in the village have homemade boards advertising sales of local caught fish and everywhere you look there are small fishing boats – definitely somewhere I’d like to go back to.
There was a distinct shortage of petrol stations on this road and as the Other Half had decided to almost run out of fuel having done 500 miles last week, we were massively relieved to reach Ambleteuse and a petrol pump. While we were there we discovered that on the beach there’s a 17th Century Fort designed by Louis XIV’s military engineer Vauban – though never completed thanks to the excessive silting of the area. It’s an incredible sight, visible from the road and surrounded by footpaths through the dunes where wild orchids grow.
Just outside Ambleteuse we spotted a line of parked World War II vehicles which looked interesting so we pulled over and met a group of Dutch re-enactors all togged up. They too were touring the area looking at the myriad bunkers and war monuments and relics that are to be seen just about everywhere. Their vehicles had been painstakingly restored and they were clearly having a brilliant time. The Other Half loves to explore the bunkers and he was in his element on this road trip – bunker after bunker, radar tracking pads, guns, launch sites – you name it and he climbs in an out of sunken, soggy bunkers as happy as larry.
Coming near to Boulogne, the winding D940 takes you through Wimereux, an old fashioned, elegant seaside resort with hotels, bars, cafés and restaurants – and the day we were there – jam-packed. We couldn’t park though we tried as it looked to be a wonderful place to stroll and admire the views. The Edwardian villas, art-deco frontage, turrets and ironwork balconies are terrifically attractive and the beach was a family paradise.
I know that this part of France on the Opal Coast is not and never will be as popular with visitors as say the Côte d’Azur or the French Riviera but it is breathtakingly beautiful, a whole lot nearer to the UK (less carbon footprint/less driving/less fuel cost). There’s so much to do and see in Pas-de-Calais, the beaches are fabulous and for a taste of real France, real close and just minutes from Calais Passport Control – I think you’d be mad not to give it a go!