Whether you’re planning a visit to Calais over the Christmas period or just passing through, there are loads of festive events and activities to enjoy, so make sure you have the time to fit them all in !
It’ll be impossible not to feel Christmassy in Calais over the next few weeks, with the whole city turned into a magical Winter Wonderland. There are a huge variety of fun festive activities and events on offer, much of it for free, with something to please pretty much everyone.
Anyone with youngsters should head to the Place d’Armes where every Saturday and Sunday in the run-up to Christmas there’s face painting and a balloon artist making amazing balloon figures on request. At the same location, on the last two weekends before Christmas, Mickey and Minnie’s Christmas Village will be spreading Christmas magic and providing the ultimate photo opportunity as your little ones get to meet the Disney characters. And on Saturday 19th you can spot Father Christmas at the top of the Town Hall Belfry, before he comes down the giant ‘chimney’ for a parade through Calais at 5.30pm.
While the whole city will be lit up with fairy lights and twinkling decorations –there’s even a prize on offer for the shop with the sparkliest display - there’ll be some extra Christmas magic at the Enchanted Forest in the Town Hall Gardens and a carousel in the Place d’Armes. Buy artisanal gifts and stocking-fillers while you warm up with mulled wine and chestnuts at the traditional Christmas Market at Parvis du Theatre, from 10am to 7pm on Saturday 5th December and Sunday 6th December. While you’re there, don’t miss the gospel choir from 3pm til 6pm on the Saturday and jazz players who’ll be performing encased in giant bubbles on Sunday afternoon!
Head to the Coeur De Vie shopping centre to stock up on last-minute provisions for your festivities, especially local specialities like Maroilles cheese and artisanal beers, not forgetting all the fine and reasonably priced wines. Children can get a free ride on a little train running through the shopping centre every day over the festive period. And if the older kids get bored, the Meccano Lab (Bd Jacquard) is well worth a visit as they can get creative and make as many models as they want in the workshops. And if you run out of time to get all your shopping done, fear not as the January sales last from January 6th to 16th February, so you can always come back for more. Especially as there’s a wine festival, Les Salons des Vignerons on 5th, 6th and 7th February (Forum Gambetta, 23 Boulevard Leon Gambetta), giving you the chance to sample the best wines from all over France. Now in its 10th year, this festival’s well worth a special return visit to Calais.
The city is full of great little restaurants so don’t miss out on the chance to have your fill of local cuisine, especially seafood for which the region is famous. For a guarantee of quality, go for one of Les Toques d’Opale group of famous restaurants in the region. They offer the kind of sophisticated French cuisine we all dream of, made from locally sourced high quality seasonal produce.
History and fashion buffs will find the Cité Internationale de la Dentelle et de la Mode (International Centre of Lace and Fashion) an absolute delight. Formed partly of a former 19th century lace factory and a modern glass and steel extension, the building alone is worth a visit. 2016 will be the 200th anniversary of mechanised lace-making in Calais, so if you can’t come now, make a date for next year. Retracing the history of the famous mechanised lace-making industry of Calais, from when the first machines were brought from Nottingham in 1816, you get to see lace making through the ages and even created mechanically before your eyes – a truly impressive sight. At the lace museum fans of contemporary art will also love the installations by Annette Messager, one of France’s greatest artists, which are on display both here and at the Fine Arts Museum (Musee des Beaux Arts). Messager uses an eclectic mix of materials from soft toys to photos, embroidery and bits of writing, making wry comments on modern society.
Lace is not the only historical link between Calais and the Brits. In fact France and England’s roots have been interlaced for centuries, so a quick stop at the famous Rodin statue, les Bourgeois de Calais (The Burghers of Calais), in front of the Town Hall, is a must. Commemorating the city’s heroic burghers who offered up their lives and pleaded with Edward III for the fate of the starving population of Calais - besieged for a whole year by the English forces – it serves as a powerful reminder of a selfless act that saved the city. The Town Hall itself is well worth a visit, especially now you can go to the top of the belfry by lift and see some great views of the whole region.
In Place d’Armes, one of the largest town squares in Calais, apart from all the children’s entertainment and the famous 13th century watchtower there is the recently completed Halle, a concert and exhibition venue, where there will be an ice-skating rink over the festive period, with a charge of 1.50 € per person.