Almost 4 million Brits went overseas to enjoy a spot of Christmas revelry with a foreign flavour last year but not everyone can get the time off work or afford a holiday. Nip across the English Channel and Calais, right on your doorstep, is the perfect place for a Christmas break even if it’s only for a day or two.
Wrap up warm and do a spot of shopping in old Calais town, enjoy the festive sparkles and the fun of looking for stylish gifts with a touch of French flair.
I’ve been doing my Christmas shopping here for many years and this year is no different from any other year. When you read the newspapers you might get the impression that the town is suffering but it’s simply not true. The lights are on, the shops are decorated for Christmas, there’s a festive family atmosphere and a very warm welcome from the locals.
Take a Break
Relax in one of the many delicious restaurants. Traditional Brasserie style, bistrot, gastronimique or café – there’s plenty of choice. In this area mussels and chips are a firm favourite and so are all the great classics from cassoulet to coq au vin.
Fun for the Family
Treat the kids to a turn on the ice rink (E1.50 at the renovated Place d’Armes) or a free session at Meccano Lab (52 Boulevard Jacquard). Meccano is made in Calais and the company funds the free lab for kids of all ages in a historic building that was once a bank. It’s a chance to try out the Meccano toys of the past, the present and the future (open weekends and school holidays). During the festive season there will be free workshops for kids to make Christmas decorations.
The Calais Lace Museum is a short walk from the centre of town and it well worth a visit with something to appeal to everyone. You’ll discover haut couture, demonstrations on antique looms, lingerie through the ages, lace samples and a whole lot more. The innovative displays are über cool and reveal a fascinating history of the area and the ties with the lace industry in the UK. There’s also a lovely shop, perfect for gifts that are just a little bit different.
Festive Fair and Flair
The Calaisians love Christmas and the town is lit up throughout December. There are Christmas markets, ice carving, fireworks, concerts, a Disney character parade, twinkling lights and seasonal goods stalls which create a cheerful and jolly atmosphere. See the full Christmas programme and event dates.
Take a Selfie
Take a selfie in front of the Rodin statue, right behind you’ll find an “enchanted garden” that’s free for all to enjoy, lights, trees, decorations and – some friendly sheep! While you’re there nip into the Belfry and climb to the top for a view over the town and the English Channel. There are some beautiful gold statues at the top, very Game of Thrones looking and you can’t help thinking what a fun job that must have been to lug them up to the top!
Shop until you drop
Treat yourself to some good wine, Champagne or a French liqueur like Calvados, pastis or crème de cassis - and don’t forget to pick up some bière de Noel. Specially brewed for Christmas this dark beer has a hint of Christmas pudding to it.
Take home some goodies to share with family and friends – cheese, chocolate, cassoulet, delicious patés and rillettes, sweets, biscuits and cakes, or even some fresh fish sold on the quayside (take a cool box to carry it home in).
If chocolate is your thing there are plenty of shops and patisseries where you can find delectable sweet things. At this time of the year, the traditional Ronds de St Nicolas are so tempting. Christmas is the only time the sweet almond biscuits are made and they are a Calais speciality. With their distinctive white icing top and rose coloured ‘N’ for Nicolas, they look (and taste) scrumptious.
You’ll also find some great little boutiques where you may find that little black dress and shoes that are just perfect for a Christmas party and no one else will have them! Rue Royale is my favourite street for shopping in Calais with trendy shops and great restaurants; Boulevard Lafayette is also good.
One of the best cheese shops around is Maison des Fromages (1 Rue André Gerschell). You’ll find a mouth-watering selection of regional cheeses and fromages from further afield. The staff are very knowledgeable, happy to let you try before you buy and advise on what cheese goes with what wine (they also have plenty of that in the shop too). They all speak English as do many people in the town. You can even order a cheese platter that will make your Christmas table the envy and delight of all who see it.
If you come to Calais by ferry on foot, take the shuttle bus from outside the port to Calais town station (right by the tourist office). From here it’s easy to walk to the main shopping areas and sites but there’s a free bus service. Called “Baladin” the little oblong buses pootle around the town every 15 minutes from morning until 20h, simply hop on and off.
If you come by car, there’s plenty of parking available in the town, much of it free. It’s a short drive to the large Cité Europe shopping centre and the Marques Avenue, a designer shop outlet.
Check the tourist office website for a list of recommended restaurants and hotels and lots of details for what’s on in the town: http://www.calais-cotedopale.co.uk/
Tourist Office: 12 Boulevard Georges Clemenceau – and you can enjoy free Wifi while you’re there.
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