France in a Day

April 11, 2017

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Of course, France’s vast size makes seeing it all in one day, or even one month, simply impossible. However, The Northern regions of France boast some of the country’s most fascinating towns and landscapes, with history dating back to the Roman invasion.

Being a coastal region, it seemed only right to provide both a coastal itinerary and a city itinerary for your daytrip to France.

All of these locations are within a short drive from either our Dunkirk or Calais ports, giving you all the more reason to pack up and start your next adventure across the Channel.

 

A Coastal Crusade

The famous Opal Coast stretches across 120km of Northern coastline, making it the ideal starting point once you arrive in France.

However, if you can resist the soft, sandy beaches for just a moment, your first port of call must be the Opal Regional Park. The pine forests are unusual so close to the coastline, and the rich expanses of farmland reflect the sentimental landscapes portrayed by the Scottish Kailyard School. Expect beautiful greenery, the perfect grazing land for the quiet animals that roam the fields and add to the serene imagery that is a rare find in an urbanised 21st century.

From there follow the hiking trails that thread themselves from deep within the Regional Park towards the coastline, as if these sandy paths are seeking the quenching, nourishing waters of the English Channel. Sherbet coloured beach huts sit unassumingly in the sand. The long beach grass dances upon the dunes against the backdrop of crystal waters as the coastal breeze directs it. The sunset pink skies colour the alabaster cliffs, casting the hues across the cool sand.

Next, head to Boulogne. The 200 restaurants prove Boulogne’s status as a tourist favourite. Fine dining is always an option, but if it’s just a pit-stop lunch you’re after, there’s plenty of cheap eateries on the seafront, serving the freshest seafood. Walk off your lunch with a stroll around the town. Don’t miss the Notre Dame, with its classical structure and impressive dome, held up by immense pillars. Venture into the depths and discover the medieval crypts that sit beneath Notre Dame. Before jumping back into your car, visit the Column of the Grand Army, a stunning tribute to France’s famed military leader, Napoleon. Reflective of Berlin’s Victory Column, you’ll feel dwarfed as you stand at its base.

Take the short drive to Le Touquet, a charming seaside resort that featured in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel, Casino Royale. The town’s popular casino exudes 1920s glamour and the town itself has changed little since the turn of the 20th century when it became, and remains, a popular resort for Brits.

The 800 hectare forest planted in 1855 means you could spend anything from an hour to a full day wandering through the winding woods. However, instead of a walk round here, why not visit Canche Bay and enjoy the vantage point from which you may catch the seals basking in the French sun?

 

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The City Trail

From our Calais port, take a drive south and in little over an hour you’ll find yourself in Arras. The drive in is beautiful. Serpentine roads lead you through stunning countryside landscapes into the charming centre of Arras. One of the city’s most famous attributes is the 16th century Belfry tower, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, seated next to the town hall in the Grand Place. This is the first of two twin squares in the city. It echoes Venice’s St Marco’s Square, especially given the gothic Town Hall, yet the Grand Place maintains Flemish roots and a more unassuming personality. The squares date back to the 14th century and are lined with gabled houses that belonged to merchants in centuries passed. Stroll out the centre to the Cathedral, much smaller than one would typically expect, it seals Arras’s reputation as a quiet yet beautiful city. See it all in one easy package with the 1.9km walk, aptly named “Heart of the Town”, making sure you don’t miss a thing.

Just a 45 minute drive North East is the cultural hub of Lille. The old town is where you’ll want to spend your time. Immerse yourself in traditional Flemish architecture and experience the true heritage of Lille. Several notable stops include La Grand Place, a vast square that will have you spinning as you try to take it all in. Just off La Grand Place is Vieille. Though an old stock exchange, this ornate 17th century building is a sight to behold. Behind it, though visible from anywhere in Lille, is the Belfry. The coral brickwork makes it almost a second sun as it stands bold on the skyline. The Opera house, too, is stunning. In alabaster white it shines almost reflectively on a sunny day. Though Lille boasts a cathedral, more impressive is the parish of Saint Maurice, appearing almost as a castle one would find deep in the forest of a fairy tale.

On your journey back to port, hop out and stretch your legs in Bergues, an unimposing commune with an unsuspectingly strong military heritage. The belfry, dating originally back to 1112, has been destroyed twice but remains a central focus of the city. It is now a UNSECO World Heritage Site and is an important landmark to visit for France’s historical heritage. The canals, once a strongpoint to avoid invasion, are now the setting for an idyllic walk. The modest size yet proud stature of the town hall is the perfect metaphor for this small commune’s military resilience. A great deal of Bergues’s architecture harks back to the town’s medieval history, such as the Square Tower and Pointed Tower, named very much literally. It truly is a hidden gem of Northern France.

 

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