Because of its proximity to England, Calais has been a major port for centuries. It has seen many major passages of history, and was actually ruled by the English from 1347 to 1558.
We all know Calais as the closest town to England, most of us drive straight past it, but there are some good reasons to have a look around. Firstly, the shopping; Cite Europe is one of the largest out of town shopping centres there is, which has provided many a bargain for us Brits, although since 2007 the place has lost its appeal with the decline in the pound. This is also true of the wine and beer outlets scattered around the industrial park on the outskirts of the city.
For purely cultural reasons, you can admire the Calais Town Hall and the Rodin’s statue in front of it: Les Bourgeois de Calais. You can also try out some of the many fine restaurants in the town.
Things to do and see
Hôtel de Ville / Town Hall. The Town Hall is definitely the most eye-catching building in Calais. Built in a neo-Flemish style it has a Belfry that rises 75 metres above the town square, making it visible from just about anywhere around town. It has been an UNESCO listed building since 2005. In front of the hall are some well-kept gardens, and in the middle, a sculpture by Auguste Rodin. A little known fact about the hall is that Charles de Gaulle married here.
Le Phare / The Lighthouse. This 58 metre lighthouse was built in 1848 to replace the lantern of the Watchtower. There’s a 271-step spiral staircase if you are inclinened to get to the top, where there’s a great view of Calais and the ferry port.
La Tour du Guet / The Watchtower. The oldest building in Calais, built in the 13th century. It has suffered down the years, with events including an earthquake in the 16th century, and fire in the 17th and worst of all, World War II.
The Citadelle is a stone castle built by Count Philippe le Hurapel in 1229, but was captured in 1347 by the English. English Kings regularly stayed at the castle until 1558 when it was re-taken by the French. Louis XIII and XIV both made improvements.
Fort Risban is one of the three main fortifications built to protect Calais, the others being Fort Nieulay and the Citadel. Work began on the fortifications in the 13th Century, but there have been many alterations over the years, much of the now visible brickwork being from the 19th Century.
Fort Nieulay is at the western entrance to Calais, a key English defence between 1360 and 1558. These days you can see a rare example of a French lock-gate fort.
Le Courgain Maritime. Visit the fisherman’s quarter of Calais where you can buy fresh fish direct in the mornings.
World War II Museum. Located in a former German war bunker in Parc St Pierre in Calais, relive the occupation of the years 1939-44.
Fine Art Museum. Has permanent and temporary exhibitions. Most famous works by Auguste Rodin. www.musee.calais.fr
International Centre of Lace and Fashion. Over 500m sq devoted to lace and its environment. www.citedentelle.calais.fr
Other notable attractions include…
Le Musee Historique – www.musee3945.com
Le Blockhaus d’Eperlecques – www.leblockhaus.com
La Tour de Horloge – www.tour-horloge-guines.com
Le Village St. Joseph – www.st-joseph-village.com
Calais Day Trip and Shoppers Guide
If you have decided to take off to Calais to go shopping it’s very likely you are going for booze and cigarettes, so it’s well worth knowing what the allowances are….
If you are bringing in alcohol or tobacco goods and customs have reason to suspect they may be for a commercial purpose, a Customs officer may ask you questions and make checks, for example about:
– the type and quantity of goods you have bought
– why you bought them
– how you paid for them
– whether all your goods are openly displayed or concealed
– how often you travel
– how much you normally smoke or drink or
-any other relevant circumstances.
You are particularly likely to be asked questions if you have more than: 3200 cigarettes, 200 cigars, 400 cigarillos, 3kg tobacco, 110 litres of beer, 90 litres of wine, 10 litres of spirits, 20 litres of fortified wine (such as port or sherry). The officer will take into account all the factors of the situation and your explanation. If they are satisfied that the goods are for a commercial purpose they may seize them and any vehicle used to transport them, and may not return them to you. So stay below these limits, or you may not see your car again.
Majestic Wine and Beer World. These guys will even pay your ferry fare if you spend more than £300 with them, or a £30 voucher if you are spending less. You can also pre-order stock before your arrival to get a further discount.
l’Usine Cote d’Opale. This is a large designer outlet which is near the Cite Europe. It has all the big brands including Levi’s and Lacoste at really good prices.
Cité Europe. In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s a massive shopping centre on way to Boulogne from the ferry port at Calais. It’s adjacent to the Eurotunnel entrance so you can hardly miss it. Men – take a book, because the ladies will take some time.
Electro Depot Calais. You can get huge discounts on large white goods and other electrical good here. It’s a warehouse-style setup where you can walk away with a fridge, cooker, microwave, toaster for half the price in the UK, even at current exchange rates.
Carrefour Calais. If you are in Calais for shopping then it’s worthwhile getting a bit of food shopping done while you are on the way back. There’s lots of that French food that you like, as well as cheap booze.
Where to stay
You may want to stay over for a night or more, here are some suggestions…
*** Hotel Meurice
This historical hotel was first built in 1771 but destroyed during the Second World War. In 1955 the hotel was restored to its original design and style and now proudly stands as an impressive castle-style building exuding typical French elegance.
***Le Metropol Hotel, welcoming guests since 1929, is located in the city centre, 2 minutes walk from the train station and overlooks the river banks.
Le Cercle de Malines. Located in the city centre of Calais, this charming Guest House benefits from a privileged location from which to discover the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region. Le Cercle De Malines, a former family house of lace makers built in 1884, has retained its original, period charm and decor.