A region of great contrasts, the Calais area boasts a huge variety of natural, historic and cultural splendours. Blessed by stunning coastal and inland landscapes, it combines the charms of the countryside with the pleasures of the coast. From its coastal fringe to its delightful hinterland, the area is characterised by myriad unique landscapes in a pristine setting which has determined its history and cultural heritage.
An incredible natural setting
If you’re seeking fresh air and wonderful nature, the Calais area is home to numerous nature zones, some of which are listed areas, while others enjoy protected status.
Here, the long fine sandy beaches and dunes planted with beachgrass extend as far as Le Cap Blanc Nez, a listed “grand site de France” which has managed to preserved its wild and unspoilt character, with superb views of the cliffs of southern England and the perpetual to-ing and fro-ing of ships making their way through the Straits of Dover. In addition, the Le Platier d’Oye nature reserve plays host to the rich flora and fauna so typical of this coastline, while the area’s hinterland, a diverse mix of watercourses, marshes, bocage landscapes and forests, is perfect for exploration on foot, by bike or on horseback, such is the variety of trails on offer to visitors.
Sport, leisure and culture: something for everyone!
The area’s large expanses of sea and sand are perfect for sailing and water sports such as kite surfing, windsurfing and even sand yachting. Sailing enthusiasts will be spoilt for choice at the Base de Loisirs Tom Souville, where activities such as dinghy and catamaran sailing, windsurfing and stand-up paddle are all available. In recent years, the Calais region has also made a strong commitment to develop a whole host of leisure facilities for sports enthusiasts ranging from beginners to top athletes, a policy which has seen the construction of a swimming pool-ice rink, a rhythmic gymnastics complex, multi-purpose sports halls, athletic tracks, equestrian centres etc.
Leisure and culture are equally well represented, with music featuring strongly across the Calais area, including three music schools, one of which also acts as the music conservatory for the Pas-de-Calais département, offering an extensive music curriculum of outstanding quality. Similarly, children can also try their hand at painting, design and sculpture from a very young age at the Calais art school, while film-lovers are spoilt for choice at the Gaumont multiplex and Alhambra arthouse cinemas.
Le Channel national theatre, a unique artistic venue housed in the town’s former abattoirs, offers a cultural programme that is as diverse as it is original, combining street theatre, circus, drama and music that has delighted audiences from the Calais area and beyond with its varied, high-quality performances. Alongside this, the Grand Théâtre de Calais hosts popular and eclectic shows, including plays, operas and one-man shows. The town’s musical prowess is enhanced further by the Centre Gérard Philippe, which plays hosts to a variety of music performances including, over the past ten years or so, the renowned Beautiful Swamp Blues Festival.
Museums and local heritage: collections and sites influenced by a unique location
Calais’ rich history is clearly expressed through its local heritage and museums. A region with strong geographical links to both England and Flanders, it has for a long time been the battleground for bitter struggles that have led to the construction of fortifications to ensure the defence of the town. Fort Nieulay, one of very few of Vauban’s forts-écluses (forts with sluice gates to control flooding) to have resisted the rigours of time, the citadel, Fort Risban and even the watchtower (tour du guet), one of the oldest monuments still surviving in Calais, all bear witness to the successive conquests endured by the town. One further vestige of area’s links with England is the Église Notre-Dame, the only Tudor-style church to be found on mainland Europe.
Calais’ maritime past is best discovered from the top of its lighthouse, from where the superb views encompass the town, its port and its surrounding countryside. At its feet, the Courgain Maritime, originally a small fishing village, was rebuilt to its exact former layout following the Second World War.
The area is loyal to its many traditions, as witnessed by the numerous events tied in with its maritime, industrial, historical and rural traditions such as the herring festival, chicory festival, rural fairs (including the poultry fair in Licques), reviews performed in local patois etc.
Renovated in 2012, the UNESCO-listed belfry tower above Calais’ town hall, in front of which the bronze statue of the Six Burghers of Calais is one of the most famous sculptures by the artist Auguste Rodin, while the Musée des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Museum) is home to an extensive collection of 19th and 20th century sculptures centred around the works of Rodin.
Calais has also succeeded in highlighting its industrial heritage through its role as a leading lace-manufacturer. Occupying the town’s former lace factory, the International Centre for Lace and Fashion (Cité Internationale de la Dentelle et de la Mode) retraces the town’s history as a major lace producer. The centre also acts as a focal point in which designers, stylists and professionals from the textile industry are able to discuss and share their ideas, as well as hosting regular exhibitions by successful young designers which prove very popular with visitors.
www.calais-cotedopale.com: Calais Tourist Office
www.capcalaisis.fr: Grand Calais Terres & Mers Urban Authority
www.calais.fr: Town of calais
www.ville-marck.fr: Town of Marck
www.ville-coulogne.fr: Town of Coulogne
www.coquelles.fr: Town of Coquelles
www.ville-sangatte.fr: Town of Sangatte
www.grandsitedefrance.com: Grand site de France
www.lechannel.fr: Le Channel