When you take a crossing to France on the ferry, chances are Calais is going to be the first thing you see when you get off the ferry to France. However, there is so much more to Calais than just being a port. It’s a town full of rich cultural history, many of which links back to the Edwardian era and exciting tales of pirates and British invasion.
The British occupied Calais between 1347 after Edward III conquered it and reduced the inhabitants to starvation right up until 1558 when the French finally rebelled against the English and drove them out. For a while after this Calais was affectionately called “Pays Reconquis” (Reconquered territory) and the area became popular for weaving and tapestries after many French protestants moved there to escape the Catholic intolerance in the rest of the country. The town hall has stunning tributes to this period and there is a bronze statue of the Six Burghers of Calais outside and beautiful stained glass windows to commemorate the liberation.
Walking around the harbour offers amazing views out over the sea and the Channel ferries to France and really gives you a sense of what life would have been like back then. The Municipal museum in the town features a detailed model of the old town so you can see how the canals and town walls, plus the beautiful Notre Dame church made the town look so much different to how it is today.
In homage to their weaving heritage lace making is very popular in the town today and there are loads of factory shops selling some of the delicate designs to people. This could be a lovely souvenir of your visit. For those more interested in science, the Maison du marble is a geology museum that offers fascinating exhibits and tours whilst those who want to do some walking and explore the area will do well to find one of the coastal paths that winds along the edge of the town and gives you amazing views over both the town and out over the sea front.
France is famous for having a flashy and sophisticated night life, and Calais is no different. If you’re staying in the town it’s well worth a trip out on an evening even if it’s just to people watch and see how the lifestyle is so vastly different to ours. Cafés and bars in the town are open well into the night offering a relaxed atmosphere for those who just want to kick back with a drink, whilst night clubs like Nightclub 555 and the Gaelic pubs on the Rue Royale are on offer for those who want a bit of a party atmosphere.
The hotel Meurice is a lovely hotel just near the harbour and with an excellent restaurant. This hotel is perfect for everyone, whether you’re only staying in Calais for a few nights before travelling into the rest of France or if you’re planning to spend your whole holiday in France there. For those who are backpacking or on a holiday with a young group the Calais Youth Hostel is a great place to stay with a really friendly atmosphere.
That’s Calais, not just a place to embark you Channel ferry but a beautiful city with a rich history