Our love affair with France has occasionally been turbulent but one thing that remains enduringly undiminished is the allure of its food and wine, culture, myriad choice of activities – and a pace of life that can seem all-too appealing when compared to our own, often frenetic world.
Northern France is not only around an hour’s drive from many points in Kent, it’s convenient (take the dog, leave the kids for a night or two) and you can immerse yourself in architecture, history and culture, take to the golf course, explore on horseback, enjoy a spot of sailing or go fly a kite.
If all of that sounds way too energetic then forget the waistline and meander from café to restaurant in search of seriously good pâtisserie, cheeses, beers and seafood.
An original day trip darling, Boulogne lost some of its allure with improving transport to some of its neighbours. Don’t be put off though by images of the booze cruise brigade for this city dates back to the Middle Ages and today offers visitors everything from golf, sailing and fishing to family activities such as the Nausicaa National Sea Centre (www.nausicaa.co.uk) and bags of culture across museums, churches and the Imperial Palace.
A former European City of Culture, Lille nudges the Belgian border and the Flemish influence is evident across its cobblestone streets, architecture and cuisine, especially warming stews on cold days and the waft of freshly baked waffles, which you can then walk-off exploring striking locations such as the Grand Place and Place Rihour.
Nord-Pas de Calais, with its wealth of historical and cultural heritage and diverse range of architecture influenced by great chapters in history, is a treasure-trove for those on the search for engaging museums and lively culture; cycling; hiking, horse riding and wind sports, and a cuisine – especially seafood, beers and cheeses – that mirrors the region’s passion for creativity and robust flavours.
You’ll be hearing a lot about Dunkirk this summer as Christopher (The Dark Knight) Nolan’s epic re-telling of the evacuation of allied soldiers in 1940 arrives in cinemas. Base yourself in Gravelines – built as a fortress in the Middle Ages and today typified by rustic buildings and picturesque gardens – and go explore historical sites, traditional breweries and beaches inextricably linked to 20th century events. October sees the Dunkerque Artisan Food Fair showcasing a vast range of fresh, regionally-sourced produce.
Le Touquet-Paris-Plage proudly calls itself “a sporting paradise” and it certainly has the activities and facilities to back-up the claim. It also has a heritage influenced by history, architecture and an appeal among celebrities that has endured across the decades; nature that abounds across attractive landscapes, sandy banks, migrating birds and seals – and fine gastronomy with more than 70 restaurants from chic and cosy brasseries to restaurants of the world and themed or gourmet eateries.
By car, ferry, train or coach, there are numerous ways to hop across the channel:
• You can fly from Lydd Airport (www.lyddair.com) to Le Touquet on selected dates in just 15 minutes.