The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Fabulous France, done two ways
We sent two writers from Dover to France to discover the joy and freedom of ferry travel. Taking to the open road, they both fell in love with Northern France for very different reasons…
JONATHAN MCALOON, 29, headed to Calais from Dover, aboard P&O Ferries’ Pride of Canterbury, with his friend, Hector, for an off-grid adventure.
Calais is often seen as a stopping-off point, and the region around it somewhere to merely pass through. A trip around the Pas-de-Calais countryside with my mate taught me not to listen to received wisdom.
The fun started on the ferry from Dover. You don’t get restless. You’re not cramped. You can wander, shop and enjoy yourself, rather than sit in a tunnel, an airport, or a hot train compartment.
We made a thing of it in the P&O Ferries club lounge, which affords brilliant prow views of the ship’s motion, calm blue waves coasting by. To the side, sunlight gave advantage to Dover’s white cliffs.
And at just £12 per person online, factoring in a free glass of Champagne, newspaper, snacks, hot and cold drinks and Wi-Fi, it basically pays for itself.
After a sandwich, saving room for French food, we explored and changed our money. So much of being in transit normally involves rushing before, then having time to kill. Here, I could get most of my errands done while already moving, and enjoying myself to boot.
By the time we had docked, we already had our car. We were in road-trip mode, ready to take control of our holiday.
Looking for the coast road down the Côte d’Opale, we wound up by chance at a bay alive with kite surfers. The sandy beaches round here are perfect for it.
Making our way to an off-grid gravel road outside Boulogne, we came to Trésors du Puit-du-Sart. Flore and Gauthier Paques, the farm’s second generation, showed us their poultry and the 40 products they make. We tried their delicious foie gras saucisson, laced with pistachios, and left with more.
Heading south again, we basked in the sun-drenched beauty of the countryside. The Pas-de-Calais region has a reputation for being heavily industrialised. I certainly didn’t notice.
A northern climate not being ideal for vineyards, the locals have always come up with unique ways around this. East of Montreuil-sur-Mer, I sampled Hubert Delobel’s Perlé de Groseille, a delicious fizz adapted
from a family recipe, made from redcurrants, raspberries or cherries. Refreshing, fruity, and just sweet enough, it’s perfect for the English palate. We stocked up for people at home.
Just over the road we visited La Halte d’Autrefois in time to milk the goats ourselves. Valerie Magniez, who started the farm in 2001 with a single goat to provide milk for her family, brought out a plate of their cheese and apple juice which we ate on a bench in the late evening light.
After stopping over in Montreuil-sur-mer, whose ramparts inspired Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, we awoke to a book fair outside. We had planned to try char à voile, or sand yachting, but when we got to Boulogne we were told the weather was, in fact, too perfect for it! We took a moment on the beach instead, before heading for Calais.
On the ferry back, extremely grateful for the lack of luggage restriction when travelling by ferry, we left the cheese in the boot, safe in the knowledge it wasn’t stinking out our suitcases, and went for a slap-up lunch. Next to the club lounge and away from the bustle, but open to all passengers, the brasserie has dazzling port-side views of the calm sea.
We took a table at a wall-length window and saw off a great weekend with steak frites. Though slightly more expensive than the food court, getting the two-course fixed menu pays for itself, much like the club lounge.
Still, it felt like a well kept secret. As a steward brought our food, he asked if we wanted English or French mustard. Both, we said.