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…

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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.

 ??  ?? French farm­house hospi­tal­ity Kite surf­ing on the Côte d’Opale
French farm­house hospi­tal­ity Kite surf­ing on the Côte d’Opale
 ??  ?? Re­lax on board in the club lounge
Re­lax on board in the club lounge
 ??  ??

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