It is only 26 miles that separate Blighty from its Gallic neighbor. That means you can bundle your family into your car and hop on a ferry at Dover or catch the Eurotunnel from Folkestone and within 90 minutes you can hop off at Calais.
Drive a little further and there is a clutch of pretty towns. Here’s our choice of five fabulous destinations just across the channel:
This is a medieval market town, famed for its tapestries, but so well restored that the Grand Place and the Place des Heros look very much the part. Flemish gabled buildings, quaint squares, fine restaurants, rich heritage, and lively vibe combine to offer an interesting Flemish-Gallic experience. Visit the fine arts museum, Musée des Beaux-Arts to see an ornate collection of horse-drawn carriages donated by the Chateau de Versailles in Paris.
This pretty fortified town reaches up from the Haut Ville (town) and marks out the town’s most beautiful section – an ancient, walled, Vieux Ville (old town). Looking upwards, the cathedral dome dominates the skyline. It’s a steep walk up to the ramparts but this cobbled area is ripe for romantics and is perfect for a quiet ramble along tree-lined paths. The views over both the old and new town are gorgeous.
The rising Rue de Lille is where quaint arts and crafts shops, and restaurants including one where every dish is made with cheese, are located. At the top is Vole Hole, a great bar to sip a glass of vino.
At first glance, this latticework of roads seems uninviting. But a second glance uncovers some gems.
For instance, opposite the magnificent town hall is the Musée de la Seconde Guerre Mondiale, a former German bunker in Parc St Pierre. It has 27 rooms and thousands of artifacts.
For a few more frills, head for the Lace Museum for a dazzling range of lace dresses and decorative items.
The port has a vast sandy beach where a hamper with du Vin, du pain, and du Fromage makes for an ideal picnic spot. For something more gastronomic there is, surprisingly, a clutch of exceptional restaurants such as Le Sole Meuniere overlooking the yacht basin. Another Aquar’aile sits atop a block of flats so you can dine and enjoy the views over the channel and watch the ships come in through its floor-to-ceiling windows.
Situated by the Deûle river near the Belgium border, this delightful Flemish city is the capital of French Flanders and the birthplace of Charles de Gaulle.
It is packaged in a network of 17th century winding cobbled streets. These are overlooked by pretty gabled and wood-beamed or red-bricked architecture that fan out from its main square, the Grand’Place. The locals have their own dialect quite different from French and their own beer by the same name.
Shopping is vibrant at the open-air book market in the Vieille Bourse (old stock exchange courtyard) as is a spectacular range of designer wear outlets and boutiques elsewhere. You will find designers such as Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and Lacoste in rue de la Grande Chaussée and smaller boutiques by individual designers on Lille’s oldest street.