August 24, 2015

The beautiful 'floating gardens' in Amiens.

When is there a better time other than a bank holiday weekend to enjoy a quick trip to France? As someone who grew up in northern France, and visits there regularly, I know some of the best spots to explore without having to travel too far.

So, to help you make the most of your three days away, I've chosen a few of my favourite destinations, which are less than three hours from Calais by car. This way, you won't spend the whole weekend driving, and you'll get to do as much as possible.

The Coastal City - Boulogne-sur-Mer

Time from Calais: 31 minutes

Boulogne-sur-Mer is France's largest fishing port - known for its plentiful supply of herring - and is a popular destination amongst British holidaymakers, particularly during the summer months. There are lots of things to do in Boulogne, here are just a couple of the coastal activities that me and my family enjoy:

  • The Beach - One of our favourite places to visit in Boulogne (weather dependent, of course) is the beach, and although the temperatures might not see you diving straight into the water, it's a nice spot to get some sun. Take a stroll along the sandy shores and stop to take in the sea views - you could even pack a picnic!

  • Nausicaa - Located right on the Nord-Pas-de-Calais coast, close to central Boulogne, this aquarium and ocean exhibition centre is fun for both kids and adults alike. You can learn all about the ocean and the animals that inhabit it, as well as meeting some fantastic ocean-dwellers in real life.

The coastal city of Boulogne-sur-Mer is just 31 minutes by car from Calais, perfect for a weekend getaway.
The coastal city of Boulogne-sur-Mer is just 31 minutes by car from Calais, perfect for a weekend getaway.

The Cultural Hub - Lille

Time from Calais: 1 hour, 12 minutes

In north-east France, just a stone's throw away from Belgium, you'll find the culturally rich city of Lille. Whenever I visit this city I'm always blown away by the spectacular architecture, which has been significantly influenced by nearby Belgium (with its brown and red brickwork), as well as the many cultural activities on offer. Here are two of my favourite things to do:

  • The Fine Arts Museum is the second-largest museum in France, beaten only by Paris' Louvre, and a visit won't leave you disappointed. Inside the breath taking 19th century building you can see works by notorious artists, such as Rubens, Goya and Rodin. C'est magnifique!

  • The Citadel - Built in 1670 by Sébastien Le Prestre (Marqui of Vauban), the star-shaped Citadel is one of Lille's most popular tourist attractions due to its impressive architecture and beautiful grounds. Book a guided tour and learn everything there is to know about its history, from commission (by Louis IXV), to construction and completion.

Spend the weekend in Lille and take a guided tour of the star-shaped Citadel.
Spend the weekend in Lille and take a guided tour of the star-shaped Citadel.

The Natural Beauty - Amiens

Time from Calais: 1 hour, 36 minutes

For unbelievable surroundings and picturesque gardens, make your way to Amiens. This wonderful city is a popular weekend getaway spot for Parisians, as it offers plenty for visitors to enjoy. We visited Amiens earlier this year and had a lovely time visiting a few of its beautiful gardens - these are just two of the best:

  • The Hortillonnages , or floating gardens as they are also known, can be found in the heart of Amiens, just a short walk from the Gothic cathedral. They consist of over 65km of winding canals, surrounded by beautiful gardens, vegetable and fruit patches, and luscious greenery. I'd recommend taking a boat tour to really get the most out of the experience.

  • Parc Saint-Pierre Up until 1993 Parc Saint-Pierre was semi-wild, untamed parkland, frequented by fisherman and campers, and then landscape architect Jacqueline Osty transformed it into something truly spectacular. Today the park features manicured lawns, views of the tree-lined canal and plenty of space to relax.

Parc Saint-Pierre - the work of landscape architect, Jacqueline Otsy.
Parc Saint-Pierre - the work of landscape architect, Jacqueline Otsy.

The Foodie's Paradise - Dieppe

Time from Calais: 2 hours, 7 minutes

Dieppe is a coastal town in the upper region of Normandy and, as such, produces a plentiful supply of delicious food all year round. Normandy is famous for its cream, butter and cheese, so the food you'll encounter in Dieppe usually includes dairy alongside locally-caught seafood. If you decide to spend your bank holiday break in Dieppe, you have to try these local dishes:

  • Marmite Dieppoise - Unlike its English namesake, Marmite Dieppoise has nothing to do with yeast extract or toast and everything to do with seafood. This traditional fish stew contains a mixture of seafood - turbot, prawns, scallops, sole, mussels - in a creamy sauce rich with butter and spices. As the dish originated in Dieppe, it's a must-try for any visitors. I love eating this dish at A La Marmite Dieppoise .

  • Coquilles St Jacques - Another seafood dish to try while in Dieppe is Coquilles St Jacques - scallops cooked in a creamy, white wine and mushroom sauce, topped with mashed potatoes and baked in the shell. Grab a table at La Marine and indulge in this flavoursome dish, which I'm sure you'll love.

When in Dieppe, you have to try fish stew.
When in Dieppe, you have to try fish stew.

Travel with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle and you can get from Folkestone to Calais in just 35 minutes, and from there you'll be at your bank holiday getaway destination in less than 3 hours.

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