Getaways + Travel

Bonjour neighbour! A Calais-in-a-day adventure with team iK

As long as seafaring people have inhabited the British Isles, Kent has forever been the country’s gateway to Europe. This fact is down to simple geography: a mere 21 miles separating the Kent coast from French shores. On clear days when no clouds distort the view, France’s shoreline can be glimpsed from across the channel, and so too can Kent’s when looking from the other side. A fantastic sight that the insideKENT team was able to take in at the end of May.

 

In need of a day of bonding, fun and feasting, team iK headed out for a Calais-in-a-day adventure and relished a choice selection of everything wonderful that this sunswept port city has to offer. Early starts and excitement awoke us all on a chilly morning as we gathered together at editor-in-chief Sam and CEO Adam’s house awaiting our minibus to transport us to Le Shuttle in Folkestone.  

 

Before I go on, you must dismiss any preconceived images of Calais from your mind. As I did, you most likely envision an industrial port: a place to be passed through, not one to be stopped at, and certainly not your final destination. But I implore you, vanish all these ideas and think of Calais anew – as unless you have already visited this coastal gem – they are bound to be incorrect. But why make the effort to travel to foreign shores you may ask, the stress and hassle of travelling abroad just can’t be worth this trip that seems so close to home? Again, these ideas could not be further from reality. An easy breezy trip to Folkestone, we sail straight through passport control with no queues, despite it being the rush hour, and jump out of our jolly minibus at Flexi Plus before boarding the tunnel. Already cheerful from our easy, stress-free start, our morning is only to get better with the welcome addition of this luxury lounge. The ideal way to start your French trip in style, Flexi Plus is the ultimate ‘waiting room’ at which to refresh. Sparkling clean facilities, a Starbucks coffee maker and all the breakfast goodies you could ask for really gear us up for a fabulous start to the day ahead. 

 

It will come as no surprise to you, that every member of the insideKENT team is indeed a foodie. And boy do we love breakfast. I, the croissant connoisseur (whether in France or not), am delighted to have my first flaky pastry delight of the day here, as well as cereal, orange juice and a hot cappuccino, the ultimate travel-breakfast trio in my opinion. My colleagues stock up on fresh fruit, sandwiches, crisps, soft drinks, chocolate brownies and more, brilliant snacks for our journey through the Côte d’Opale that lies ahead. Keeping an eye on our shuttle via Flexi Plus information boards, despite their being extremely helpful stewards on hand, it was soon time to get back on board the bus and make our way under the water and to French shores. The journey itself is unbelievably smooth. Not only did it feel like it took no time at all (an incredible 35 minutes), Le Shuttle’s helpful and friendly staff were there to advise and help when our minibus appeared to have a little engine trouble. Safety was put first and then our minds were put at ease – the show was to go on! We had made it to Calais, our minibus yet to fail us. 

 

Leaving the port on the French side was just as easy as going through on the British, and soon we found ourselves meandering through sweet French villages, complete with boulangeries, cheerful looking école primaires, as well as churches and houses built with architecture unfamiliar to my eye, I found myself thinking how incredible it was that despite being so close in terms of distance, our architecture, language, culture and so much more, are completely unique to one another. It seems astonishing that the simple fact of Britain being an island nation, has made this neighbour, one so physically close, seem so unfamiliar and distant to me. But with the ease of Eurotunnel’s Le Shuttle, this is a concept I hope to change.

 

Our first stop is a quintessentially French one: a cheesemakers. Laiterie Fromagerie Artisanale by Les Frères Bernard in Sainte Godeleine is the stuff of dreams. Seemingly perfect, this cheesemakers

is pretty and pristine from the outside: a sculpture of a cow grazing happily on the green grass at the front of the building and the moos of real cows coming from the rural pastureland in the distance. We head inside and find ourselves standing in a gorgeous deli, packed with all sorts of mouthwatering goodies. Not only is it a cheese-lovers heaven, but this deli has everything one could wish to go alongside the cheese as well – from crackers and chutneys to juices and more. A flurry of customers come in and out, stocking up on their weekly supplies of whatever cheese takes their fancy. Upon the counter top, a cheese selection awaits customers who are yet to make up their minds, or like us, try something new. We dig in. The cheeses are no less than divine. Bries with a core of wild garlic, smoked cheeses with a hit of chilli and other fantastical fromages delight our senses. 

 

We are soon met by the geniuses behind the cheese: Les Frères Bernard, two brothers who have gone from strength to strength when it comes to cheese from the Côte d’Opale. Antoine, the eldest brother, began making cheese here in 1984 after returning to his own family farm, enlightened from a French tour. His goal was to turn their milk-producing land into a ‘land of cheese’. His head was full of exciting plans to create cheeses with new shapes, flavours and textures and so decided to open the Sainte Godeleine dairy in 1990. Joachim Bernard joined his brother at the helm of the Sainte Godeleine dairy in 2001, and their strong brotherly alliance enabled the dairy to grow to become a thriving regional business. Their passion scintillates around the factory as they tell us their story with the help of a delightful young colleague who translates for us as we are taken around. She explains: “Our machines are designed to reduce repetitive gestures and avoid waste. Some of our cheeses are still moulded traditionally with a ladle and spoon. Every one of our authentic cheese recipes has stood the test of time since 1990. Even when we modernised our premises in 2018, authenticity was our priority.” 

 

Today, visitors can attest this for themselves as guided tours and tastings just like ours are available. On these, cheese lovers can discover exactly what goes on behind the scenes in production at a family run French cheese factory and buy their favourite at the shop afterwards to take home. Délicieux!

 

Our exploration of the Côte d’Opale continues and our minibus cruises over green hillsides, covered in buttercup meadows. Suddenly, the road takes us to the clifftop and stunning panoramic oce

an views have us mesmerised. It is true, you can see those famous White Cliffs of Dover, and even from here, they look pretty spectacular. This beautiful area of rural farmland and coastal nature is called Cap Gris-Nez, or the ‘Cliffs of the Cape’ and is the closest point of France to England. It is here that we stop for lunch. As we descend the height of the cliffs in our minibus, we pull into a stunning, sandy cove with cliffs on either side and a stretching beach that sweeps for miles up the coastline. A windy day, a few walkers brace the elements to take in the sunshine as the tide is out, or venture up the cliff to lofty vantage points that look out across the channel and towards Kent’s beaches. After doing just this, we are well and truly ready for food. Tucked into this sandy cove, sheltered from the wind, is La Sirène, our restaurant of the day. Although we had already been captivated by the coastal views, nothing could have prepared us for what awaits inside. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows frame this beachside scene on the entirety of one side of the restaurant, making the outdoor location all the more magnificent by turning it into a tableau of moving art. Hues of sea green and blue glint around the venue, reflecting off sparkling wine glasses and twinkling in the faces of smiling diners. A long table laid out for a feast before us, a subdued quietness overcoming our group as we admire our opulent surroundings. 

As expected in France, a lengthy wine list is ready to be pored over, and as expected so close to the sea, a menu full of seafood accompanies it. Although other meat and vegetarian dishes are available and chosen by my colleagues, I opt for the octopus and gilthead sea bream with virgin sauce with red peppers and chorizo, stir-fried vegetables and rice vermicelli accompanied by wild garlic condiment. Luckily, editor Polly and CEO Adam are, like me, fans of oysters, and together we share a platter of these delectable sea beauties before our dishes arrive. Gorgeously fresh and bursting with that distinct oyster flavour, we devour these quickly and with pleasure. After these, I know La Sirène are no less than experts in seafood, and am certain my octopus and sea bream will be a triumph. I am not wrong. A satisfyingly crisp, salty skin encases the beautifully soft white meat of the bream, perfectly cooked and full of flavour. This, the ultimate match with the spicy chorizo and beautifully cooked octopus. A divine texture, the octopus is an utter treat for the mouth and taste buds alike. Although comfortably full, dessert is never to be dismissed by the insideKENT team. And do desserts get more French than a crème brûlée? Naturally, this is what I select, and it is yet another romance for the taste buds. A satisfying tap with the spoon on its hot sugary top and I am away – gorgeously creamy and sweet, this is the ultimate end to a spectacular meal.

Our final stop of the day is yet another fantastique combination of French delicacies: wine and pastries. Calais Vin is certainly a stop not to be missed on your next French trip. On one side of this, the most spectacular wine shop I have ever set foot in, is a superb bakery full of treats to tempt those that love their bread, croissants, pastries and cakes. Here, I am in my element and stock up on sweet goodies and baguettes to take home. Next door however, proves even more impressive. A true treasure trove of quality drinks, this warehouse is stocked full of vast and varied bottles – from the highest quality reds to the more moderately priced whites – to the world’s best Champagne and a selection of artisan spirits and cocktail concoctions – this supreme collection of drinks has to be the ultimate place to stock up for parties, buy gifts, or simply treat yourself to something new or an adored favourite. As well as alcohol, there are plenty of other foodie treats ideal for taking home, from biscuits and jams to chocolates and patés, you will find it here and love it. After enjoying an expert tasting with our personal sommelier, Jérôme Pont, and sipping a lovely selection of sparkling, white, rosé and red, the team splits and ventures off to find our favourites. What makes Calais Vin even better is the fact that they provide you with a tax-free voucher that allows you to reclaim the VAT as soon as you embark in Calais. Offering a significant saving of 15% VAT, this can be reclaimed on purchases upon boarding at the Eurotunnel and ferry terminals in Calais. Simply scan your barcode at the kiosk and the refund process is activated. Et voilà!

 

As we trundle home in our minibus awaiting a second pit-stop at Flexi Plus, I come away with a new found opinion of Calais. Gone are my thoughts of industrial ports and the cringey ‘booze-cruises’ of the 1990s, replaced with images of stunning scenery, lovely people, delicious food and plenty of exciting things to do. C’est magnifique.

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