The French town of Calais is a major ferry port in the north, within in the department of Pas-de-Calais. Calais is by far the largest city in Pas-de-Calais, overlooking the Strait of Dover; the narrowest point across the English Channel. Only 21 miles (34 km) separates England and France here and is the closest point between the two countries. The White Cliffs of Dover can be seen on a clear day from Calais.
The old part of the town, Calais proper (or Calais-Nord), is situated on an artificial island surrounded by canals and harbours, popular amongst tourists. The modern part of the town, St-Pierre, lies to the south and south-east. In the centre of the old town you will find the Place d’Armes, and inside stands the Tour du Guet, or watchtower – a structure built in the 13th century, which was used as a lighthouse until 1848 when a new lighthouse was built by the port.
South east of the Place you find the church of Notre-Dame, which was built during the English occupancy of Calais. It is arguably the only church built in the English perpendicular-style in the whole of France. Former French President Charles de Gaulle married his wife Yvonne Vendroux in this church.
South of the Place and opposite the Parc St Pierre is the Hôtel-de-ville (the town hall), and the belfry from the 16th and early 17th centuries. The Town Hall is beautifully decorated all year round and one of the most popular destinations amongst tourists and day travellers alike.
Today, Calais is visited by more than 10 million people a year.
The Burghers of Calais
One of the most famous sculptures by French sculptor Auguste Rodin, was completed in 1889. This monument serves to an occurrence in the Hundred Years’ War in 1347 when Calais, an important French port on the English Channel, was under siege from the English for over a year. Mr Rodin was commissioned by Calais to create the sculpture back in 1884.
International City of Lace and Fashion
The international city of lace and fashion is a museum of Calais which was inaugurated in June 2009 and was the €28 million idea of John Ruler. The museum showcases the town’s industrial heritage and local expertise. A worthwhile visit for research, studies and creative ideas, there are 10,000 lace pieces on display and a further 3,200 costumes all relative to the fashion industry.
Calais Town Hall
The town hall of Calais was built back in 1885 when of the cities of Calais and Saint-Pierre merged. It was designed in the neo-Flemish style of the 15th century, by architect Louis Debrouwer. Work begun in 1911 but was interrupted by the outbreak of war three years later, in 1914. The war took its toll on the town hall, delaying the completion of the building until 1925. It was then damaged again in 1940. Today, the belfry stands at 75 metres in height and contains one of the most beautiful chimes in northern France. Outside stands Rodin’s Burghers of Calais statue.
Did you know that Calais is a seaside resort? This lovely beach in the north of France is a finely-kept secret. Only a couple of minutes’ walk from the ferry port and not much further from the Place d’ Armes, is well worth a visit on a summers’ day. Plenty of fun to be had for adults and children alike, including fun fairs and a permanent mini golf centre. The beach itself is kept in pristine condition, with soft sand, ideal for sunbathing or a picnic.
Second World War Museum (Musee de la Guerre)
Situated in the Parc St Pierre and opposite the Town Hall, the second world war museum in Calais offers interesting insights. The building itself was used by the Nazi German Navy as a bunker during the war, stretching an impressive 194 metres in length. Built in 1941 and a survivor of extensive bombings, it is now a museum that display objects and photographs across 20 rooms, depicting the war. There is also a room devoted to the first world war when Calais had been destroyed.
Église Notre-Dame de Calais
The Église Notre-Dame, or ‘The Church of Our Lady’ in English, is a Roman Catholic parish church of Tudor architecture. Dating back to the 12th century, the church has a fortress-like appearance and laid out in the shape of a Latin cross. One notable feature is the high alter.
Les Baraques Military Cemetery
Located on the western side of Calais, this cemetery was used between 1915-1921. It contains a total of 1,303 Commonwealth burials from the first world war, combined with more than 250 war graves of non-French nationality (248 Germans).
The Lighthouse is located in the residential streets near the port, a significant landmark that is still used as a navigational aid to ships and ferries sailing across the Strait of Dover. Building was completed in 1848 and stands at 53m in height. Tourists may climb the 271 steps to the top.
Le Fort Nieulay
The fort in Calais was built back in 1695 after the town suffered attack from more than 40 English ships. Defended by 12 cannons, the fort was served by 15-50 soldiers at a time. Damaged during the second word war, the fort was restored in 1989.
Watchtower (Tour du Guet)
The Watchtower in Calais stands at 39 metres and features a dovecote for carrier pigeons. It dates back to 1214 before it was damaged by a 1580 earthquake. The Watchtower was used as a lighthouse until 1848 and was served as a military post during the first world war.
The citadel of Calais is the fortress built on ruins of the old medieval castle which dates from the thirteenth century and those who defended the city. The old medieval castle was built in 1229 to defend Calais before King Francis II decided to build the new citadel. The four towers still remain as do the walls with the Square and Paved towers.
Located behind the war memorial, Parc Richelieu was built in 1862 and later redesigned in 1956. There are benches for adults to relax and space for children to play games. There is also a pond. At the entrance is a statue of Peace and 10 raised French flags. A minutes’ walk from the Town Hall.
Parc St Pierre
Situated opposite the Town Hall and with the remembrance monument standing outside, the Parc St Pierre also plays host to the war museum. The monument was inaugurated in 1904 in honour of the local people killed in colonial expeditions.