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Stretch your cash further with a shopping trip to Calais

What with the recession and the pound now almost neck and neck with the euro, shopping trips to Calais in the build-up to the festive season may not seem to have the same appeal as in the past. But Norman Smith found you can float your currency because the English Channel is awash with bargains.

One of the finest landmarks in Calais is the town hall - Hotel de Ville - completed in 1925
One of the finest landmarks in Calais is the town hall - Hotel de Ville - completed in 1925

Get on board a P&O ferry, even just for a day trip costing £25 for a car and up to nine passengers, and you can save the cost of the fare, and more, with a bit of superb on-board retail therapy.

For example, six bottles of very drinkable Californian wine at £12 can’t be bad. And you can pick up six bottles of Australian Jacob’s Creek for £15. Wine boxes are going for £16 for two and there are offers on whisky – with an excellent deal on single malts – gin and other spirits.

For beer drinkers, two 24 x 50cl packs for £22 might go down nicely, or there is a similar offer on Grolsch. It’s not too difficult to sniff out the bargains in perfumes and cosmetics either. You are spoiled for choice.

You can even take the car for all those goodies on a non-landing trip. For £10, park on the vehicle deck, go and do your shopping and then members of the crew will deliver it to your car, leaving plenty of time to relax and enjoy a meal on board before arriving back in Dover. Visit to www.poferries.com to find out more.

Pick up some continental flavours on a shopping trip to Calais
Pick up some continental flavours on a shopping trip to Calais

However, if you can make those travel savings, it’s worth recalling that Calais and the surrounding area still have lots to offer the budget-conscious and the discerning. Bargains may be harder to find, but they’re there, amid that special ambiance and some delights that you would not readily find in the UK.

Hypermarkets such as Carrefour in Cite Europe and Auchan always have special promotions with great deals in wines, spirits and party fare. The fresh seafood areas are spectacular, and tempting, so take a cool box or car fridge. Glassware, olive oil, detergents and bottled water are among the many items that are still cheaper than at home.

Calais town centre’s shopping mall and beautifully presented small shops also have plenty to offer, with many specialities to whet the appetite. One of my favourites is La Maison du Fromage et des Vins, just off the market square of La Place d’Armes. It has an unrivalled selection of cheeses, a range of fine wines and gourmet treats that could see diet caution thrown to the winds.

If you have time to do a spot of sight-seeing the recently opened lace museum is worth a visit. It’s a spectacular combination of modern architecture and a 19th century lace-making factory, housing machinery, exhibits and special displays to illustrate the history – and the future – of the town’s famous lace industry, which actually had its origins in Nottingham.

Shopping and doing the tourist bit calls for refreshment, and there are plenty of cafes and bistros where you might get the chance to sample one of the locally produced speciality beers.

Cite Europe, in Calais, offers plenty of good deals
Cite Europe, in Calais, offers plenty of good deals

There are several independent small breweries in the Calais region and I paid a visit to one run by Christophe Noyon and his family on their farm near Tardinghem. Christophe’s passion for fine beer-making shows and you can share his enthusiasm by sampling one – or all – of the four brews he produces now. Tours, tastings and sales can be arranged for individuals and groups by contacting the brewery in advance at noyon.brasseur@wanadoo.fr.

While bargain-hunting can be thirsty work, you are also likely to work up an appetite and Calais has a wealth of eating places, from snack bars to gourmet restaurants. The Restaurant Le Grand Bleu and the Histoire Ancienne are among the latter, both family run with that special attention to quality, discreet service and comfort. There are others too, so it’s worth exploring.

In the coming weeks Calais will dress up for party time, and it does it so well, spectacularly well. Sights, sounds and all sorts of activities provide a festive treat for the whole family. And if you want to stay over, there is a wide choice of accommodation.

Check it all out with Calais Chamber of Commerce (www.calais-cci.fr) or the tourist board (www.calais-cotedopale.com).

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