Northern France
What to do and see within 90 minutes of Calais


(Look here for advice on insurance, hospitals, money, shopping and telephoning.
Let me know if there are other topics you would like to see covered)







Béthune, Esquelbecq, Arras, Montreuil. Photographs © Angela Bird.







Let’s hope you don’t need this, but good travel insurance is still vital for peace of mind on holiday.

Health cover: A good start, if you are ordinarily resident in Britain, is to apply for the FREE European Health Insurance Card (which has replaced the old E111); click here for more information. Application forms are available from most UK post offices, but for speed, you are advised to apply online. Do this several weeks ahead of your journey; it remains valid for several years. You need a separate one for each member of the family.
This covers you for about 80 per cent of medical costs in France (the same as for French nationals), so you will still need to top this up with extra insurance, or pay the difference, and does not include things like repatriation, personal liability, possessions, cancellation costs etc.
Choice of an insurance company is a very personal matter, so it always pays to shop around. (You may even already have cover you did not know about through some special credit-card or bank scheme, and your possessions when travelling may already be covered by your household insurance, so check those first.)

Vehicle cover: Most UK insurance companies no longer issue Green Cards - which is a pity, as French police seemed to be reassured by being shown a document that resembled insurance documents issued in France. However, there should be a French phrase printed somewhere on your UK Certificate of Insurance to the effect that you have adequate cover, so you should take that with you and show it instead. You still have to advise your motor insurance company of your dates of travel, even if they no longer issue Green Cards. Again, there are many vehicle breakdown schemes on the market, so shop around for the best package for you.








Hospitals in the area: Here are links to the “Urgences” (hospitals with A&E departments) of the various départements (counties) of the north of France, shown in decreasing order of size (largest establishments first). 
Even with bad toothache, it’s worth heading to A&E; their staff may be able to give you enough painkillers to allow you to return home to have your own dentist resolve the problem.

-         Nord (dept 59; drag the map to see the location of the hospital at Dunkerque).
These include Dunkerque and Hazebrouck.

-         Pas de Calais (dept 62).
These include Arras, Béthune, Boulogne, Calais, Lens, Rang-de-Fliers (near Berck-sur-Mer, but not shown on map) and St-Omer.

-         Somme (dept 80)
These include Abbeville, Amiens, Doullens, Péronne.

If you want to see A&Es in other areas, go to this page and, on the left, on the “Hopital tab, type in the first two figures of the département index, and then the word “urgences” in the second box, and then click on “Rechercher”. A box opens with a map showing the locations of the hospitals, as above.







The Euro  On 1 January 2002 France switched to the Euro, so obviously this is the only currency to take now. Since its advent, banks have wound down their foreign-exchange desks, and it is now extremely difficult to exchange non-Euro currency (i.e. UK pounds) or foreign-denomination traveller's cheques (i.e. pounds or dollars).  At its launch, 1 € was the equivalent of about 65p in UK money; 100 € was about £66.  However, the rate varies daily, so it is not possible to give exact conversion figures, and since the 2008 “credit crunch” the rate is more like 1 € to £1.

TIP   You can see the latest exchange rates here.



Credit cards (usually Visa or MasterCard) are accepted in almost all but the smallest shops and restaurants, and in just about all petrol stations. (Eurocheques are pretty unwelcome anywhere, so forget those – if they still exist.)
A word of warning, however. Although many petrol stations bear a sign that boasts 24/24 (i.e. 24-hour service), this is based on inserting into the pump a credit card carrying a "puce", or microchip, as used by the French. Unfortunately, the chip in the older of our British cards is not always compatible with these French petrol machines, so – although you can use it to pay for items face-to-face with the attendant - you might not be able to fill up out of hours when stations are unmanned. Don't let your tank run low at lunchtimes, late at night, or on Sundays.
2008:  Recent UK credit cards seem to work all right in pumps now. 

TIP  Your UK cashpoint card - the one you use to extract money from holes in the wall back home - will often work just as well abroad, providing that the machine you use bears a logo similar to the one shown on your card. Just stick your card in - the machine usually recognises that it is British and brings up the instructions in English. Tap in your PIN, and state how much you'd like to take out (withdrawal amounts are usually pre-set choices). If your account back home can stand it, you should have no trouble getting money out, which can be very useful on Mondays or on unexpected bank holidays. Note: there is a charge made for this, which will appear later on your bank statement.





Northern France – especially the Calais area - is famous as a shopping destination, with bargains to be found in food, wine and beer, and some famous outlet shops.


Supermarkets and hypermarkets

Among mainstream supermarkets and hypermarkets are: Auchan, Leclerc, Super/Hyper-U, Intermarché, Carrefour, Géant and so forth. Most have websites so you can check out where the nearest one is to the place you are going.

To find an Auchan store, click here, and then use the box with the “selectionner un magazin” text in it to find the nearest to you. Each is prefixed by the 2-digit département number (59 for Nord; 62 for Pas de Calais; 80 for Somme), which helps. Then click on “Valider”.  There is a useful Auchan at Coquelles, across the motorway from the Tunnel access route, which is handy for last-minute shopping as it is open Mon-Sat until 10pm.

Carrefour is another major chain.  Here is a link to the Carrefour branch inside the CitéEurope shopping centre, outside Calais.  Carrefour/Champion has a very cumbersome website, which offers to let you type in your 2-digit number, but then gives you a list in a window so small as to make the list useless. There are many smaller Champion stores on the outskirts of small towns.

For branches of major Géant/Casino hypermarkets, click here. There are in fact a lot of smaller ones that do not seem to be listed here.

The Intermarché chain provides a map to click on; to see it click here
To locate
Leclerc stores, visit the Leclerc site, and then enter the département’s identifying two digits in the little box called "Département" and click on the word "Rechercher" and you should be taken to a list of the towns with branches; click on individual names to see maps of where each one is.

To track down Super-U and Hyper-U stores, visit the Système U site , then type the relevant 2-digit number in the box marked "Commune", and click on Valider. You'll see a long list on the right, with a link to the next page ("suivant") at the top of the list. You can click on those that interest you to see the maps.

Cora, Aldi, Lidl, Leader Price.


TIP   Some of the Calais hypermarkets offer to let you pay by credit card in either sterling or euros.  I am never sure which is best to choose; your card would probably be processed the next day, so if the exchange rate was improving (more euros to the £1), it would be in your interest to wait.  But how on earth do you know...  Some of these same major hypermarkets also require you to show a passport as extra ID, so make sure you have it with you.


Shopping malls

Calais - 4B Les 4 Boulevards, in the centre of the 19th-century town at the junction of Boulevards Lafayette, Jacquard, Gambetta and Pasteur. It contains 50 fashion and accessories boutiques, and has its own indoor car park. Open Mon-Sat 9.3am-7.30pm (its Champion supermarket is open Mon-Sat 8am-8pm).

Coquelles The enormous CitéEurope , near the exit to the Tunnel, has a huge Carrefour hypermarket, and a branch of Tesco (selling wines and spirits, not groceries). Mon-Thurs 10am-8pm; Fri 10am-9pm; Sat 9am-8pm (its Carrefour hypermarket open Mon-Sat 8.30am-10pm)..

Dunkerque Centre Commerciale Marine... 23 stores, and an Atac supermarket in the town centre. Open Mon-Fri 10am-7pm; Sat 10am-7.30pm (its Atac supermarketis open Mon-Sat 8.30am-8pm).

LilleEuralille is a large indoor shopping mall, located between the two railway stations – Lille Flandres and Lille Europe, so handy for last-minute shopping en route back to the Eurostar. Open Mon-Sat 10am-8pm (its Carrefour supermarket is open Mon-Sat 9am-10pm, last admission 9.30pm).


Factory shopping

Outlet centres

Marques Avenue, Coquelles

McArthur Glen, Roubaix

L’Usine, Roubaix

Factory shops

Arc International, Arques (also factory tour)

Desvres pottery, Desvres

Chocolate factory (not cheaper, but factory tour possible)

Succes Berckois

Armentieres bailleul

Buire le s  le touqet



See also the page on Markets


Junk shops


Auction houses


Best shopping towns, for wandering around small shops








Le Touquet


TIP  Useful websites for UK shoppers

Day-Tripper Here’s a link to the brilliant Daytripper website, which has absolutely everything you could want to know about shopping, often with links, prices etc. It has sale dates, tips on what to buy, links to Customs regulations.

And The Other Side





Telephoning within France: French telephone numbers now have 10 digits, so if you have an old eight-digit number it needs a prefix. Vendée phone numbers (starting with 51), Maine-et-Loire (41) and Loire-Atlantique (40) have been prefixed with 02; Deux-Sèvres (49) and Charente-Maritime (46) are prefixed with 05.
Telephoning from another country to France: dial your international code (from UK: 00), then the French country code (33), then a nine-digit number (dropping the initial zero). So to call the Vendée Departmental Tourist Office in La Roche-sur-Yon from Britain, you would dial 00 33 2 51 47 88 22.
To make an call from France to another country, first dial 00, then the country code (UK country code is 44), then the UK number without the initial zero.
To reverse the charges to a UK number from France, call an English-speaking BT operator on 0800 99 00 44.

Mobile phones work well, though if you have not used yours abroad before you may need to check with your supplier whether any further formalities are needed before it will function overseas.
In case you are confused over whether your UK-based handset thinks it's in France or England, we have worked out the following on our own phone:
Outgoing calls from a UK mobile:
To dial a French number on your British-bought mobile from within France: Dial just the 10-digit French number.
To dial a UK number (fixed or mobile): Dial as if from a French phone: i.e. 00 44 plus the UK number (minus its initial zero) – even if you know the other mobile is also in France.
Incoming calls on a UK mobile:
A person ringing your mobile from within France must treat it as if it was a UK number (in other words he must dial 00 44 first, then your mobile number without the initial zero).
A person ringing your mobile from England must also treat it like a UK number, and just ring it as if ringing you on it back home.
TIP On a UK-bought mobile, you pay a hefty extra charge to your UK operator on incoming calls while you are in France, so don't encourage people to phone you too often or for too long! Text-messaging is a much cheaper option (they should be free to receive), so try and persuade friends to communicate with you in that way...

TIP If you need to look up a French telephone or fax number try the on-line telephone directory-enquiry service from your computer. Pages Jaunes is of course Yellow Pages (businesses); Pages Blanches is White Pages (residential).



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