Vimy Ridge north of Arras saw almost 2 years of fierce trench warfare before being captured by Canadian forces in 1917. The site has been given in gratitude to the Canadian people and you can book a free tour of the trenches and tunnels at the information centre and visit a museum close by. Towering white pillars of the Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge commemorate 60,000 Canadian servicemen killed in France during WWI including 11,000 with no known grave.
Towns and villages of Pas de Calais which featured in WWI battlefields include Arras, Bailleul, Bethune, Bullecourt, Festubert, Loos-en-Gohelle, Monchy-le-Preux and St-Omer. Over 90 years later, many of the amazingly well preserved original trenches can still be seen. Memorials and monuments mark the battlefield sites and you can visit museums specifically dedicated to WWI. For more information go to www.greatwar.co.uk
Pas de Calais offers a wide variety of horse riding opportunities from Forest rides to beach canters beside the waves. The Parc Naturel Regional des Caps et Marais d’Opale provides quiet routes away from traffic. Find more at park information centres.
Horse riding trails start at places like Ardres, Wissant and Audruicq and many towns have riding centres such as Centre Equestre, 390 route de Gravelines, 62100 Calais. Tel: (00 33) 3 21 19 29 27.
Pas de Calais has 32 sign-posted routes which list distance and difficulty of each at their departure points. Routes are themed around the Cote d’Opale, inland Boulonnais valleys, Audomarois marshes near St-Omer, historic Artois plain and hills, and Ternois and 7 valleys region bordering the Somme. Why not visit Balinghem between Guines and Ardres, site of the Field of the Cloth of Gold where in 1520 Henry VIII met Francois I of France in lavish celebrations to try to engineer an alliance against the Spanish. Find information about cycling through the Parc Naturel Regional des Caps et Marais d’Opale at places like Grange Nature visitor centre for the marshes near Saint-Omer. Tourist offices will have maps and leaflets for other routes with suggested stopping points and sightseeing.
3000km of ‘well-kept’ footpaths guide walkers in Pas de Calais across landscapes as diverse as marshes, river and canal banks, gardens, hills and seaside cliffs and dunes.
Take the ‘Sentier de Ballon’ 3km route through the Guines Forest or follow the long distance GR120 circular route through the Boulonnais countryside. A lovely walk through the Course Valley starts at Montreuil. From Equihen-Plage, the GR121 makes its way north to Bon-Secours across the border in Belgium. Local tourist offices and TopoGuide books will have more detailed information.
The Opal Coast is a paradise for golfers with several stunning links courses which welcome visitors. Le Touquet’s 3 courses are amongst the most scenic. La Mer is an 18-hole par 72 championship links course built in 1931 by architect Harry Colt and rated amongst Europe’s top 100. Its 6367m of dunes, undulating fairways and heathland rough can be a real challenge in coastal winds. 18-hole par 71 5659m La Foret is a more sheltered woodland experience and the 9-hole Manoir Course set in dunes is great for beginners. Along the coast, Golf d’Hardelot offers a choice of two 18-hole courses – one in a pine forest and a more modern dunes and lakes venue. Inland, there’s an 18-hole course at St-Omer and the privately owned Golf d’Arras is a championship course in the Scarpe Valley open to tourists. Its18 par 72 holes (6117m) are divided between hills and marshes.
The Pas de Calais coast includes vast dunes, sandy and shingle beaches popular for a range of sand sports. Wimereux and Boulogne beaches offer sand yachting and it is almost an obsession all along the Opal Coast. First cross-Channel pilot Louis Bleriot was also a sand-yachting pioneer at Hardelot. Wissant beach is the place for surfing and there are kite surfing contests at Le Touquet.
The regional spirit of Genievre is a gin flavoured with juniper berries. Visit the distillery where it is made, established in 1812 to supply English smugglers keen to avoid heavy English taxes on spirits. Tour includes film and tasting. Tel (00 33) 3 21 93 01 71 for appointments Monday to Saturday.
The first factory was founded here in 1764 and, by the nineteenth century, Desvres was the most important earthenware centre in northern France. Maison de la Faience Museum tells the story with a collection of fine pieces. Contact Desvres Tourist Office for information on workshop tours, tel: (00 33) 3 21 87 69 23. Pick up bargains from tureens to tiles and teapots at factory shops. For opening times, see www.desvresmuseum.org