White cliffs to wetlands; discovering France’s Pas-de-Calais

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Too many of us bypass the closest part of France to the UK – those who linger enjoy soaring chalk cliffs, vast beaches, superb seafood and verdant marshes ideal for exploring by boat

With the tide out, it is a magical moment, rivulets of water swirl and eddy through the sand, the white cliffs of Cap Blanc-Nez loom behind me. There’s not a soul in sight. This jagged headland marks the start of the Côte d’Opale, which runs south-west from Calais for about 75 miles, and is part of the Pas-de-Calais region.

While most travellers arriving in Calais or Boulogne head straight for Paris and beyond, I’m here to explore this affordable and often bypassed corner of France. The wild “Opal Coast” has sandy beaches, fishing ports and quaint seaside resorts, and 30 miles inland are the fascinating and attractive vegetable gardens of the Audomarois: immense, unspoilt wetlands outside the medieval town of Saint-Omer, my next destination.

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