Entries Tagged as 'History'

P&O Ferry day trips in France


Planning a short trip to France to breathe a little life in to the tale end of winter? Whether you want a hotel break or just to venture forth for some duty free and see something new, there’s plenty of ground to cover around Calais, here are some suggestions for where to go.

The Burghers of Calais

The Burghers statues are spread out across Europe and have a fascinating story behind them originating in Calais where Rodin’s original bronze statues are.

When Edward III laid siege to Calais after the battle of Crecy in 1346 the town was forced to surrender because the people were starving. The King demanded that 6 of its leaders submit to him, presumably for execution, wearing nooses around their necks and bearing the keys to the castle.

One of the richest town leaders Eustache de Saint Pierre was the first to volunteer followed by 5 other burghers. Burgher is a medieval term for citizen mainly denoting a member of the bourgeoisie or intelligentsia.

Edward’s wife, moved by this show of self-sacrifice, asked for mercy to be given since it would be a bad omen for her unborn child and the burghers were spared.The nobility of these men in the face of crushing defeat, willing to give up their lives in order for Calais to be spared, is now remembered in the form of Rodin’s sculptures.

Rather than set the burghers up on pedestals he has given them true human form, exhibiting the fraility and despair that the burghers must have felt. He felt it important that they not be raised up too high because it is their humility that has immortalised them. The statues are located at the front of the town hall of Calais, it was Rodin’s wish that a passersby could come across them almost unawares and feel a certain solidarity with the once saviours of Calais.


Calais beach

If you’re stopping off in France for some duty free and a day by the sea then there really is no reason to go beyond Calais.

The main road running parallel to the beach Route Nationale is lined with places to stop and have a bite to eat, or indulge in an idle bit of window shopping. The sandy beach front may not have the appeal of a tropical island but a beach is a beach. It’s always nice to recline before lapping waves and perhaps dream about what the summer will hold.

If the day isn’t quite warm enough for you then nearby is Les Baraques military cemetery. Since 2014 marks the centenary of WW1, a visit to one of these memorial sites will be a truly moving experience. As a port city Calais became a necessary supply depot with hospitals set up there for troops to be treated before being sent home. Standing amongst the uniformly positioned stones marking military graves makes for truly sobering experience which will make your stay in Calais all the more memorable.

Wilfred Owen war memorial

One name you’re sure to be hearing plenty of this year is Wilfred Owen. His memorial is located not too far inland in the village of Ors in Nord-Pas-de-Calais. The world war one poet has a suitably stark yet powerful memorial.

The bone white structure stands on a green hill completely isolated, unlike other memorials where you’ll often find statues, tanks or planes you enter the memorial with nothing to distract you. Inside there is nothing but the poem Dulce et Decorum Est carved into glass covering the four walls. The handwriting is taken from Wilfred Owen’s own manuscript kept in the British Library. Resounding about the walls is Kenneth Brannagh’s voice reading six of Owen’s most famous poems.

There is a little more to see, a walkway leads you down in to a cramped and dank room that’s been little changed since Wilfred Owen left it to die a week before the Armistice was signed in 1918. It was shared with the other 29 men in Owen’s Regiment, and you can hear a reading of the letter he wrote to his mother the night before he met his fate.

This is a singularly powerful memorial to one of the greatest war poets to have lived. It will certainly draw a lot of crowds in 2014 so if you wish to see it it’s located by the Camp Militaire, a little way off from Cambrai, open everyday except Tuesdays between 2 and 4 o’clock.


Louvre Lens museum

When people think about the Louvre, images of The Da Vinci Code, a massive glass pyramid and Paris spring to mind. The Louvre-Lens museum doesn’t quite have all that going for it but it shares the same rich artistic reservoir with its sister gallery in France’s capital.

The goal of the Louvre-Lens Museum is to spread France’s artistic heritage out of the main cities to revive some of the more provincial areas. Lens hasn’t had an easy history, it was destroyed in WW1 then occupied and subsequently bombed again in WW2. Originally it was a mining town but the last mine was closed in the 80s. It is, however, very well situated for tourism. A one hour drive from Calais and well within reach of the borders of Belgium and the Netherlands you could visit Louvre-Lens in a single day trip if you wished.

This museum has something for everyone, whether your interest peaks with the ancients, middle ages or modern artworks. The layout is also jawdropping, in total Louvre-Lens covers a space of 3000 square metres and it isn’t encumbered with partitions. Art from around the world is exhibited side by side in chronological order. So you are effectively following the steps of mankind through art history: beginning with Mesopotamia and ending with 21st century works. Louvre-Lens is truly remarkable when you look at the scope of what it offers the public.

Make the most of your P&O ferry trip from Dover to Calais and see more of the north of France.

Image credit: Ivan Pik , jpellgen, Tourism Pas-de-Calais

Family outings in belgium

belgian chocolate

2014 will be a big year for Europe. Though it may seem far off this early in the year we are marking the centenary of the first world war. Belgium and France in particular will have massive displays on later in the year, so before all the tourist areas start getting busy we suggest you take an early trip to Belgium and see the side of it that won’t be dominating the news later in the year.

We’ve drawn up a list of five outings that are sure to be family pleasers. Belgium is a rather small country so if you take your car with you on the P&O ferry you can see a lot of it in just a few days.

Chocolate tourism

Belgium is the spiritual home of the chocolate industry. It was in Brussels where the idea for selling bitesize chocolate in boxes was first dreamed up. The industry is still going from strength to strength and the chocolatiers of Belgium keep on innovating and coming up with more and more tasty treats.

Here’s the main resource for all you really need to know about chocolate tourism.

There are a reported 2,000 chocolate shops in Belgium, so wherever you intend to stay there’s sure to be a chocolate tour near at hand. Most involve an in depth look at how the chocolate is made as well as a bit of history about its evolution. It’s likely your kids will mostly look forward to the tasting but we don’t doubt the chocolatey smell will have your mouth watering too.

Alternatively you could just go to the Museum of cocoa and chocolate for a look around about chocolate heritage.

spa belgium

Spa – the place, not a resort

This is the birthplace of all modern spas. Spa is a small town in the south east province of Lieges. It’s original clientele were royalty, after Henry VIII applauded the natural springs curative powers nobility started flocking there.

Spa is situated in the Ardennes a beautiful forest region stretching from Belgium to Luxembourg and bordering France and Germany. After a hard days treatment in the resorts a walk beneath the canopy will certainly top off your relaxation.

The water in Spa is famed for its waters and if you can’t wait to get there then you can buy bottles of it here in the UK. There are around 200 springs in the area, whilst we can’t assure you of their restorative nature the journey and environment will certainly do wonders for your soul.

The facilities available in Spa vary from the deluxe centres to more wallet friendly packages. They even have a mother-baby institute if you feel able to travel, they take children up to 6 months old for both parents and babies to get some cleansing relaxation in.

Spa is a wonderful place to receive therapy for respiratory and rheumatic problems. If the long winter has crept in to your bones, Thermes de Spa is a top of the line resort that treats around 35,000 people per year with top of the range heated hydromassage jets, baths of carbogaseous water, mud baths and much more. Thermes de Spa commands an incredible view of the town, gloriously framed by the surrounding hills and forest landscape.

Underground tours of Charles V palace

This isn’t your casual tour of a manor house or general amble around a museum. The site of Coudenberg the former palace of Brussels has had a trying history. It has been damaged to the point of complete reconstruction in the 17th century but much of the old building has remained beneath the soil making this a prime archaeological site.

There are guided tours of Coudenberg or you can make your own way with the Stone, mortar and chisel tour. This is a self guided tour in which you can educate yourself in all the archaeological techniques and historical findings that have made Coudenberg a major heritage location in Belgium.

For children there’s a special adventure to be had. They can go on a treasure trail to find the Golden Fleece. This quest is designed for 5-8 year olds and for just €4 your child will be given a back pack with all the adventuring gear they’ll need from treasure map to flashlight. Their goal to uncover the password that’ll unlock the chest containing the Golden Fleece. Should they succeed they’ll win a small prize and you’ll have given your kid up to an hour and half’s worth of archaeological exploration.

comic strip centre

Belgian Comic Strip Centre

If you and the family aren’t willing to spend your holiday looking through the classical galleries to be seen in Belgium then the comic strip centre is an excellent alternative. As the birthplace of creations like Tintin and the Smurfs, Belgium is somewhat of an authority on comic strip art.

The building is a masterpiece of art nouveau, designed by Victor Horta, the founding father of art nouveau architecture, in 1906.

It attracts an estimated 200,000 visitors a year and has a layout that’s like a cross between a funhouse and the Tate Modern in London.

It’s an excellent place to just have a wander around, with many exhibitions to help educate those not familiar with the ninth art (comics). These exhibits include ‘The Invention of the Comic Strip’ and ‘The Museum of the Imagination’. This is an awesome gallery that speaks to the inner psyche improving your understanding of abstract imagery, which will give you a far better appreciation of comic strips.

There’s a reading room if you just can’t peel your kids (or yourself) away from the BCSC as well as a restaurant and shop for you to bring a little bit of the spirit of the centre home with you.

For a family mini-break to Belgium this year take a P&O ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge
Image credit: kaoru, jackfre2, fmpgoh

North by northeast; a P&O Ferry’s guide to holidaying in France


If you are planning your summer retreat from the UK why trade one bustling city for another? Make your destination the north of France.

With a P&O Ferry from Dover to Calais you can take your family for an exciting week or two of exciting activities but still be in reach of the must-see-spots of France like the Eiffel Tower and Disneyland Paris.

For most people the port city of Calais is just the entry point to France. Once through everybody quickly darts south for warmer climes. Since the weather is finally turning in our favour the beaches of north France will serve you just as well for a bit of a dip, a boat ride or brisk coastal hike.

Calais is in close proximity to the Parc Naturel regional des Caps et Marais d’Opale this huge park encompasses Boulogne-sur-Mer so you can drive along the coast to get there. Boulogne-sur-Mer is a common tourist destination due to the appeal of its local markets. An excellent spot to get in a bit of shopping for some local produce as well as the necessary vittles to keep everybody happy.

The Parc Naturel is an often overlooked destination as people speed through with their sights set on Paris or even further inland. It offers camping sites as well as primely located chalets and cottages. If tranquility is what you desire then you can spend your time on the rivers trout fishing, sink a few holes on a golf course or just spend the afternoon strolling through the woods.

The landscape is perfect for rambling about with the family or your loved ones with it’s many campsites and small towns to make basecamp in and then go out exploring.

The park also has arranged kids activities with Passion Adventures. This will give them a chance to try everything from zip lining to quad bike rides; or as a family you could take a cross country horseback ride or bike tour.


Dunkirk and Saint Omer

The other main inhabited area in Parc Naturel is Saint Omer. This is an idyllic commune with a wealth of architectural history from the 13th century cathedral to 17th century fortifications. If you find that you’ve taken in enough of the great outdoors a day trip to this quaint town will certainly give you the chance to sample some fine restaurant food and do a bit of sightseeing.

Saint Omer gives you a feel of what it’s like just across the border. The canal areas have the feel of Holland about them and though France is famed for it’s wines you’ll also be able to get some masterfully brewed beers this close to Belgium.

Eastwards of the Parc Naturel lies Dunkirk, should you choose to follow the coast, or you can go inland towards Lille. There are plenty of package holiday deals for history buffs wanting to pay homage at the beaches of Dunkirk. Where better to educate you’re children on the evacuation and battle of Dunkirk? This doesn’t have to be done in the museums, you can take guided tours and even boat trips along the beaches for a more tactile experience.

To the south is Lille, a medium sized city that boasts a vibrant nightlife due to its large student population. Taking a guided city tour is the best way to see all the major attractions. The main sights such as La Vieille Bourse, the grand square at the heart of Lille and Cathédrale Notre Dame de la Treille command some truly excellent views.

If you wish to absorb a little culture then Lille is home to Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille (Lille Palace of Fine Arts) the largest gallery in France outside of Paris. The building itself is a wonder to look at and housed inside are masterpieces from the Renaissance to modern works by greats like Picasso.

Lille also has a great selection of markets in particular you can find some excellent antique furniture to bring back home. You can find a selection of the different markets here. There are general markets on Saturdays and Wednesdays, Flea markets which are a larger occasion for the city and Art markets too.


Champagne and Langres

The other major region in north east France is Champagne. It’s a slightly more affordable place to pick up a bottle of something special. The breweries of the area host tours so naturally there will be some free tasters to help you make your mind up. Breweries also produce beer and cider which, despite their quality, are often overshadowed by the sparkling wines that make the regions namesake.

More information about tourism in Champagne can be found here. There’s a wealth of things to see and do from theme parks to day spas. Champagne has a beautiful countryside, you can even tour the breweries by horse drawn carriage.

A stay in north France will be made all the more special this year with a visit to the fort city Langres. 2013 is a special year celebrating the tercentenary of Enlightenment philosopher Denis Diderot, a native of the city.

Langres will be holding festivals and special events until October of this year so you can easily take in one of these spectacles during your trip to France. A stay in Langres will give your tour of north east France a level of authenticity. There’s no risk of falling in to a tourist trap there and you’ll never be shy of something to see and do.

For organised fun you should consider joining a family holiday camp. Companies like Eurocamp will set you up with a place to stay and you can pick and choose activities. They even have kids clubs so children can socialise and explore together to give their parents a little peace.

We’d recommend touring the north of France by bike. The shifting landscape from coast to farmland to woods and lakes is really best seen by bike. If you don’t wish to take your bicycle with you then there are plenty of places to hire them, Bike Hire Direct will even deliver your bikes to you.

Book now for P&O Ferries Dover to Calais service, you can take the car and up to 9 passengers.

Image credit: Leshaines123, flikkesteph, Reims Tourisme

Brussels goes Medieval, OMG! Ommegang!


For nearly half a millennia the Grand Place in Brussels has erupted in to a festival of pageantry in the first week of July to commemorate the ‘Joyous Return’ of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to Belgium.

This year Ommegang will take place over 3-5th July. Since it’s held in a public place you’ll be able to see some of it for free, but naturally if you want good seats in the stands then you will have to book ahead. You’d do well to bear that in mind when thinking about planning your accommodation too, it’s likely the city will fill up.
On the 4th July, a pavilion is set up in the square and you can attend shows for jousting and falconry. A display of swordsmanship is put on as knights battle it out in Grand Place, and there’s a medieval fair of crafts and various other acts from jesters to magicians.

This is one of the oldest traditions in Belgium, Ommegang is a general term used in central parts of Europe for medieval pageants, but the one in Brussels is by far the largest and most famous. Over 1400 performers will make up the procession, they form an impressive sight garbed in traditional attire showing off feats of horsemanship and the choreographed dances of days gone by.

The people of Brussels go all out for Ommegang. The procession will be backed with live music from professional tenors Sebastien Romignon Ercolini and Dominique Corbiau, as well as an expert light show from director Giles Daoust. This promises to be one skilfully produced procession and a great evening’s entertainment.

The procession runs from 9PM-11PM and finishes up with a novel battle-royal of stilt-walkers. Great entertainment after the pomp and precision of the Ommegang pageant, a number of stilt walkers get in to a brawl trying to trip each other off of their 5m stilts until just one man remains.

Ommegang does run quite late in to the night, but the early stages of the procession will be well worth taking your kids to see. They promise a bit of historical splendour to encourage a greater appreciation of the cultural heritage of Belgium. Adults will be able to enjoy themselves too; this is Belgium after all, so expect a healthy stock of ales for you to sample.

Belgium is just an overnight ferry-ride away, you’ll pull in to the port at Zeebrugge and from there it’s just a short journey to Brussels

Image Credit: David Spender

P&O Ferries: Discover Leiden


If you’re looking for somewhere to go this summer and are not after sweltering beaches, may we advise that you consider the Dutch city Leiden?

Leiden is a well-kept secret, since it’s surrounded by the larger cities of the Netherlands like Utrecht, The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. This city has a rich history and is situated at a crossroads in Holland, so you’ll be able to get to all the other tourist hotspots in the country.

There’s plenty to see in Leiden. The city was founded in the 16th century and became a centre for the European wool trade. It saw a major decline but diversified its industries attracting artists, scientists and engineers who gave the city a major boost in culture and affluence in the late 19th century.

There’s a curious mix of old and new in Leiden. It is home to the oldest university in the Netherlands, with a fifth of its population forming the student body. This gives Leiden a vibrant nightlife which contrasts with the city’s aged setting.

The old industrial aspects of the city (e.g. the canal network) make a great way to tour through the city. When Leiden returned to wealth in the 19th century, many large and lavish buildings were constructed, making Leiden a picaresque city ideal for afternoon jaunts. It is a relatively small place easily traversed by foot or on bike.

The two main walking tours you can take are:

Muurgedichten – The Leiden is decorated with wall poems, and you can take a paid tour, have a bit of a poetry lesson, print out a map and see for yourself. Alternatively, you can just amble through Leiden with your eyes peeled.

Hofjeswandeling – A tour of the city courtyards, this will expose you to some of the finer architecture Leiden has to offer as well as some of the history and local lore.

This tour will take you through the Wan der Werff Park, named after the mayor who was accused of hiding food reserves when the town was under siege by the Spanish. To show the sincerity of his denials, he offered to cut off his arm and offered serve it to the public.

We would also recommend you visit the Burcht of Leiden, which is one of the best preserved Motte Castles in the Netherlands. It sits high upon an artificial hill and commands the best view of the city, with foundations dating back to the 9th century.

There are three National Museums in Leiden covering Natural History, Antiquities and Ethnology. The National Museum of Ethnology hosts one of the world’s largest collections of ‘the artefacts of man’ compiled and researched with the help of Leiden University.

Shopping and eating out is a varied experience in Leiden – it retains the ‘melting pot’ aspect of its early years with the local populace cooking up all forms of cuisine. Prices range from absolute luxury to those suitable for the city’s student population.

Shopping areas are but a 15 minute walk from the central station. You can make your way to De Slegte, a 3-floor bookstore found on the Breestraat. This shop has a large selection of second-hand books at great value.

Tourists out for a bit of exploration should stop off at Verswinkel for freshly made bread rolls made right in front of you – they’re among the very best in Europe. They’re represented at Leiden’s open markets held on Wednesdays and Saturdays. You’ll also be able to get there late on a Thursday, when most of the shops in the city remain open until 9pm.

Leiden is located near the centre of Holland so P&O Ferry’s can take you Rotterdam and you’re just a short trip from the wonders of Leiden.

Image credit: carolune

P&O Ferries: National Mills Day


Every year on the second Saturday of May, the Netherlands opens up around 600 of its windmills for the public as part of National Mills Day.

In 2012, Nation Mills Day will be hosted on the weekend of the 12th May.

It’s normally safe to gamble on great weather during mid-May, and with the flat terrain that Holland is famed for we recommend taking your tour by bike. Last year, National Cycling Day was combined with National Mills Day as a bid to get more people on two wheels, and it went down a storm.

A family cycling holiday across open stretched country this summer could be a wonderful way to bond, relax and get some exercise at the same time. Plotting your course will be a breeze thanks to the National Mills Day maps which will be given out to participants.

Windmills in the Netherlands have a long history, dating back to the 18th century. They helped build Holland’s infrastructure, and many innovations in mill technology happened there first before spreading across Europe.

There are currently around 1150 functioning windmills in Holland, and the ones open for free entry this May will fly blue pennants to signal to passers-by.

Windmills have been developed for various industrial purposes; they don’t all just grind corn. You’ll be able to find out about the workings of watermills, how saw milling works as well as the mechanisms of mills designed for land drainage.

From Hull to Rotterdam you can catch a P&O ferry, an overnight trip will land you just a short drive away from the nearest mill. If you want to rent a bike out there then you could even start cycling from the port city.

Image credit: JASON ANFINSEN

P&O Ferries: Vrijdagmarkt Friday markets in Antwerp


The Vrijdagmarkt (Friday market) in Antwerp square is a tradition over 400 years old. The market is held each Friday throughout March and April (excluding public holidays) and is a great opportunity to pick up some bargains or just peruse some of the more unique items on offer.

Since Vrijdagmarkt, like the rest of Belgium, has such a rich history it makes sense that there’s such a flourishing antique trade at the Friday market. P&O Ferries have a deal which will let you and one other person travel from Hull to Zeebrugge (P&O Ferries’ Belgian port) with your car for just £119. From Zeebrugge it’s about an hour’s drive to Antwerp. So if you do decide to do a bit of shopping at Vrijdagmarkt then you can bring all your shopping back in the car without any fuss. A journey to the Friday market could be done as a single daytrip or you could make a weekend of it staying in one of Antwerp’s many fine hotels.

Vrijdagmarkt Square is located centrally in Antwerp, and you’ll be able to find it by looking out for the statue of St-Catherine patron saint of ‘old cloth-buyers’. The name of the square came from an appeal of the vendors who used to hold their auctions on Fridays.

After you are done shopping there’s much more to see: you can take a wander around the city’s galleries and museums and admire the Flemish architecture and, if you haven’t had your fill, check out another local market (Grote Markt).

P&O Ferries’ Hull to Zeebrugge crossing takes about 12 hours. From the major port city you can catch a connecting train across the city or drive to most major locations within an hour.

Image credit: antwerpenR

P&O Ferries: Musical Fountains Show Versailles


With brighter weather on the way, an outing to Versailles will make for a tranquil daytrip, filled with aesthetic wonderment and a rich appreciation of French culture and history.

Starting early this April and running through to October, the Musical Fountains Show will show the Gardens of Versailles in all their splendour. The fountains are coordinated to fire jets of water in rhythm with music to be played in the gardens from 11AM to 3:30PM on weekends. A real pleasure to witness, it brings an atmosphere of magnificence to invigorate the spirit. To make the most of Versailles, you can organise a tour or pick up a map and work your way through one of the most distinguished locations in France.

The symbolic value of the Versailles may not hold well with the Republic’s ideals but it cannot be denied – absolute monarchs know how to get a decent palace built. The Chateau de Versailles is considered one of the finest architectural achievements of 17th century France and stands as a tribute to the French monarchy. Each generation of the royal lineage added flamboyant extensions to the palace as a lasting imprint of their affluence.

If you tire of ambling and admiring, the chance to get some shopping done is available as well. Place du Marche is fairly central and you can pick up food for a picnic or do some antiquing there too.

The Gardens of Versailles also have their own arboretum. Today it holds around 15,000 specimens, if you make donation whilst there it’ll go to a good cause preserving rare and endangered species of plants.

P&O Ferries run a frequent crossing between Dover and Calais so you can make your journey to the splendid Gardens of Versailles at your leisure

Image Credit:goldberg.

Add me to Twitter
Follow the authors on Twitter