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.
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.