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From Calais to Rouen and the Drive in-Between

From Calais to Rouen and the Drive in-Between

Jul 4th, 2008, 12:48 PM
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From Calais to Rouen and the Drive in-Between

We are taking the Eurotunnel to Calais and arrive in the afternoon. Our hotel is in the town of La Bouille on the Seine, southwest of Rouen. We'd like to explore on the way there. Here's what we've come up and I'm sure there's room for scenic improvement!

- Calais
- Drive the Opal Coast to Boulogne-sur_Mer
- Le Touquet
- Etaples
- Montreuil
- Drive inland to Rouen area

Is it a pleasant drive with views along the coast? My brother-in-law wished to see the WW I cemetery in Etaples; does anyone know of any reading or movies or anything about it? I haven't come up with much and I don't want to look at a cemetery just for the sake of seeing it.

If anyone has any suggestions about a route from Calais to Rouen, please fire away! What we've planned thus far is not written in stone.

mermaid_ is offline  
Jul 5th, 2008, 09:17 AM
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This can't really be made into a particularly outstanding drive. The area increasingly looks to London and Brussels as its economic centre, rather than Paris, so there's a distinct impression of being in a London suburb. It got badly damaged in both world wars, and wasn't restored with much charm.

The cote opale is interesting mainly for its amazing light and for the unusual phenomenon (for the French) of big, breezy, tidal beaches. If it's not raining (anywhere along the Channel, a big "if"), that light's with you whatever you do, though I think it works best at Wimereux, where it shines on a lot of Art Deco buildings.

The beaches are pretty unimpressive to most English-speakers, though they're jolly handy for families that have been cooped up in a Mondeo since the Spanish border to get out and have a game of football. Once past the cliffs of the two Caps, the coast is actually nothing much.

Boulogne's an OK French town: exciting as a day out from London, but underwhelming if you've got a few weeks of real France ahead of you. Ditto Le Touquet, though there are lots of interesting buildings if you like 1920s architecture.

Montreuil's a nice walled town, though horribly anglicised (practically all the estate agents give their property descriptions in English, and quote prices in £'s - sometimes even instead of, rather than as well as, €'s)

Etaples is a roughish, still-working (though not as much as it wants you to think), fishing port with a fair amount of character. Les Pecheurs d'Etaples is, IMHO, practically THE outstanding restaurant round here (I find the dirty weekend extravagances of the Montreuil eateries a bit too rich. And their pricing is often aimed at City workers blowing their bonus). Underneath the restaurant is a fish market that does DYNAMITE stuff for picnics, like ready-to-go shellfish meals. With a branch of Philippe Olivier, the cheesemonger, in the fruit and veg market opposite, this is certainly the best picnic supply centre anywhere in Greater London. Boulangeries in Etaples are a bit mediocre, though. The place works best in the mornings, when there are stalls selling what are implied to be catches off the trawlers. A lot isn't, and the labels of the Scottish ports the catch was landed at are still visible: but it's good fish nonetheless.

You'll find background information on Etaples cemetery at the Imperial War Graves Commission site (http://www.cwgc.org/search/cemetery_...y=56500&mode=1).

I suspect from your sentence "I don't want to look at a cemetery just for the sake of seeing it." you've never been to a major War Graves Commission cemetery. Just looking at one can be overpowering: it's practically impossible to go on and look at more than a handful of the graves (average age: typically about 19) without being shattered.

Etaples, built round a sort of natural amphitheatre looking out to sea (ie, back home for most, or towards the distant country they'd died for in the case of the 2,000 colonials there) is one of the biggest of all and especially striking. Designed by the foremost British architect of the day, it really is one of the most extraordinary sights in France.

As with all the graveyards around the world built and maintained by the Commission, the story is somewhat secondary (lots of Britons went out and died somewhere far away, along with a similar number of comrades from elsewhere in the Empire), unless one of those buried there is part of your family.

It's the scale of the slaughter they illustrate, the extraordinary dignity of the design, the peace and the quality of upkeep that are - well, I'd say awesome, but the word's been devalued to meaninglessness. Awe-inspiring might be a better one.
flanneruk is offline  
Jul 5th, 2008, 09:22 AM
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The best guide book to this drive I've found is the Michelin Green Guide to the North, Pas de Calais and Picardy.

It isn't available in English. You should be able to get the French edition from Stanfords, but otherwise the Carrefour in the Cite d'Europe at the Tunnel exit has a good range.
flanneruk is offline  
Jul 5th, 2008, 09:31 AM
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flanneruk, would this Green Guide cover most of the area?

Jean is offline  
Jul 5th, 2008, 10:36 AM
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Yes, but not terribly well. The North of France guide obviously concentrates on the blockbuster stuff like Chartres and Versailles.

The Channel area is mostly visited by slightly quirky Frenchpeople (like the mini-hordes who go cockle-picking at St Gabriel, just up the coast from Etaples, right next to the sign saying "cockle-picking stictly interdit"), and its odd charms (there really are quite a few) don't make their way into guides covering a wider area.

You'd have thought there'd be a specialist British guide, but I can't remember seeing one.

Surely one of the usual suspects, when they stop watching Wimbledon, must know of one?
flanneruk is offline  
Jul 5th, 2008, 08:09 PM
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Flanneruk, thank you so very much for all the descriptions. Especially about the cemetery. You guessed correctly that I didn't want to look at the one in Etaples without knowing more of the story behind it and the battles that caused its existence. I will look at the website you provided to educate myself better. My BIL particularly wanted to see it because he comes from a family of WWI war heroes--they all came home but many of their neighbors and comrades did not.
mermaid_ is offline  
Jul 6th, 2008, 08:14 AM
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Flanner will correct me if I am wrong, but I seem to remember that Etaples was the site of a military hospital, rather than a battlefield. Inevitably, many of the wounded died, which is why they are buried there.

The big cemeteries are awe-inspriring, but just as moving are some of the smaller ones. They are all a reminder of the dreadful carnage of the First World War, the untimely deaths of so many young men, and the physical destruction brought by the war. If you go to Arras or Ypres, or many other of the towns and villages, look out for photographs of what the place was like in 1919, with virtually all the buildings destroyed.
chartley is online now  
Jul 7th, 2008, 04:56 AM
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I like following the N1 along the coast.

Don't forget to stop at Cap Gris Nez and Cap Blanc Nez near Calais. Cap Griz Nez is the closest point to England, which you can generally easily see from there. It is also the French side of any cross-Channel swims.

The German bunkers up there are quite impressive.
kerouac is offline  
Jul 7th, 2008, 05:57 AM
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Good suggestions from flanneruk. Two other guidebooks which you might look at (if you can find them) are James Bentley's "The Gateway to France" and the Cadogan guide "Lazy Days Out Across the Channel' by Nick Rider. The latter is a gourmet guide, but has lots of good information on things to see and do as well.

Etaples Military Cemetery is, as Charley pointed out, a hospital cemetery, but very large and awe-inspiring as well. However, if you are to see only one World War I memorial, I would urge you to visit the Vimy Memorial just outside Arras. It is the most impressive memorial that I have seen from either world war (and I have visited many). You should not miss it.


If you do wish to visit Vimy, I can suggest some excellent background reading.
laverendrye is offline  
Jul 7th, 2008, 08:35 AM
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You're all so helpful! Thank you very much. It adds so much to a trip to have personal accounts to go by. Lavendereye, I've gotten my hands on the Cadogon guide--it's on order from our library and I look forward to reading it (the word "gourmet" is a real pull). I don't think we'll get to Vimy on this drive though. It'll take the better part of the day to drive from Calais to Rouen if we go by the coast road and make all the recommended stops.

I found two websites with nothing but photos of the Opal Coast and thereabouts and I've been devouring all this wonderful eye candy! Funny but I thought of this part of the trip as just a day of necessary travel to get to Rouen and lower Normandy, but now I'm actually looking forward to it on its own rights. Some of these seaside towns look so gaudy and irrisistable. The websites: www.mincoin.com and www.noscotes.com
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