One Car, Four Generations and a Dragon on a Pas-de-Calais Holiday

Pas-de-Calais is an ideal choice your northern France holidays.

Beaches, Europe, Gastronomy, Outdoors

Mark Bibby Jackson takes his mother, nephew, wife and child to Pas-de-Calais in northern France to discover the wonderful seafood, amazing beaches and take a ride on a dragon.

Pas-de-Calais is a region I visited many times in my youth. Originally, we would go on day trips to Calais before exploring the coastal towns of Wissant and Wimereux for weekend breaks. This year we decided to have a multi-generational holiday in France, inviting my nephew, his wife and five-year-old child on the trip, to accompany my mother and myself. Four generations in one car, a test of both the attractions of northern France and my Mazda’s suspension.

Some six hours or so since leaving our home we had checked into our Evancy holiday home in the small town of Équihen Plage. The journey was seamless with the Premium Lounge of our DFDS ferry and its inviting window, providing a welcome respite for both driver and passengers young and not so young.

Unearthing Équihen Plage, Pas-de-Calais

I always find discovering a new place one of the main attractions of a holiday. So, once the car had been emptied, I walked into town to scope the lie of the land, while my nephew Owain and Philippa took Kayleb to play on the beach. My mother Coral kept guard of the gin in our luxurious accommodation.

This being France just after the Easter break I soon discovered that the town’s two restaurants were closed, so we decided to stock up on sufficient cheese, pâté, meat, bread and wine to see us through the night. Then my mother and Kayleb started the first round of what was to prove a marathon snakes and ladders competition the former was fated to lose, although the Marquis of Queensbury might have a few words to say about the legality of some of the latter’s moves.

Watching Seals in Berck

The beach at Berck, Pas-de-Calais
The beach at the Bay of Authie, Berck

On my previous visit to the Opal Coast, we had visited the seals at the Bay of Authie, just west of Berck-sur-Mer. Some 100 or so of the animals come here at low tide to wind bathe on the exposed sand banks. It is a wonderful sight to see these contortionists of the sea basking.

While mum sat down on one of the benches, Kayleb went discovering the nearby rock pools on what is one of the many long stretches of sand on the Opal Coast. The 120 kilometres of coastline from Calais to Berck-sur-Mer is littered with similar beaches so you are spoiled for choice.

On the way back to Équihen Plage we stopped off at Le Touquet, where we had stayed on our previous trip. This really is the most beautiful town. We drove through the glorious forests surrounding Le Touquet before having a late lunch at Le Paris Plage, with its excellent plateau de fruits de mer.

In the evening Owain and I frequented the local bar in town, trying to converse with the locals in our poor French, while being accepted once we were discovered to be Welsh – ‘rugby’ – rather than German.

Nausicaá Boulogne

Kayleb at Nausicaá Boulogne
Kayleb at Nausicaá Boulogne

One of the great attractions of taking a multi-generational holiday in Pas-de-Calais is its great variety of attractions for all.

Nausicaá is the largest aquarium in Europe with 58,000 animals and three immersive routes. A scientific cultural centre it has been recognised by Unesco and is committed to promoting an awareness of the link between man and ocean especially with the many schoolchildren who visit it each year.

At the heart of Nausicaá is a large tank where sharks, turtles and the most impressive manta ray can be viewed from multiple spots. It was a great pleasure to see Kayleb transfixed by the majesty of the fish, almost as much as his father. Also, with plenty of seating the less mobile members of our little group could rest occasionally, meaning we could all complete the full circuit.

In addition to the large fish bowl, there are various sections where you can see sea lions, caimans and my personal favourite the smelly South African penguins.

The couple of hours we spent wandering around Nausicaá flew past.

We had quickly settled into a compromise routine consisting of an activity for Kayleb, followed by a meal, then a trip to one of the many beaches and ultimately another round of the marathon Snakes and Ladders competition.

In the evening we dined at Le Bouquet, an excellent restaurant in Équihen Plage, which had a wonderful sea view, a great fish soup, the most helpful staff, and pomme frites for Kayleb.

Calais Dragon Ride

The Dragon Ride Pas-de-Calais
The Dragon Ride Pas-de-Calais

For our final full day, we had booked a ride on the Calais Dragon. This is a 12-metre high, 25-metre long mechanical beast imagined by François Delaroziere and created by La Compagnie du Dragon, that strolls beside the port in Calais.

I first learned of François Delaroziere in Toulouse where I encountered his Minotaur at the Halle de la Machine. Then I had marvelled at the staggering engineering feet, so I knew that visiting its sister dragon in Calais was an absolute must on our Pas-de-Calais holiday.

Standing beneath the dragon as it breathed fire from its mouth, spouted water and growled was amazing. As it made a beeline for me, I felt just like Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.

I took a video from down below, while Kayleb, Owain and Philippa took a ride on the dragon. Mum sheltered in the adjoining café which served excellent croques as well as really tasty local Dragon beer.

The ride took around 40 minutes during which the sun burst through, although apparently it was pretty nippy on the dragon’s head. It was undeniably a highlight of the trip.

After this, Kayleb got to drive his own dragon. Beside the café is a mechanical Komodo dragon which you can operate, wagging its tail and opening its mouth, to reveal its fire red tongue. It also proved the complexity of operating the full-sized dragon which has numerous machinists.

Kayleb taking control
Kayleb taking control

Bidding adieu to the dragon, we followed the coast road back to our holiday home. It was a wonderful afternoon now the sun was out so we decided to tale the coast road (D940) back to Équihen Plage, stopping at Wissant and Wimereux along the way. This allowed us time to explore the beaches, or in the latter case the shops and have an aperitif beside the beach.

It is a long time since I have stopped at these towns, both of which have developed considerably in the intervening period but still the attractions remain permanent – massive stretches of open sand perfect for beach sports or pool exploration.

In the evening, we tried out the other restaurant in Équihen Plage, La Brise, which had views to compete with Le Bouquet, and excellent moules frites, although if I had to choose between the two establishments I would opt for Le Bouquet.

Dining at the Big Blue

Lobster snack in the Big Blue Restaurant Calais
Lobster snack in the Big Blue Restaurant Calais

On our last day, Kayleb and Coral had their final games of Snakes and Ladders, with inevitable result, before we retraced our route along the D940 to Calais.

In my youth we often made the day or sometimes weekend trip to Calais dining on seafood for lunch and stocking up on wine for the month ahead. Due to the packed car – it struggled going uphill – we were not able to do the latter but this did not prevent us the former pleasure.

The previous day we had been recommended Le Grand Bleu, a restaurant beside the port of Calais that has appeared in the Michelin Guide.

The meal lived up to expectations, presented and served to perfection. The scallops were particularly excellent, although I think the desserts including a magnificent chocolate cone were the stand out.

It was Kayleb’s first introduction to French fine dining, so perhaps it was a good job he was shattered after an excess of fun over the last few days, as they did not have pommes frites on the menu.

With Storm Kathleen threatening and delays forecast, we decided to drive back early to the port of Calais where DFDS permitted us to embark on the earlier ferry, so even though our crossing was delayed by 40 minutes due to the high winds, we still arrived back in Dover almost an hour ahead of schedule.

The trip afforded us all the opportunity to spend some quality time with each other, a rare luxury, especially my mother with her great grandson. This is the amazing thing about sharing a car and a house with family members over a sustained period. The conversation flows as readily as the wine, and the games of snakes and ladders.

DFDS Ferries : Premium Service

We took the return DFDS ferry from Dover to Calais. Our crossing was around an hour-and-a-half. On both trips we checked into the earlier ferry effortlessly. On the way out both check-in and immigration were swift, although on the return leg it took around 45 minutes, so I would recommend leaving yourself plenty of time. DFDS advises you arrive an hour-and-a-half before your departure. For those of you on X, DFDS has an excellent feed advising you of any potential delays, and giving weather updates as well as answering specific questions. Highly recommended is the Premium Lounge with complimentary prosecco, sandwiches, coffee and snacks.


Le Domaine Sauvage by Evancy in Équihen Plage

We stayed in a three-bedroom apartment at Le Domaine Sauvage by Evancy in Équihen Plage. The accommodation was spacious with plenty enough room for the five of us. Fittings, furnishings and kitchen equipment were of the highest quality – with my nephew particularly impressed by the comfort of the beds and linen. Our second floor apartment had two balconies with excellent sea views from both.

Evancy also provided breakfast for us on the first morning which was a lovely touch, as well as kindly agreeing to a noon check out free of charge. Le Domaine Sauvage is a short walk to both the spectacular beach and the very friendly town. There is plenty of free parking at Le Domaine Sauvage as well as in Équihen Plage. Le Bouquet and La Brise are recommended restaurants walkable from the Le Domaine Sauvage, although the latter had excellent kitchen facilities for those wishing to dine at home.

In the DFDS Premium Lounge
A cheeky monkey and well a …. In the DFDS Premium Lounge

Multi-generational Holidays in Pas-de-Calais

For more information on things to do in Pas-de-Calais on your northern France holidays, click here.

You can find more information about the Bay of Authie seals including times of the low tides here.

All photos by Mark Bibby Jackson.

Explore Topics

Mark Bibby Jackson

Mark Bibby Jackson

Before setting up Travel Begins at 40, Mark was the publisher of AsiaLIFE Cambodia and a freelance travel writer. When he is not packing and unpacking his travelling bag, Mark writes novels, including To Cook A Spider and Peppered Justice. He loves walking, eating, tasting beer, isolation and arthouse movies, as well as talking to strangers on planes, buses and trains whenever possible. Most at home when not at home.

Read more posts by Mark Bibby Jackson →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *