Do the booze cruise in style with this money-saving guide to crossing the Channel: where to save money and spend time…
Eurotunnel for free
Shop at Tesco? Got a Clubcard? If you live in the Southeast, it’s a great idea to spend Clubcard points on Eurotunnel crossings. For £10 in tokens, you get £30 to spend on Eurotunnel. You receive the voucher codes by email, then phone Eurotunnel to book (at least 14 days before travel). Eurotunnel crossings cost from £23 each way, so you can get a return crossing for £20 worth of tokens.
Eyes on the exchange rate
At today’s rates, your pound buys you €1.42, ie €1 = 70p. For a quick calculation, take a quarter off, so an item at €8 will be roughly £6 (£5.64 to be precise).
Take an empty tank
Fuel prices in France are lower than in the UK. At today’s prices, in euros, a litre of unleaded costs, on average, €1.3 across the Channel, €1.5 in the UK. Savings on diesel are even better: €1.1 in France, €1.5 in the UK. Convert euros to pounds (at today’s rates) and see the savings: unleaded costs £1 a litre in the UK, 91p in France. Diesel is even better value at 78p per litre in France, compared with £1 in the UK.
If you’re in a hurry you can drive to Cité Europe, five minutes from the tunnel. It’s the largest shopping centre in northern France with lots of high-street names – 150 shops including Yves Rocher, Zara, Sephora – plus a Carrefour hypermarket and loads of parking. You can apply for a loyalty card, which gives you discounts and other offers. Convenient, but I’ve found it a bit empty and soulless.
Make a break for Boulogne
If I’m making the effort to visit another country, I like to feel that I’m abroad, rather than zipping along a featureless autoroute. Granted, Calais has more supermarkets, but Boulogne has authentic French ambience. Oh, and shops. With its market, speciality shops and hypermarket within 10 minutes’ drive, it’s perfect for stocking up with advance supplies for Christmas, New Year, parties, weddings, birthdays, any excuse really…
Drive the 42km south of Calais to Boulogne-sur-Mer, taking the coastal road, the D940, which has great views of England – and the Côte d’Opale, as this area is known. The name ‘opal coast’ was coined by the French painter Édouard Lévêque in 1911, referring to the quality of the light. Personally, I think Côte de Perle is more accurate..
On the D940 you’ll pass through town and villages, including the lovely coastal resort of Wissant, and Cap Gris Nez, at 34km, France’s closest point to the UK.
The market, Place Dalton (Wednesday and Saturday, 8.30am to around midday) Head for the haute ville to park for free outside the 13th-century city walls, then take a short stroll downhill.
Wander round the market square packed with stalls stacked with fresh local produce, like chickens (still with feet and heads on), gorgeous seasonal fruit and veg, herbs, flowers and plants, cheese, charcuterie, chickens on a rotisserie, a stall with bubbling cauldrons of hearty cassoulet (bean and sausage stew) and paella, not forgetting the mini oyster and champagne bar set up around a barrel table. We bought some fresh butter from a local farm for just over a euro, 10 heads of garlic for €4 and a cauliflower as big as my head for a euro. Everyone carried a basket or bag, because refreshingly, this functions as a proper market where local people come to buy everyday food to eat, not as some kind of art installation full of Instagramming tourists. Although the food is treated with respect, and rightly so. One woman carried an armful of leeks as carefully as a bouquet.
The square is ringed with bars, cafés, bakers and patisseries. At Dessert ou Dessert Autrement (35 Grande Rue) the window was a feast for any ‘lèche vitrine’ (French for window-shopper; it means lick-window), and a steady stream of shoppers gazed in anticipation at glistening tarte aux framboises for €30, and all the French cakes you saw on Bake Off, like religieuses (choux pastry iced nuns), opéras (perfectly rectangular layered almond sponge, ganache and chocolate glaze). Also on the square is Fred (30 Place Dalton), a patisserie and boulangerie where you can buy fab French bread.
Just around the corner (at 43 rue Thiers) is one of France’s best-stocked and most famous cheese shops, Philippe Olivier. The ripe, pungent aroma hits you in the face as you enter. I wanted a cheese that tasted like the shop smelt and we weren’t disappointed with our Vieux Boulogne, a rind-washed, unpasteurised, unpressed cow’s-milk cheese which has been scientifically tested and declared to be the stinkiest in the world. And I won’t disagree, given the ripe stench emanating from the kitchen at the moment. We lovingly refer to it (apologies for un-PC term) as being like a tramp’s crevices.
Along the street is another appetisingly aromatic shop, Les Chocolats de Beussent-Lachelle (56, rue Thiers), definitely another lèche-vitrine stop. The owners take chocolate seriously; they own a cocoa plantation in Ecuador and this is the flagship branch of 10. Prices aren’t cheap, but I’d say they’re worth it. Mendiants (chocolate rounds topped with nuts) are €14.40 for 200g. Slabs of chocolate are encrusted with nuts, candied fruit, dried figs, pine nuts, salted caramel, and a 250g box of your choice of the exquisite chocolates is €18.75.
Freshly caught fish and seafood is prepared and sold every day on the Quayside Boulevard Gambetta.
If you prefer a specialist wine shop to a supermarket, head for Le Chais (49 rue des Deux Ponts/30 rue Brequerecque) where the third generation of a family selling wines for 150 years runs a warehouse with 800+ wines.
Stop for lunch
There’s an obsession with Welsh rarebit or ‘le welsh’ in this part of France. The Welsh Pub (Place Dalton) has a ‘les welshs’ menu section with a choice of seven types, served with frites or green salad. Or try the galettes (buckwheat Breton pancakes) and crêpes at the Breton Crêperie St Michel (43 rue de Lille). We tucked away two delicious courses and draught cider in stoneware cups for €25.