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FIVE reasons everyone should visit Calais

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FIVE reasons everyone should visit Calais
Calais' impressive Town Hall belfry is part of an Unesco World Heritage Site. Photo: kgyp/Flickr
15:26 CEST+02:00
Calais is probably bottom of most people's lists for must-see places in France right now. But the embattled northern port city has more to offer than squalid camps and barbed wire. Here are five reasons to at least think about visiting.
Calais has been in the press for all the wrong reasons this summer.
 
Whether it's due to the thousands of migrants camping on the outskirts of the town storming trucks and the Eurotunnel terminal or French sailors striking and shutting down the port, it's been one bad headline after another.
 
 
But if we can somehow ignore all its problems just for a moment, Calais has more to offer than barbed-wire fences, barking security dogs, a huge squalid refugee camp and militant French strikers. 
 
When The Local visited the city, the tourist board and a few locals gave us some reasons why tourists passing through should think about stopping.
 
And unlike in Paris, visitor information across the city is all in English as well as French. 
 
1. The Lace Museum
 
Did you know that Calais is famous for its lace? Indeed, Calais lace is a sight to behold itself, and the International Centre of Lace and Fashion was by far one of the most oft-repeated sights in town that people recommended. 
 
 
There are temporary exhibitions all year, plus fascinating insights into an industry that the town has specialized in since the 19th century. At the time of writing, there is an exhibition for European fashion giant Balenciaga. Find out more here
 
2. The beach
 
An elderly worker in the local tourist office said that this is one of the best family beaches you can find in the whole of France. "I've been going there since I was a child," he said. 
 
 
 
And he's not alone. This five-kilometre stretch of sand is a popular spot to hang out and tourists could do worse than popping down for a couple of hours before getting on the ferry.
 
3. The Town Hall and its belfry
 
The architectural pearl of the city of Calais is by far the stunning Town Hall. Good luck finding an angle to capture its beauty on camera -- it's just so big. The building is a mix of Neo-Renaissance and Flemish styles, and was constructed from 1911.
 

(Photo: Bernard Blanc/Flickr)
 
If you're not afraid of heights, take the lift up 78 metres to the top of the Belfry for panoramic and unspoiled views of Calais. 
 
Tourist Helen Jeffrey from the UK told The Local: "The view is stunning up there. On a good day you can see the whole of Calais - it's absolutely beautiful".
 

(Photo: rhodesj/Flickr)
 
Fun fact: Charles De Gaulle was married in the building's wedding hall back in 1921 in a civil ceremony. 
 
4. Notre Dame Church
 
This is the biggest and the oldest church in the city, and is hidden away from the town centre in a quiet part of town near the port. It was also the scene for Charles De Gaulle's religious wedding to Yvonne Vendroux almost 100 years ago.
 

(Photo: Bernard Blanc/Flickr)
 
The building dates back to the 13th century, and its architecture is strongly influenced by the English occupation in the middle of the 13th century. Entry is free. 
 

(Inside the cathedral. Photo: The Local)
 
5. Lighthouse
 
Perhaps the next best view of the city and its port is from the lighthouse. Check out the free museum at the bottom, then get ready for 271 steps for to the top for an excellent lookout. 
 

(Photo: Pictr73)
 
The lighthouse, which was built back in 1848, managed to escape any damage in the two world wars, and still stands as an imposing and brilliant lookout over the edge of the city. 
 
Honourable mentions:
 
The Richelieu park in the centre of town for a picnic break, the World War II museum with an inside look at the German takeover in 1940, and the watchtower which looms over the central streets and was once used to spot enemy's approaching from the coast.
 
And until September 20th, there is an "Elephant Parade" throughout the city, with artists decorating elephants all over the city. It's great fun for the kids too just trying to find them. 
 

(Photo: David Sugden/Flickr)
 
Day Trips from Calais
 
Within striking distance of Calais are two Unesco World Heritage sites that are well worth checking out.
 
Firstly the Belfries of Northern France: 
 
Unesco gave the nod collectively to these 23 bell towers in northern France (including Calais City Hall) and one in Belgium in 1999 because they are such fine representations of the eras in which they were built.
 
Built from the 11th to 17th centuries they also demonstrate a shift away from walled cities and towards more open urban planning.
 
 
 
 
Secondly the Nord-Pas de Calais coal mining area:
 
These 109 individual protected parts in northern France include slag heaps - some over 140 metres high - mining pits and coal company infrastructure that were used over 300 years to pull coal from the ground. Unesco extended heritage status to the site in 2012 in part to document the workers’ conditions and the labour rights movement it laid the groundwork for.
 
 
 
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