This slice of French land incorporating the Channel port of Calais, the Cote d'Opale (the Opal Coast), several important battlefields and France's largest fishing port, Boulogne, is often overlooked by families speeding south for the regions more traditionally associated with family holidays.
But beyond the day-trip shopping frenzy of Calais lie 40km of beaches stretching west along the coast, with views back to the white cliffs of Dover, and some classic French seaside towns full of child-friendly accommodation and amenities. Inland, meanwhile, are charming villages and towns, excellent restaurants and fascinating battlefields.
Best of all, perhaps, Pas-de-Calais, part of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, is just a short ferry hop (or Eurotunnel trip) from the UK, making it perfect for parents who appreciate short, hassle-free, more environmentally friendly journeys.
Spend part of family holidays in Pas de Calais exploring the Opal Coast, a fabulous swathe of beach dotted with fun little towns and offering masses of entertainment for little ones. Le Touquet-Paris-Plage is very popular with the French – it got its name after becoming a playground for wealthy Parisians. As well as interesting architecture, including 1920s and 1930s villas commissioned by the likes of Noel Coward, it has such family-friendly amenities and activities as water-parks, sand-yachting, sailing, aqua-boarding and horse-riding. Like a slightly more stylish Bournemouth, Le Touquet offers good, clean fun for kids, very good restaurants and some hip nightlife for those who feel like getting a babysitter.
Le Touquet holds the Famille Plus label, meaning it's been singled out as particularly child-friendly. The same goes for Neufchâtel Hardelot.
Follow Les Sept Vallées or Seven Valleys, a charming meander through the countryside starting just north of Le Touquet and following the rivers Ternoise and Course. The route takes you through beautiful little villages, fields, woods and historical sites, by car or by bike, with trail maps available at local tourist offices. Children's attractions on the way include castles, medieval labyrinths and open farms.
Check out Boulogne with its markets, cobbled squares, cathedral and castle. The big draw here is Nausicaa, the 'National Sea Centre', a state-of-the-art aquarium complete with a sea-lion reserve, a penguin beach and giant Seychelles turtles.
Venture inland to atmospheric Azincourt, better known as Agincourt, where Henry V beat the French Army in the decisive battle of The Hundred Years' War, despite being vastly outnumbered. The good museum/centre has plenty to interest and occupy children, and you can re-enact the battle with some wooden bows picked up in the shop. Discover too the little-known World War II site of La Coupole, at St-Omer.
As everywhere in France, you can eat well here, although for those on family holidays with small children, choosing some form of self-catering accommodation helps you circumvent the problem of late/inflexible restaurant opening hours.
Local specialities to look out for in restaurants and markets include smoked garlic, chicken and turkey terrines and chitterling sausage. Beer, mussels and waffles show the influence of nearby Belgium.
With the seaside one of the focal points of the Pas de Calais, summer is the most favourable time for family holidays here.
Pas de Calais is an astonishingly easy place for family holidays where travel is concerned. Ferries from Dover serve both Calais and Boulogne (and Dunkerque just to the north, in the Nord département of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region). Eurotunnel also surfaces near Calais. Both ferries and tunnel make it plain sailing to bring your own car and all your baby- or child-related paraphernalia (when travelling by Eurotunnel you don't even need to get out of your car). Alternatively, the Eurostar from London to Calais takes just 59 minutes.
If you really must fly or are super-pressed for time, LyddAir operates between Kent and Le Touquet, with a journey time of just 10 minutes.
Its ease of access makes Pas de Calais a prime spot for budget-friendly family holidays, as does the presence of plenty of good self-catering accommodation.By Georgina Allen
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