I would do all my food shopping in France if I could. French supermarkets are immeasurably superior even to the best British ones, and although it sounds an implausible reason to visit a country, it’s why we try to get across the Channel when we can. We’ve just got back from just such a food shopping expedition and our cupboards are now heaving with delicious French produce.
It’s surprisingly easy to drive to France, and we’d be crossing the Channel all the time if we lived in Kent, for the drive from Warwickshire to Kent is the only arduous part of the journey. We go via the Tunnel and it is fantastic. It’s £23-30 each way for a day trip or overnight visit, and you’re checked in automatically by numberplate recognition when you reach the terminal. The crossing itself takes around half an hour, during which you can read your book or have lunch. We had smooth journeys both ways and didn’t see any evidence of any of the much-publicised ‘migrant crisis’ that has supposedly been plaguing the border in recent months.
When you get to Calais, there’s a big Carrefour supermarket popular with UK daytrippers, but we prefer to drive 20 minutes round the coast to Boulogne, where we do our shopping at a big Auchan supermarket. This also means we can enjoy some time in Boulogne itself, which is rather more attractive than Calais. You can take the motorway for a speedy journey, but we like to drive along the Cote d’Opale road, which gives lovely sea views all the way down to Boulogne.
It’s hard to convey in photos what it is that makes French supermarkets so good. It’s the extraordinary variety of produce, the astonishing choice within each of the food groups, the superb quality of the food and the lower cost. Take cheese, for instance. Obviously the French are famous for their cheese, but the section in the photo below is representative of the scale of choice in other areas too. This whole aisle is for cheese – and behind me when I was taking this photograph, there was a deli the same length again packed with fresh cheese that you could buy by weight. The yogurt aisle is the same length again, times two, and there’s a similar array of choice for everything from tinned vegetables to fruit juice and squash.
Of course, there are also lots of things you can get over there that you can’t in the UK. Here’s a close-up that demonstrates the sort of exciting things you can buy in a French supermarket that you can’t back home. I won’t bore you with loads more supermarket photos; suffice it to say, we spent a good couple of hours perusing each of the aisles and selecting things to take home with us. You should see the bakery section. French bread is so fantastic that you can happily eat it on its own or with delicious Breton salted butter. Oh, and you can get red wine for €2. I could go on.
Beyond the supermarkets, Boulogne is a pleasant city break destination. In between heavy downpours, we retraced our steps from previous trips for a walk around the fortified old town, where an impressive basilica towers above the city walls.
You enter the old town through this archway, which gives you an idea of how thick the city walls are.
The old town is very pretty, though it was somewhat deserted when we wandered in at about 9.30am the morning after our shopping trip.
Having stopped for crepe and coffee at the only open cafe we could find, we continued our potter through the deserted streets and chanced upon these steps, which led us up onto the city walls.
There are lovely views all around, and of course you can clearly see the sea (which probably isn’t quite so obvious in these photos).
The basilica peeps out over the walls as you walk around the ramparts…
…and there are windows in the wall that give you a better view of it. We went inside it the first time we went to Boulogne together (just two months into our relationship, back in 2012 – though Lee had been many times before that), and it’s well worth a visit if it’s open when you’re there.
After that the rain intensified again, so we made our way back to the car and along the coast back to Calais to catch our train back.
You probably can’t see it here, but there is a concrete bunker concealed in the hillside in this picture. This is one of loads of such relics of WWII dotted around the Normandy coast, many visible from the road. All the way along the coastline, you feel the presence of wartime history, and the alarming remembrance of how close the Germans got to the UK is inescapable.
I thought that this statue would be dedicated to wartime soldiers, but on closer inspection it proved to be commemorating a man named Hubert Latham, who flew from London to Paris in a balloon in 1905 and made a couple of unsuccessful attempts to fly across the Channel in an aeroplane in 1909. On the first one, he was forced to ditch into the sea, where rescuers found him still in the pilot’s seat casually smoking a cigarette. He died in 1912 in a hunting accident.
Of course, reading about this early Channel aviator brought to mind our own airborne Channel crossings, the last one being to Le Touquet last summer. In view of the weather and the amount of food we brought back, we were happy to make our crossing under the sea for this trip!
Back home, I was pleased to survey our haul. All this cost the equivalent of about £60 (and some of it had already been eaten by the time I took this photo), so we did well!
I’d definitely recommend food shopping in France, and the Eurotunnel makes it all so easy. You come off the train and the ramp immediately connects with the UK roads, so there’s no immigration control to faff round with like at an airport. As I said, if we lived in Kent, we’d be going all the time!