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Calais Aire

Aire/Stellplatz: CALAIS Plage (Nord/Pas de Calais)

GPS Decimal: 50.96581 N 1.84362 E

Aire Location (static):

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Per night: 7 Euros (2010) collected by attendant, no apparent maximum stay.

If King of Soul Otis Ray Redding Jr had left his home in Georgia and headed for the Calais-Plage Aire instead of the 'Frisco Bay, he wouldn't have felt the least bit out of place. He could have sat on the dock of the bay watching the ships roll in, and watching them roll away again to his heart's content. I mean fair's fair, the Pas de Calais is probably a tad greyer and breezier than the San Francisco Bay area, and the English Channel maybe lacks the immediate appeal of the warm blue expanses of the Pacific Ocean, but the basic experience would have been the same, so long as he'd brought along his thermals and a flask of soup.

Calais is (of course) a working port, and this Aire is close to the port entrance, so 'tranquil' is not a word you're ever likely to apply to a stay in this Aire. If you don't like the sound of ferries arriving, unloading, loading, and departing with the unceasing sound of their marine diesels running in the background, this is not the place for you. However, watching these vessels manouevering around the confines of the dock and executing three point turns has enough novelty value for me to want to stay here, usually the night before catching the ferry home. It also makes me realise what a complete doddle it is to reverse a 3.5 ton camper compared to reversing a 28,000 ton car ferry - I really have nothing to complain about.

Incidentally, if you're looking for ferry economy, it is always cheaper to take a Dover-Calais Channel crossing and drive through France than it is to cross to/from somewhere elsewhere along the French (and especially the Spanish) coast. The extra cost of fuel for your camper is always less than the cost of the extra ferry mileage. You can make further savings by stopping overnight on Aires, for example using Honfleur en route to Brittany, and/or Futuroscope or Puy Du Fou if heading towards Aquitaine or the Vendee. If you're heading for Northern Spain you could consider using La Barre, Hendaye, or Anglet just before crossing the border. Also, summer ferry crossings are cheaper if you book them much earlier in the year. Our Christmas dinner has barely digested before we start searching for summer ferry bargains. Typically we pay only £70-80 for a return ticket for our 6.5m camper. Worth considering anyway.

Meanwhile, back on the dock of the bay, the Aire is medium-sized with marked parking bays and a slight slope which shouldn't challenge your chocks. Half of the bays give an uninterrupted view of the harbour and the English Channel (or 'La Manche' if you're French, meaning arm, sleeve, or handle in case you were wondering). The beach is close enough for streams of sand to blow through the Aire on a stiff westerly, and if you're blessed with a bit of sunshine it's worth a bracing walk along these shifting sands in the direction of Bleriot-Plage towards Les Brisants, the photogenic rows of breakwater posts in the distance. The beach huts up there have a certain novelty value, and there are also some derelict artillery bunkers in the dunes to go and explore if that's what floats your boat. Sea Anglers might also want to try their luck from the Jetee Ouest, directly opposite the Aire. As Channel coast beaches go, Calais-Plage isn't a bad one (see thumbnail photos below), so don't just sit around in your van and disregard it whilst simply passing through on your way to somewhere else.

The service point can be found near the entrance/exit and offers free waste disposal and water refills, but no electric hookup. There is a very well-kept public toilet close by - definitely worth a few coins to enjoy a bit of luxury instead of a cramped camper van washroom piled high with crates of cheap beer and wine, as ours usually is by the time we get back to Calais.

Sometimes, occasionally, the ferry ports get blockaded by industrial action. The last time this happened to us it was the fishermen. If you've not been following the news whilst on holiday, and on arrival at Calais you notice a huge backlog of trucks queueing for the Eurotunnel terminal, that's a pretty good indicator that all is not well. Do not despair - when the fishermen last set up a port blockade they lifted it between 9pm and 6am each night so they could sneak back ashore and enjoy some home comforts. During this nocturnal respite the ferries were all executing handbrake turns in the harbour and making Scooby-Doo exits for Dover - talk about Dunkirk Spirit. If this is the case, just find your way to your ferry company's booking office at Calais Port and reschedule your departure. Their car park is big enough to accommodate camper vans, including overnight. Once you've got a new departure time, join the usual queue at the port and wait, in the comforting knowledge that you've got everything you need in your van to ensure a civilised stay. Meanwhile, those around you cooped up in packed cars full of tired mutinous kids are living on crisps and coke and having a very different experience..

If you're heading for the Port after your stay at the Aire, there's no need to go all the way back to the A16 Autoroute and round the Rocade Est. There's a perfectly legitimate back entrance into the port at GPS Decimal 50.967529 N,1.870015 W that any good SatNav should find for you. An entrance to the ferry booking offices can also be found here. The Port entrance is included in our free POI file.

Summary:

On the plus side: Interesting and varied spot, plenty to watch, pleasant beach nearby, only a short journey to the ferry port

But: Slight slope, and some overnight noise from the ferries coming and going

Alternative Aires: The nearest alternative is a large open parking area a little way back from the port with its entrance off the western end of the Boulevard de Resistance. You can see it in Streetview here - I don't know whether you have to pay or not, but rows of Camper vans can often be seen stopping overnight here. As it also appears to be a truck stop, and it's beside a main road, you'll probably get more night-time vehicle movement than at the Aire. For somewhere greener, less urban, and quieter I can personally recommend the free Camper parking area about 30 minutes' drive down the coast towards Dunkerque on the Rue du Port at Gravelines. There is no service point here, but you can use one at a nearby campsite for a small fee if required. Details on the information board at the parking area. A third alternative is an overnight stay in the car park next to Calais Port's booking office. I haven't yet had to try this but I know it's an option.

 


Around Calais: click thumbnail for bigger picture:

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