Yesterday we took a little trip to France. It was a cold and clear day, and it was an early start. The salt on the road made driving a pain as it was hard to keep the windscreen clear.
We boarded the 09:30 Sea France ferry, eating breakfast on the ship as is our preference. It was a millpond on the water, and very cold indeed on deck.
The aim of the day, apart from having a nice day out, was to obtain some Belgian beer. We fist visited the warehouse stores near Calais (follow the motorway round, take junction three - this is before reaching the A16/A26 junction). Majestic wine were doing some good deals on Hoegaarden and Leffe, but it was a limited range. 'Cheers' had a wider range (including Kwak) but were out of stock. Cheers also annoyed as they were asking to see inside people's coats as they left, as if I'd get a crate of ale up there! Ah well, they lose my business in future.
We then drove along the motorway east toward Belgium (signs for Dunkerque and Ostende). If you've never driven in France before it's quite easy, as you come of the boat you can't go wrong at all, they guide you on to the motorway network before you know where you are. The hardest part is when OFF the motorway!
We were headed for a place called Poperinge, which is just inside Belgium. In particular to a place called Noel Cuvelier's Beer Shop. We took the A25 south and drove through Flanders. There was mist rising from the fields, very atmospheric. Very flat, it isn't hard to imagine why this area was a World War 1 battlefield.
At junction 13 we turned left into Belgium, driving straight over the border. This is a flemish part of Belgium. Staying on this road took us through Abele (though there was a signpost off to the left which we ignored), and soon we saw a big sign on the left for 'Beer Shop', it proclaimed 250 varieties. We continued into Poperinge as we had heard that they did not accept plastic at the shop. We later noticed that they seemed to have the facility, but it was too late as we'd already got the cash!
We found it rather tricky to get cash in Poperinge as many cashpoints are for only those who bank with that particular bank. In the main square of Poperinge (it's not really a square, more a semicircle with cars parked in the middle) there is a yellow fronted building which houses usable cashpoints.
The beer shop is generally excellent. It's essentially a general store, selling tinned food, cheeses, sweets etc, but it also stocks a vast selection of beers, along with many of their glasses. Mort Subite Geuze (my current favourite) comes in at 86 cents a bottle (33cl), this would be 2 to 3 pounds at home, if you can find it, here it's nearer 50p.
After stocking up, we headed back for the coast, stopping at Cap Blanc Nez near Calais. The coastal road which runs from Calais to Boulogne (passing through Sangatte) is absolutely beautiful. Hilly, nice beaches, a well kept secret. Erm.... forget I told you that. Don't go.
We stopped for a bite to eat by the coast before heading toward the boat, stopping at Intercaves in Calais itself to get some wine. Intercaves is on the Rue Mollien about 500 metres from the Hotel de ville. They specialise in boxed wine, and it's good stuff - when you go in the guy plies you with drink. The open boxes all have dates on which detail when that box was opened, this is to demonstrate how well the wine keeps once open. They also do a loyalty card scheme :)
To get to Intercaves find the town hall, and head down the Rue P. Bert which runs between the town hall and train line. Intercaves is a small place on the right. It's easy to get from there to the car ferry, just take the first left and follow the signs.
To get there from the Car Ferry, follow 'direction centre ville' and you will come to the Rue Mollien with Intercaves on the left. Parking is a little tricky, but not impossible.
A nice day out,despite the cold. Calais had wonderful Christmas decorations set up, very pretty indeed. It was the first time I'd driven in Flanders (though I've been close many times). The area has a certain quality to it.
We will certainly go back to Noel Cuvelier's!