Few motorists ever notice Ardres, even if they pass through it the N43 from Calais towards St-Omer. It is one of those small French towns which seem destined to escape the notice of tourists heading to or from the cross-channel ports, or even those seeking accommodation, even though it is only eight miles from the Calais ferryport.
We discovered it accidentally, about twenty-five years ago, and have since stayed at the Hotel le Relais more times than we can remember. The Relais is typical of many small French hotels, combining an excellent restaurant with somewhat basic rooms and an aura of timelessness, set in an old town which surrounds its medieval church.
The proximity to Calais makes it an ideal first or last night stop, particularly for those who have to cover several hundred miles between Dover and home.
A double room with shower and WC is around 35 Euro, breakfast 6 Euro per person, and with half a litre of wine each, we usually spend about 40 Euro on the evening meal.
To reach the hotel from the ferryport, follow the signs for Boulogne and Rouen, joining the A16 and then immediately exiting for ‘St-Omer vers le RN.’ On the roundabout at the end of the slip road, pass under the autoroute and follow the sign for the N43. This will lead you through Pont des Ardres, and into Ardres itself. At the traffic lights turn right, and you will find the hotel immediately on your right. If travelling north on the A26, exit at Sortie 2 and follow the N43 into Ardres, keeping straight on at the lights and then turning right into the hotel.
The proprietors, Monsieur and Madame Rivelon, will make you very welcome, and depending on your departure time, will show you to a parking place in the hotel courtyard.
Ardres is a perfect base for exploring some of the area’s WW2 legacy, such as the little-known V3, the world’s first supergun. Turn right out of the hotel and follow the road to Landrethun-le-Nord. Bear right into the village, cross the next road, and follow the signs to the entrance, about a mile further on.
The V3’s thirty 150 mm guns, with 100 metre-long barrels, could have rained fire all over London and the south-east, but it was crippled by a visit from the RAF with ‘Earthquake’ bombs, leaving 1,400 workers (mostly slave labourers) entombed in the flooded lower levels. Even today, the 600 metre long tunnels provide an eerie experience.
An even more impressive piece of German concrete work can be seen by following the N43 towards St-Omer, and turning left about a mile after Nordausques, at the sign for the ‘Blockhaus d’Eperleques,’ which was built as an ‘impregnable’ V2 missile launching site.
This mighty structure is best seen before spring, when the trees begin to hide it again. This is the second such building, the original structure having been bombed just after the masses of concrete were poured into miles of shuttering. The resultant lump of concrete can still be seen.
Undismayed (well, not much!) the Germans had a seven metre-deep pit dug, one hundred metres square, and filled with reinforced concrete. Tunnels were then driven under the slab, which was jacked up as the walls were built in safety beneath it.
The massive structure remains the largest such building in the world, but was never used in its designed role, as by then the railways were destroyed and no missiles could reach it from their factory in central Germany’s Harz Mountains.
The V2 was designed as a mobile-launched weapon anyway, but that is another story.
A little further south, and best reached by following the signs from A16 Sortie 4 is La Coupole, another V2 bunker.
This takes the form of a massive concrete dome on the edge of a quarry, which is now the car park. Access is through one of the old railway tunnels, then by a lift to the area beneath the dome, where two cinemas and a museum tell the intertwined stories of rocket development and the impact of the occupation on the Pas-de-Calais area.
Mention the good and bad of your hotel and B&B experiences here. One thread per hotel, please!
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