How Calais got cool: France’s much-maligned port city has had a glow-up

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Calais, once known as a destination for booze cruise travelers and now home to displaced people, is not usually featured on glossy tourism brochures. Post-Brexit, the desire to spend time in supermarkets comparing prices has diminished, and most tourists simply pass through on their way to their final destination. However, things are changing in Calais, and it’s time for art and culture enthusiasts to consider including it in their travel plans.

The first phase of a 15-year investment project to restore and revitalize the seafront has been completed. There is now a wide promenade for walkers and cyclists, as well as a new skatepark and several play areas. Visitors can enjoy a leisurely stroll along the clean beach and watch the ferries sail by, or catch a glimpse of the White Cliffs in the distance.

What sets this coastline apart from others is the presence of a huge fire-breathing dragon. Commissioned by Mayor Natacha Bouchart and designed by François Delaroziere, the dragon is operated by four “machinists” who can make it move, roar, and breathe fire. It can also carry up to 48 passengers for a unique ride along the waterfront. Watching the dragon from the ground level is just as thrilling, as it interacts with its surroundings and entertains the audience.

Nearby is the Sentinel Iguana, a mechanical beast that allows visitors to manipulate its movements via joysticks. These two creations are just the beginning of Calais’s bestiary, with more reptiles planned to roam the city. The aim is to bring creativity to the urban landscape and open up previously neglected areas to visitors.

Beyond the beach, visitors can explore the city’s large-scale murals that adorn walls and pavements. During the summer street art festival, new artworks are unveiled, reflecting the city’s history and tackling modern-day issues. For a more traditional experience, the Museum for Lace and Fashion showcases Calais’s creative heritage and offers demonstrations of lacemaking. Currently, the museum is hosting an exhibition on Yves Saint Laurent’s use of lace in his designs.

As Calais continues its regeneration project, more creativity and attractions are expected to be unveiled. By including Calais in your travel plans, you can witness the transformation of this once-overlooked city.

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