Calais, Calais Vins, and The Grape Escape

Calais highlights

Approximately 27 nautical miles, or 31 regular miles, from Dover is the port and city of Calais. It’s an historic city well worth a visit either for a day or better still longer, and it’s within easy reach of the port either by car or by public transport.

Things to see and do…

Looking towards France and clearly visible from the deck of a ferry as it leaves or approaches Calais is the iconic clock tower of the Flemish Renaissance-style Hôtel de Ville, in front of which stands the magnificent bronze sculpture by Auguste Rodin of the six Burgers of Calais, who volunteered their lives for the sake of the city way back in the 14th century.

Another historic tower is the 13th century watch tour – Tour du Guet – in the Place d’Armes; and don’t forget the Phare de Calais, the port’s lighthouse, built in 1848 to replace the old watch tower – there are 271 stairs to the top by the way.

Should it be open pop into the Église Notre-Dame – Charles de Gaulle and Yvonne Vendroux were married there in 1921. (Look out for their rather charming statue on Place d’Armes.)   The church, now restored, dates back to the 13th century and was badly damaged in WW2. Incidentally Calais bustling open-air markets are held on the Place d’Armes Wednesday and Saturday.

Lovers of the arts should make for the Museum of Fine Arts – Musée des Beaux-Arts on rue Richelieu. It has a great collection of paintings, sculptures and drawings (including a room devoted to Rodin). 

To learn more about Calais lace and lace making a visit to the superb International City of Lace and Fashion – Cité de la Dentelle et de la Mode, is an absolute ‘must’ – allow plenty of time. Calais suffered badly in WWII so to learn more about the conflict visit the informative war museum the Musée Memoire 39 – 45 housed in an old German bunker in Parc Saint-Pierre.

Walk along the recently renovated sea front with its varied attractions and you might find yourself dwarfed by a huge, spectacular mechanical Dragon of Calais trundling along at a stately four miles per hour carrying up to 49 passengers on its back.

Calais Vins and The Grape Escape

For years, Calais has welcomed a constant stream of visitors heading for the city whilst also looking to fill their cars and vans with beer and wine before returning to Dover.

However, with Brexit the new reality for British tourists, it’s fair to say that the traditional booze cruise, that cheap and cheerful day trip, is now a distant memory.

New duty free allowances

There are now new limits on the amount of alcohol that can be brought into the UK without paying duty or tax.

New UK Duty free allowances: beer – 42 litres;  wine (not sparkling) – 18 litres. You can also bring in either: spirits and other liquors over 22% alcohol – 4 litres; fortified wine (for example port, sherry), sparkling wine and alcoholic drinks up to 22% alcohol – 9 litres.  This last allowance can be split – for example you could bring 4.5 litres of fortified wine and 2 litres of spirits (both half of your allowance).

The Calais Vins and The Grape Escape

Along with the recent announcement of an end to the PCR testing regime, and consequently a real chance to travel again, Jérôme Pont of Calais Vins, and Olivier Vermisse of Olivier Vins & Compagnie, have been quick to seize the opportunity to offer British visitors to Calais with a nose for fine wine a new and money saving experience.

The two Calais Vins stores, with over 25 years’ experience between them in the wine business, are renowned for their vast range of rare and exceptional varietals stocking such coveted ‘appellations’ as Fleurie, Médoc, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Meursault, Chinon, Chablis and Pomerol.

As a major French wine merchant, they also stock many of the great grape varieties and vintages, including rare bottles such as Whispering Angel, Guigal, Jaboulet, Louis Latour, Joseph Drouhin, Grand Crus Chateau Talbot, Mouton Rothschild, plus many more.

Free tastings and knowledgeable advice

English speaking staff are on hand at the free tasting bars of both the Calais Vins and Olivier Vins & Compagnie (previously known as Franglais) to offer expert and personalised advice about any of their wines – including help with food and wine pairings.

Beaujolais Nouveau, but with a difference

The Calais Vins, as in previous years, will be selling a special Beaujolais ‘Nouveau’, it’s a Beaujolais with a difference’ because by the end of February, the Nouveau ‘appellation becomes obsolete’.

However, they will be showcasing the new Beaujolais from Domaine de l’Estrange. It’s a superior Beaujolais chosen from an estate that produces a wine that has had a longer maturation period and which can be put in the wine cellar to be enjoyed for months to come. 

Bread and cheese, pastries too

Also on-site at Calais Vins, is the Fromagerie selling the legendary Philippe Olivier’s cheeses, and don’t miss out on the Pain et Levain bakery and cafe. Olivier Vins et Compagnie also offers a wide range of cheese and other goodies.

Tax free vouchers

To make things easier for their British customers wishing to take home at least some wine and beer Calais Vins  and Olivier Vins & Compagnie  have introduced a brand new simple and seamless process allowing British customers returning to the UK  the opportunity to reclaim around 15% VAT on their purchases.

Jérôme Pont of Calais Vins explains: “We are here to help our customers. So now we can give them a Tax free voucher that allows them to reclaim the VAT as soon as they embark in Calais thanks to our partnership with Global Blue and Skiptax. By simply scanning a bar code at the kiosks at the Calais port terminals, the refund process is activated. Or if using Skiptax, you just need to download an app and follow the simple instructions.”

How does the refund work?

With Global Blue Collect your Tax Free Form from the store. Scan the bar code on the form at the kiosks located at the PABLO terminal in the ferry port- located in the main building after the customs. Or in the passenger building for Eurotunnel. 

With Skiptax Download the free app and scan your passport. Shop and then scan your receipt. Scan the bar code generated by Skiptax at the departure terminal. Receive your refund within 48 hours. 

More information

Calais Vins – Rue Gutenberg, 62100 Calais, is located just off the A16 motorway, exit at junction 44 ‘Calais St Pierre’, a few minutes’ drive from the port of Calais and the Eurotunnel terminal. It is open daily from 09.00am to 07.00pm. On Sundays and French bank holidays from 10.00am to 6.00pm. Easy and free parking in front of the shop. Tel +33 (0)3 21 36 40 40,

Olivier Vins et Compagnie – CD215, 62185 Fréthun, is located off the A16 motorway, exit at junction 40 ‘Gare TGV’. a few minutes’ drive from the Eurotunnel terminal and the port of Calais. Open daily from 09.00am to 07.00pm. On Sundays and French bank holidays from 10.00am to 06.00pm. Easy and free parking in front of the shop.  Tel. +33 (0) 3 21 85 29 39