TRAVEL: Lazy days in le cafe; Boulogne offers wine, history and 300 kinds of cheese.
TO get a taste of the real France, you need go no further than just across the Channel to Boulogne.
As well as being steeped in history, the ancient town is a shoppers' paradise and boasts a wide selection of food, wine and gift shops.
If you like French cheese, visit Philippe Olivier's cheese shop, at 43 rue Thiers. It stocks 300 different cheeses, including 30 from the Calais region alone.
There's also a lively farmers' market in the main square - Place Dalton - every Wednesday and Saturday morning, and a daily fresh fish market on Quayside Gambetta.
Boulogne is France's main fishing port and market stalls are piled high with fresh mussels, scallops, herring, mackerel, squid, octopus and crab, as well as a wide selection of freshlycaught fish.
Local shops also sell the most amazing hand-made chocolates, and scenes and characters sculpted out of pure white, milk and dark chocolate.
Don't miss the Chocolaterie de Beussent, 56 Rue Thiers, that has its own workshop a short drive away in the village of Beussent.
There are wine shops and cellars to suit every taste and pocket, too. Try Le Chais, in rue des Deux Ponts, which sells more than 50,000 different wines in atmospheric cellars.
The owner, Denis Lengaigne, will be eager for you to try before you buy and will help select wines to suit every taste.
Charcuterie ED Bourgeois, in Grande Rue, sells ready-to-eat vegetable dishes, croissants stuffed with cheese or shellfish, pates, hams, sausages, black and white puddings and rillettes. You're spoilt for choice for mouth-watering cakes and French bread: try Dessert et Dessert, 35 Grande Rue; Au Cornet d'Amour, 91 rue Thiers; and Fred for French Bread and patisseries in Place Dalton.
There are 200 restaurants and brasseries (cafes) to suit every pocket and locally-caught fish is a speciality. One, Aux Pecheurs d'Etaples, 31 Grande Rue, even has its own fish shop.
For much of the year you can eat outside in the cobbled streets leading to and from the old City walls or in the market square.
For a really special meal, go up into the old town to Les Terrasses de L'Enclos at 6, Rue de Pressy, just behind the cathedral. In between spending your cash and sampling the cuisine, there are a host of sightseeing opportunities in Boulogne, too. You should definitely try to see the walled old town, La Vieille Ville, and Notre Dame Cathedral, as well as the celebrated Nausicaa Sea Centre - Centre National de la Mer - which attracts over 800,000 visitors a year. Visit www.nausicaa.fr
Boulogne boasts a wide choice of hotels at very competitive prices...
The Metropole is situated at 51 rue Thiers, in the heart of Boulogne's shopping centre. Double rooms c57-80 (pounds 44-61). Call (00 333 21) 315 430.
Hotel de la Matelote, 80 Boulevard Sainte Beuve is an excellent small hotel with double rooms, c80-140 (pounds 61-107). Call (00 333 21) 303 333 or visit www.lamatelote. com
Hotel Ibis (Vieille Ville next to Old Town & Les Ports next to River Liane). Prices c51-62 (pounds 39-47). Visit www.ibis.fr
L'Enclos de l'Eveche, a renovated townhouse in the old town behind the cathedral, with five themed bedrooms. c70-100 (pounds 54-76) per double room. Call (00 333 91) 900 590 or visit www.enclosdele veche.com
OULOGNE is a short drive down the A16 from the Calais ferries and Channel Tunnel.
SpeedFerries offer a direct route by Catamaran. Fares start at pounds 18 for a day return crossing for a car and up to five passengers.
www.speedferries.com/0870 220 0570.
Travel Market offers pounds 59 per person, based on one night's hotel stay with breakfast, inc. Channel crossing for a car and four passengers. www.realfrancere alclose.com/0870 143 4646.
VARIETY: Philippe Olivier's cheese shop; BOTTLED UP: Wine cellar