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Calais can be found on the coast in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, a region of northern France. For many years Calais was part of the British territories before being handed over to France and as the closest French port to England it has been the main route for both trade and tourism between the two countries across the English Channel. On a clear day you can even see the white cliffs of Dover.
Calais is a popular destination for visitors from England who are looking to take advantage of the reduced taxes on alcohol and tobacco levied by the French government compared to that in the UK. There are a large number of outlets and warehouses that supply drinks and cigarettes that people come to stock up on ready for their return journey.
Read more on this destination in the AA Key Guide to France.
The history of Calais
Calais started off as a fishing village. During Roman times the original settlement here was known as Caleturn and then in Medieval times it was referred to as Kales. Even then it was an important trade route between England and the rest of Europe and by the 13th century the Count of Boulogne fortified the area to ensure the safety of the port.
In the 14th Century, Kine Edward III seized the town after the nearly a year long battle of Crecy (1346), claiming the area as his own and expelling the majority of the local townspeople in place of a predominantly English population. Calais is, as it was then known, remained a successful trading port (mainly tin, wool and cloth) and in English hands until 1558.
With no natural defences it was hard to protect the area, so a number of fortifications were erected but King Francis of France attacked the weakest point at Fort Nieulay and renamed his conquest as Pays Reconquis.
History remains reasonably quiet in the area then until the conflict of World War II when a large portion of Calais was destroyed by the German, French and English armies. Particularly bad damage was sustained during the War of the Siege of Calais in 1940 when German troop held out for many days against allied bombardments and ground attacks. With the help of the Canadian forces, Calais was liberated in 1944.
The main focus of the town has to be the on-going importance of the port as a trade and tourist route linking Britain with France and in turn the rest of Europe, especially since opening the additional link of the Eurotunnel, but aside from that Calais is also well known for its production of a number of products such as lace and paper, for which it was earned international recognition.
Of course, the fact that the French taxes are considerably less than that of the UK continues to attract a number of visitors keen to take advantage of the lower prices of alcohol and tobacco, making a significant contribution to the economy of the area.