At a mere 45-minute drive from Calais or the Channel Tunnel, St Omer represents for many the first real taste of France.

This is the area where day trip familiarity gives way to the rural heart of the region, a place to dip your toe into a pot-pourri of tall tales, even taller giants, and a plethora of local dishes designed to bring out the flavour of Flemish culture and heritage. Scenically, too, it is one of the most fascinating. From the market gardens of the St-Omer marshland, where the postman delivers by boat, to the cheese-making monks at Cassel, this is France as we imagine it. Walkers, cyclists, horseriders and birdwatchers are all catered for. So, too, are campers and self-caterers. Sit back in the rustic surroundings of an estaminet, sip a locally brewed beer and, with the coast still not that far way, revel in the best of surf and turf.

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