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The Duke of Hazard

Taking the Ducati Multistrada superbike on a tear through coastal Pas-de-Calais

Author Cindy-Lou Dale

France

AS I DISEMBARK from the Eurotunnel shuttle train in Calais to pick up my ride for the weekend, a Ducati Multistrada, the first thing I notice about the Duke is its stature. “Imposing” is not a word generally applied to motorcycles, but it’s certainly apt here. Parked amid a litter of its peers, the Multistrada stands a head above. Even with a specially fitted lowered seat, the bike is like a penny-farthing compared with the others. I get on and my feet barely reach the ground.

Calais is the biggest city in France’s beautiful and largely unheralded Pas-de-Calais region, on the northeast coast. It’s also the nearest French city to England. On a clear day, at the English Channel’s narrowest point of 21 miles, you can see Dover Castle with the naked eye. More important for my purposes, however, are the dramatic, cliff-lined roads that parallel the White Cliffs of Dover and serve as the perfect place for stretching out on an Italian superbike.

When Ducati debuted this highly complex four-in-one machine in 2010, bikers around the world took note. The Multistrada’s designers have incorporated, among other leading-edge improvements, four ride modes that instantly adapt the engine and chassis to off- or on-road travel, mellow cruising or adrenaline-fueled thrill rides.

Before heading out of Calais, I decide to take a spin around town. With the Multistrada’s urban mode engaged, what might otherwise be an unruly beast becomes a manageable everyday motorcycle, handling uneven road surfaces and potholes with ease.

Home to France’s first passenger port, Calais was mostly destroyed during World War II, but a few prewar architectural landmarks remain. For instance, the ornate neo-Flemish town hall, with its 245-foot-high belfry visible for miles around, looks down on the peaceful Parc Saint-Pierre, where a camouflaged bunker that once held a German command post now serves as a sobering reminder of the Battle of Britain, the Nazi occupation of Calais and the French Resistance.

Once out of Calais, I engage the sport mode and let the 1,200-cc Duke off the leash on the Côte d’Opale. Hanging on for dear life, I zoom along a ribbon of road tacked to the cliff’s edge, inadvertently popping a wheelie at one point and passing the visibly surprised driver of a Ferrari 458. The road runs past stretches of golden sand interspersed with quaint villages, and ultimately delivers me to Tardinghen. Here I switch into “enduro” mode, which transforms the 500-pound machine into an agile off-roader. Rolling up at Christophe Noyon Brasseur, a renowned microbrewery on the Belle Dalle family farm, I sample a few local cheeses, and pick up a pint of the award-winning Noire de Slack ale to enjoy later.

Back on the bike, I try out the touring mode, which delivers the kind of smooth ride ideally suited to long-distance journeys. Having developed a seemingly insatiable appetite for French cheese, I point the Duke toward Wierre-Effroy, a picture-perfect hamlet where the small, family-run Fromagerie Sainte-Godeleine affords me greater quantities of the same mouthwatering Sablé de Wissant, Fleur d’Audresselles and Ch’ti Roux I had just tasted at the microbrewery.

In the village, I soak up some local history—specifically, the story of a British Spitfire pilot who was shot down near the village during World War II. Even with a heavy German presence in the area, the townsfolk retrieved his remains from the aircraft’s wreckage under cover of darkness and buried him in the village cemetery. His grave is marked with an RAF headstone, and for many years flowers would mysteriously appear at the grave on the anniversary of his death. A café owner confides to me that he believes the flowers were the work of an elderly spinster who recently passed, thus discontinuing the tradition.

I bed down for the night at Le Beaucamp, a French-chic B&B ensconced in an elegant chateau. Owner Anny Bernard was born and raised at Le Beaucamp, but had to leave during World War II when German occupying forces took over the property. Sold after the war, the chateau came onto the market a few years ago and was snapped up by Bernard, who has restored it to its former grandeur.

The next morning, it’s back to Calais and the Eurotunnel. I play with the urban mode, then the touring option. But I know what I really want. So, with an open road ahead of me, I hunker down on the tank, dig into the back foot pegs and settle into sport mode, opening the throttle and roaring all the way to Calais.

CINDY-LOU DALE, a U.K.-based writer, has begun to wonder if she could get the Multistrada up on one wheel intentionally.

MAP BY JEFF QUINN

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