First time in Nord-Pas de Calais? Build these essential stops into your itinerary to make the most of your trip.
Recognised with UNESCO listings and a wealth of home-grown labels, the twin départements of Nord and Pas-de-Calais offer touristic sites to suit all tastes, from coast and countryside to history and culture. The legacy of war runs deep in this region – this land has been fought over since time immemorial – but there are also remarkable landscapes here, both man-made and natural.
LES DEUX CAPS
This 23km stretch of land includes the fishing village of Audresselles and the Belle Époque resort of Wimereux, as well as nature reserves, cliff walks and activities around Cap Gris-Nez and Cap Blanc-Nez. Details from La Maison du Site des Deux-Caps. www.lesdeuxcaps.fr
LA CITÉ DE LA DENTELLE
La Cité de la Dentelle et de la Mode, the City of Lace and Fashion, to give it its full name, was inaugurated in 2009 to recognise the importance of the lace industry – and in particular mechanised lace-making – to Calais and the region as a whole. www.cite-dentelle.fr
A gem of a small town with ramparts, cobbled streets and period houses. Victor Hugo visited in 1837 and set the first part of Les Misérables here. Visit in July for the live sound-and-light show staged by costumed characters inside the citadel. www.tourisme-montreuillois.com
The Battle of Agincourt was fought at Azincourt in the Seven Valleys – the mispronunciation has been blamed on an English knight. Tour the small interactive museum first, then visit the medieval battlefield, surprisingly unchanged in 600 years. www.azincourt1415.fr
AUDOMAROIS MARSHES, SAINT-OMER
Thirteen centuries of transforming the marshland around the river Aa into cultivated and inhabitable marshland resulted in a UNESCO ‘Man and Biosphere’ label in 2013. Take a boat tour to see it at its best. www.tourisme-saintomer.com
Great War memorial at Notre-Dame-de-Lorette cemetery listing 580,000 names alphabetically. Open around the clock and lit at night. The Lens 14-18 Great War history centre at nearby Souchez is the only one covering WWI across Nord-Pas de Calais. www.lens14-18.com
History oozes from every stone in the pretty cobbled streets, bijou squares and period buildings, but Lille also has a vibrant contemporary fashion industry and cultural scene. Hub of the city is the Grand’Place, with its grand façades and buzzing cafés. www.visitlilles.com
VILLA CAVROIS, CROIX
This private home in the smart suburbs of Roubaix is a masterpiece of Modernist architecture saved from degradation and vandalism by the Centre des Monuments Nationaux. It’s full of spacious rooms, dramatic lines and exquisite materials. www.villa-cavrois.fr
MARKET SQUARES, ARRAS
The vast twin market squares in Arras date from the Middle Ages but were almost entirely rebuilt in the 1920s. Climb the belfry for a bird’s eye view; go down into the chalk tunnels that link the cellars, and browse the Saturday market stalls. www.explorearras.com
LA PISCINE, ROUBAIX
Experience the magic of light ooding through stained glass and reflections of sculptures on still water in this imaginative reminder of the area’s historic importance to the textile trade. There are even background recordings of bathers having fun! www.roubaix-lapiscine.com
CANADIAN MEMORIAL AT VIMY
A capsule of WWI, between Calais and Arras, with a towering marble memorial and new visitor centre opened in 2017. Complete with trenches, shell holes and cemetery, it is one of the must-see memorials, whatever your nationality.
Twenty-three belfries of varying styles across northern France are listed by UNESCO. A symbol of civil liberties, they represent the influence and wealth of towns. Amongst them are Calais, Dunkerque, Bailleul, Lille, Cambrai and Arras. Listen out for the distinctive sound of the carillon.
From France Today magazine