LivingTravelThe Nord-Pas-de-Calais region: North of France

The Nord-Pas-de-Calais region: North of France

This region of northern France encompasses the two departments of Nord and Pas-de-Calais which are now in the new Hauts de France region.

Nord is a wedge-shaped department that borders the English Channel to the west, then runs along the Franco-Belgian border from the northernmost point on the outskirts of Dunkirk, the third largest port in France. It borders Luxembourg to the east and Pas-de-Calais to the south.

Pas-de-Calais has Nord as its northern and eastern border and Champagne-Ardenne and Picardy to the south. It also overlooks the English Channel.

The two departments are historically interconnected; The only major difference is the very distinct Flemish influence in Nord, where you’ll find different names and spellings, some pockets where Flemish is spoken alongside French), slightly different architecture, and great beer culture.

More about border travel in France

Nord-Pas-de-Calais is an area that many people ignore, taking the ferry or Eurotunnel to Calais or Dunkirk, and then running south. But it is a fabulous and unexpected region, ideal for a short break from both the UK and Paris. When I drive south, I always spend a night in the area discovering new things on each trip.

Taking the ferry to France from the UK

Top attractions in the area

France and England at war

For centuries, England and France fought for the territory closest to England, which is this part of France. You can trace the Hundred Years’ War with the family on this 3-day tour, which includes one of the greatest English victories, the Battle of Agincourt which was fought in October 1415.

The two world wars

This was a region devastated by the two world wars, so there is a lot to see. The explosion of interest in ‘memorial tourism’ in the years up to 2014 led to the construction of new monuments, the opening of trails, and the revitalization of old war sites.

In WWI , the first tank battle took place in Cambrai and the area around it has numerous sites and monuments, large and small for British, Australian and Canadian troops. A tank was discovered in 1998 and unearthed. Mark IV Deborah is now shown in a barn.

The region is also the site of moving American monuments and cemeteries that bear witness to the vital role the United States played in the war. Here’s a great tour of the main sites in the area. Many of them, like the Wilfred Owen memorial, are recent, the result of worldwide interest in the First World War.

Second World War

England was dangerously close to Nord-Pas-de-Calais and was the main territory for attacks on England with Hitler placing La Coupole here to launch the V1 and V2 rockets at London. Today, the huge concrete bunker is a spectacular museum that begins with the war and takes you through the Space Race. La Coupole is well known; Less famous is the secret base of Mimoyecques where the secret and spectacularly failed V3 rocket was developed and built. Today it is a strange and resonant site, closed for months of the year, as it is home to a protected population of bats.

Dunkirk appeared as the most important site for the mass evacuation of British, French and Commonwealth troops in 1940, codenamed Operation Dynamo.

  • More about Operation Dynamo and Dunkirk
  • More on the wrecked ships and WWII sites around Dunkirk

Major Cities in Nord-Pas-de-Calais

Lille is the largest city in northern France, a lively and exciting city that earned its wealth by being the main stop on the trade routes between Flanders and Paris. Today it has a remarkable historic neighborhood, excellent museums, and the best restaurants. Go for the blockbusters, but don’t miss places like the historic Hospicio de la Condesa Museum where you feel like you’ve stepped into an Old Master painting.

  • Guide of Lille
  • Where to stay in Lille
  • Where to eat in Lille
  • Eurostar to Lille

Fans of contemporary art enjoy the various exhibitions organized at the TriPostal in Lille; Villeneuve d’Ascq is Lille’s premier modern art museum in the area.

Roubaix, once a great Flemish textile town, is a short tram ride away and you can see the past at the splendid La Piscine Museum in a former Art Deco pool complex.

Arras was completely rebuilt after its destruction in WWI to look like the medieval city it once was with arcaded streets and grand squares. Every winter, Arras has the best Christmas market in northern France.

St-Omer is a charming little town with an old quarter, a spectacular Saturday market, a swamp where you can take a tour where postmen deliver by boat, a Jesuit university where some of the founding fathers of the USA first folio of Shakespeare, discovered in 2014.

Stay close at the Hotel Chateau Tilques. It has a good restaurant, pool, walks, and some great deals on room prices.

  • Read guest reviews, check prices and book Chateau Tilques on TripAdvisor.

Coastal Towns and Ports

Calais is the best known and most used port for this part of France. Again, it is worth stopping at the now well-renovated main square and the church where Charles de Gaulle married Yvonne Charlotte Anne Marie Vendroux, who was from Calais, in April 1921. Don’t miss the fabulous Lace Museum, a visit a must for everyone. the family.

  • Calais Visitor’s Guide
  • The lace museum in Calais
  • Shops and Shopping in Calais

Boulogne-sur-Mer is smaller with a charming old walled quarter above the harbor, which is a great place to spend the night. It is also home to Nausicaa, a maritime hub that attracts international visitors.

Make a stop at the now inland port of Montreuil-sur-Mer, abandoned long ago when the sea settled. It is a charming place with hauntingly beautiful fortifications. The best hotel in the region is the fabulous Chateau de Montreuil, so book a stay here.

  • Read guest reviews, check prices and book at Chateau de Montreuil.

Hardelot is a charming community, less known but charming. Charles Dickens stayed here with his mistress and the English connections resulted in the fairytale castle where a theater offers Shakespeare and a summer program in English.

Just to the south, Le Touquet-Paris-Plage is much more elegant. The charming and elegant resort is popular with the English and Parisians who come to sail and relax.

  • Atracciones in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage
  • Dónde alojarse in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage

Attractions in Nord – Pas-de-Calais

The region has some lovely places to visit that are not echoed by wars. This includes one of my favorite gardens in France, the private and secret gardens of Séricourt.

Don’t miss the Louvre-Lens , the outpost of the Louvre museum in Paris for an overview of French art from ancient civilizations to today in a permanent exhibition, as well as a number of important temporary shows.

Henri Matisse might be associated with southern France, but he was born and spent much of his formative life here in northern France. Visit the Matisse Museum at Le Cateau-Cambresis for a different perspective on the famous Impressionist painter.

Walk along the cliffs between Calais and Boulogne, past Cap Blanc Nez and Cap Gris Nez, looking at the breakers below you and the old enemy of England.

Climb the ancient slag heaps in the mining area around Bethune; It has become one of the newest World Heritage sites in France.

More about the region

Nord Tourist Website

Pas-de-Calais tourism website

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