In Northern France you take to the heights: but not the ones you might expect!
To the north, dazzling monuments stand out: the splendid Gothic cathedral of Amiens, Arras square with its Flemish Baroque influences, and Renaissance-inspired Chateau de Chantilly. Plus the most important military cemetery in France! All these sit alongside extraordinary cultural spots including the Louvre-Lens, an Art-Déco art museum, and giant aquarium Nausicáa.
The must-sees in Hauts-de-France
Gateway to Northern France, the Château de Chantilly is not only a magnificent chateau set in a park of 115 hectares – its sumptuous apartments, commissioned by the Duke of Aumale, also house the second collection of ancient paintings in France after the Louvre, and the second largest collection of illuminated manuscripts after the BNF (France’s National Library)!
In Lille, the old capital of Flanders, do you have to wear your swimsuit to go to the museum? You might be tempted to believe it, as its André Diligent Roubaix Museum of Art and Industry is installed in a fabulous 1930s Art-Déco pool. Admire sculptures by Rodin, Claudel and Picasso at the edge of the pool, illuminated by the gigantic glass roof! Between the Lille Flandres and Lille Europe stations is another unusual place dedicated to contemporary art exhibitions, performances and parties: the Tripostal, a 1950s building formerly dedicated to sorting the city’s post.
From Amiens to Arras
Visiting Northern France also means going back in time, strolling through the medieval streets of Amiens housing its flamboyant Gothic cathedral, or around the Grande Place in Arras, lined with houses merging classicism with French and Flemish Baroque styles.
The Opal Coast
Then we head for the Opal Coast, stopping at Montreuil-sur-Mer, a pretty town whose imposing 13th-century ramparts dominate the Canche River. Along the water we arrive at Le Touquet Paris-Plage, a chic Art-Déco seaside resort. The ‘Jardin de la Manche’ groups together around 20 buildings listed as historical monuments, mainly villas dating from the Roaring Twenties, neo-Norman or neo-medieval times.
Around the Louvre-Lens
If there’s one place that symbolises the rebirth of a territory, it’s the Louvre-Lens. Built on a former coal mining site, this ‘other Louvre’ is the locomotive of the cultural, tourist and ecological conversion of this flagship city of the mining basin. From antiquity to modern times, it revisits 5,000 years of art history in the Galerie du Temps where 205 Louvre masterpieces are on permanent display. Complete this with a visit to Lens, which has unsuspected wealth; although almost entirely destroyed during the First World War, it has been rebuilt in an eclectic style that gives pride of place to Art Déco.
Gourmet treats from Hauts-de-France
Among the sweet delicacies of Northern France, the waffle from Méert is without doubt the most famous: filled with Madagascan vanilla, it’s the emblem of this prestigious confectioner which has delighted the Lillois since 1761. If you have a sweet tooth, you should also taste the marvellous double meringues welded together by a chocolate whipped cream, and the tarte au sucre, made with brown sugar from sugar beet.
Do you know the Picardy ficelle? Unrelated to the mini baguette, it’s actually a kind of crêpe (pancake) stuffed with ham and mushroom duxelle and topped with cream and grated Gruyère cheese.
In Northern France you can also feast on the ratte potato from Le Touquet, eaten in its skin; waterzoi, a dish originating from Belgium made from poultry or fish with vegetables cooked in a broth with crème fraîche; or Maroilles flammiche, an iconic cheese pie from the region.
As for the fricadelle, it’s a must for any self-respecting ch’ti (Pas-de-Calais local): try this minced meat sausage in the local chip shops, accompanied by chips of course!