Gillian Thornton gives a quick guide to 12 cultural experiences that you won’t want to miss in Hauts-de-France. Note: This article is part of a bigger magazine feature called “Departments of Culture: Hauts-de-France”.
Created in 2014, the region of Hauts-de-France is the third most populous region in France, encompassing the départements of Aisne, Nord, Oise, Pas-de-Calais, and Somme. Memorials and war cemeteries from the First and Second World Wars dot the landscape but you can also head further back in time to the Battle of Agincourt (Azincourt) in 1415, where the English won a surprising (and vital) victory in the Hundred Years’ War. After you’ve had your fill of culture, rest your head in one of the many luxury hotels or charming B&Bs the region has to offer.
Temporary exhibitions this year are Rome, its art and civilisation (until July 25) and, from September 28 to January 16, 2023, an exhibition celebrating the 200th anniversary of Jean-François Champollion’s deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Opened just before the pandemic, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Visitor Centre in Beaurains provides a fascinating insight into the work of the Commission across the world and the 3,000 cemeteries in France alone.
Home town of Jules Verne and famous for having France’s largest Gothic cathedral, which took just 60 years to build. See the sculpted façade illuminated in brilliant colour on summer evenings and take a boat trip through Les Hortillonnages marshland.
Centre Azincourt 1415
Reopened last year after a complete overhaul, this engaging interactive museum brings the Hundred Years War vividly to life and in particular, the dramatic events that took place here outside the village of Azincourt in 1415.
Wellington Quarry, Arras
The visitor centre has been enhanced at this emotive remembrance site where thousands of soldiers quartered underground just a few metres from the German front before the Battle of Arras on April 9, 1917.
Château de Chantilly
Tour the castle and gardens, take in a 30-minute equestrian demonstration beneath the dome of the Great Stables, and enjoy a picnic, light meal or gourmet lunch in the historic château kitchen. You could even try your luck at the nearby racecourse.
Lace and Fashion Museum, Calais
Five galleries in a restored 19th century factory in the Saint-Pierre district that cover the expertise, techniques and use of lace in fashion, design and the applied arts. Temporary exhibitions. restaurant and gift shop.
When you’ve had your fill of museums, wander the cobbled streets of Vieux-Lille, soak up the architecture of the Grand’Place, and browse the markets and boutiques. Must-do fast food is a traditional waffle from the famous Pâtisserie Méert.
Located on the Via Francigena between Canterbury and Rome, this hilltop town in Picardy had strong links with England. Look up to see the cathedral with five towers and go underground on a hidden history tour through Les Souterrains passages.
Cobbled streets, rampart walks and a strong foodie tradition make this small inland town a must. Victor Hugo used locations here in Les Misérables. Visit in summer to catch the sound and light show inspired by his bestselling novel.
La Piscine, Roubaix
See the sunlight stream through the stained glass “sun” window on to still water and hear the laughter of happy bathers from a bygone age as you enjoy ceramics, sculpture and paintings in these unique and stunning surroundings.
A logistics hub for German forces in World War I, Saint-Quentin was devastated in 1918 but rebuilt in Art Deco style. Expect buildings embellished with geometric patterns and stylised flowers, wrought iron and bay windows.
From France Today magazine
Lead photo credit : Stroll around the beautiful Montreuil-sur-Mer © Yannick Cadart