There’s masses of choice for places to visit in the Hauts de France region (Nord, Pas de Calais, Picardy). From grand cities like Lille, the capital of the region to tiny historic little towns and villages.
I’ve picked four towns that are easy to get to from Calais, that offer a chance to shop for some fabulous French products, have a fabulous history and will keep you busy from morning to night with great things to see and do…
Historic and charming Arras is a place to walk and wonder. Incredibly, much of the old town was re-built after being destroyed in WWI, but you would never know. With its tall Flemish style houses, cobbled stone squares it is a beauty. There’s a great museum that is affiliated to Versailles in Paris and has excellent exhibitions. The shops are wonderful from quirky book shops, clothes, kitchen stuff that you just don’t see outside of France, chocolate shops, bakeries, cheese shops and homeware. There’s a great market on Wednesday mornings in the big square in front of the beautiful town hall. Go to the town hall to enter the Boves, ancient underground passages that run underneath the town. Also head to the town hall to . The town has loads of terrific cafés and restaurants.
Don’t miss: Climb the UNESCO listed belfry for amazing views over Arras and the surrounding countryside – it’s high up and not for those with no head for heights. Entrance is via the town hall. Info: explorearras.com
If you’ve never visited the old town (top photo) you’ll be very surprised to go through the vast stone gateways and discover you’ve stepped back in time. Pretty, quirky, little shops and charming restaurants in the rue de Lille will keep you coming back for more. There’s a museum in a chateau for rainy days (it’s a rather dull affair inside with an eclectic mix and some really fascinating pieces and the building is attractive).
Don’t miss: The Basilica Notre Dame in rue de Lille. This ancient church has a deep secret, deep in the ground that is. The crypt is the largest in France and is beautifully decorated, I’ve never seen anything like it. Info: Tourist office for Boulogne-sur-Mer
Victor Hugo visted this town that’s perched high on a hill in 1847 and never forgot it. Years later he wrote “Les Miserables” based on the town and the scenes he saw. The history of this place goes back millennia. Today it is a pretty place of cobble stone roads squares, narrow alleys, ancient houses and a lovely walkway all around the town on the ramparts giving magnificent views over the surrounding countryside.
Don’t miss: The saturday morning market in the main square followed by a meal or drink in one of the many cafés, bars and restaurants, its the perfect people watching place! Info: Montreuil-sur-Mer Tourism
The quintessential rural French town with a history. A lovely town square, little shops, great restaurants, star boulangeries, great ambience about 30 minutes from the Opal Coast. It’s also where a priceless copy of a first folio of Shakespeare’s plays was discovered in the unique town library.
The Place Foch is a lovely square and home to the town hall as well as several excellent bakeries and cafés where you can sit and watch the world go by. St Omer has plenty of restaurants to suit all budgets and there’s a lovely Saturday morning market which has has the best veg stalls I’ve seen in France. There are a couple of museums and an astonishing Gothic church which contains a Rubens painting and is well worth a visit.
Don’t miss: The library. From the outside it looks like any other rather boring municipal building but head to the first floor and turn left into a wood paneled room where books dating back to the 9th century are kept – utterly amazing. Incredibly a first edition Shakespeare worth millions was discovered here recently, which gives an indication of just how special this place is.