A short drive from Calais brings you to the town of Bethune in the Hauts de France region, department Pas de Calais. It’s not that well known on the tourist map, overlooked for its larger neighbours Lille and Arras as well as arty favourite Lens with its swanky branch of the Louvre.
Bethune, northern France
It was though once an important town, well connected via the Aire Canal to major towns. The historic centre of town was virtually wiped out in the First World War. Rebuilt after the Great War there is a strong influence of Art Deco, popular at the time. The beauty and vibrant atmosphere of the Grand’Place really is special. With its tall facades and skinny buildings jostling for attention and grand doorways looking onto the square at the 47m high 14th century, UNESCO listed belfry. Miraculously, it survived war damage, loosing just its tip. Climb the 133 steps to the top during the day for terrific views, listen to its lovely chimes and marvel at the free light show at night.
Bethune Christmas market
Every December the town bursts into life with a traditional style Marché de Noel on the large cobbled square. The pretty chalets are perfect for local and seasonal gifts and produce including “Fort de Bethune”, a cheese mixed with spice and wine and potted, once a staple food for the miners who lived in the area. There are some excellent foodie stores in the town, I loved Fromagerie La Prairie, just off the square, a place of wondrous sights and smells! (20 Rue Albert 1er).
There are plenty of rides for children and a big wheel with fabulous views over the market. Bands perform, there are street vendors with all sorts of specialities including tartiflette, a huge steaming bowl of cheesy scrumptiousness and pretty much irresistible.
The streets of this friendly town are festooned with Christmas lights and there are a good number of shops and boutiques, certainly enough to tempt me to go back for the shopping even when the Christmas market is over.
Take a break in one of the many cafés and bars that line the square. Even in winter the tables spill out onto the pavements so that you can watch the world go by, wrapped up warm and sipping a hot chocolate, tasty local beer or glass of wine.
Where to stay near Bethune
The brasserie Cote Jardin is the brasserie restaurant at the chateau. It’s almost always packed as its reputation for inventive and super delicious dishes has spread far and wide. With a 2-course menu starting at less than €35, it’s amazing value.
Christophe Dufosse is chef at Michelin Starred gourmet restaurant at the hotel. It has wow factor by the bucket load. A beautiful room with mirrors and paintings but comfy at the same time. And a seriously memorable menu that focuses on local and seasonal produce. Plus great, knowledgeable staff.
The hotel itself is utterly gorgeous. As you’d expect from a man to whom detail is everything, the rooms are seriously stylish, comfortable and pretty. If you really want to arrive in style, there’s even a heliport! www.lechateaudebealieu.fr
Bethune Christmas Market 2023
Bethune Christmas market 25 November – 31 December 2023, see website for details: www.tourisme-bethune-bruay.fr
It might not surprise you to know that mostly – Christmas in France is all about food… so buckle up, or maybe unbuckle your belt, for a fun, festive and foodie podcast: The A to Z of Christmas in France
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