The North of France, or Le Nord, is a region that won’t fail to delight your senses, no matter what your age. The area is brimming with character, history and fun activities. Whether it’s gastronomy, the great outdoors, architecture or taking a close look at the Great War battlefields which drives your itinerary, you’ll certainly not be disappointed when you pay this fabulous area a visit.
What to see in Le Nord, France
There are many reminders of WW1, including museums and a host of tourist attractions. These include the famous Cistercian abbey at Mont des Cats on Flanders hill – where you can buy the beer brewed by the monks who reside there to this day; the towns of Bailleul, Cassel and Bergues; the city of Lille, where there’s lots to visit or you can just sit and soak up the atmosphere; famous Flemish gardens of Mont des Récollets, Cassel; les gigottos automates for children in Esquelbecq – and there’s also a small craft brewery here that can be viewed by appointment called Brasserie Thiriez.
In Dunkerque there’s the Museum of the Port, which includes climbing on board a couple of docked ships; UNESCO Listed 58-metre St Eloi belfry, and Mémorial du Souvenir, where you can learn about WW2 Operation Dyanamo; for a trip to the seaside you are close to Bray-Dunes; if you want to simply enjoy the outdoors then there’s the Avesnois regional nature park.
To find out more about Maroilles cheese that the region is also famous for, take an insightful tour at Ferme du Ponts des Loups at Saint-Aubin, which includes sampling its cheese-y delights before buying some to take home. The first known taste of Maroilles dates back to the 7th century. It comes from the village of the same name in the Avesnois, Nord, where the abbey monks transformed milk into in cheese. It’s the only AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée – a recognised mark of quality) from the Nord. More than 4000 tons are eaten in France each year!
Val Joly Activity Park
If your family that loves the great outdoors then Val Joly is the place to head for. Just 90 minutes from Lille, the family orientated resort is nestled in a picturesque natural park surrounding the largest lake north of Paris. It boasts a host of kids activities ranging from water sports, like windsurfing, sailing, canoes, catamarans, electric and pedal boats. There’s a great tree climb adventure; an equestrian centre where you can take a pony ride, riding lessons or a full day ride; trampolines; an aquarium; archery; laser tag; mini golf; bike and scooter hire; fishing; craft activities; or you could simply enjoy local nature walks. Our home while there was a cosy wooden cottage, on the edge of the lake.
Luxury getaway in the north of France
My family spent three wonderful nights at a magnificent property called Manoir du Bolgaro at Morbeque, near Hazebrouck. It’s an impressive, luxurious getaway, which I highly recommend for a get together with family or friends.A manor house dating back to 1540, set on a huge, beautiful, secluded swathe of land, this amazing, three storey gite, steeped in character, can sleep up to 12 people. Eager to enjoy and soak up as much of this atmospheric property as we could, we chose to eat in most nights, but we ventured out one night at an amazing estaminet that was recommended by Eric and Francoise, the lovely couple who run Le Manoir du Bolgaro. (Read the full review here).
The Estaminet de la Longue Croix, just a 10 minute drive away, is a popular, cosy and family friendly restaurant brimming with historical and regional character. There are old artefacts hanging from the ceiling and they serve tasty regional fare here. You can even play traditional Flemish wooden games at your table – provided for your enjoyment! I highly recommend you try the roti porc and “The Welsh”. The service was fantastic, the restaurant was very atmospheric and welcoming for families. There were nice little touches for the children – a glow stick bracelet with pudding and place mats to colour in between meals. But, be warned, this is so popular that tables must be booked a couple of weeks in advance so plan ahead before you travel.
Useful websites: For more on Val Joly visit www.val-joly.com; Manoir du Bolgarno; http://www.northernfrance-tourism.com/