Nord-Pas de Calais is the closest region in France to Britain. It is a region of contrasting landscapes, forests and woods, gentle meadows and marshlands, rolling hills dotted with windmills, a varied coastline that stretches for miles and miles, wide-open spaces of unspoilt countryside that make up the Regional Parks, a network of waterways for river cruising, and much more.
Around 10 million visitors a year arrive in Calais in the Pas de Calais, many of them head to the huge Cité Europe shopping centre in Calais with its hundreds of shops and restaurants and massive hypermarkets; many of them are on their way further south and simply drive straight onto the toll roads and far away. To do so is to miss out on the glorious countryside, the beautiful Opal Coast, the picturesque little villages and wonderful tourist sites just minutes away from the bustle of Calais Port.
It is a region proud of its traditions where fairs, fêtes and festivals are a part of daily life. Steeped in history, Nord-Pas de Calais has a rich heritage of regional monuments, museums and historic cities dating from Roman times to the last World Wars.
The region of Nord-Pas de Calais has two departments, Nord and Pas de Calais. In the Middle Ages this northern tip of France, along with part of Belgium and an area of the Netherlands, made up a principality known as Flanders. In fact Flemish is still spoken in some parts of the Nord and the landscape, with its windmills and canals is far less typical of France, as is the local’s taste for beer rather than wine! The architecture of Arras and Lille and even St Omer reflect the Flemish influence as does the food of the Nord.
Lille, the capital city of the region is only 80 minutes from London by Eurostar and boasts extensive shopping, restaurants, museums and monuments. It is a vibrant city – elegant and sophisticated and fun. The lovely 17th and 18th Century buildings and monuments of the old city have been carefully restored creating a judicious blend of past and present. Lille is also renowned for its shopping and culture; the Fine Arts Museum here has an impressive collection and the many stores of Lille have a rich diversity of goods, from designer labels and modern shopping malls to unusual boutiques and flea markets. Lille holds the famous Braderie de Lille every year on the first weekend in September when the streets are pedestrianized and many hundreds of stalls are set up for a huge flea market attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors.
There is 120km of preserved dunes, cliffs and sandy beaches along the Opal coast of the Pas de Calais area and the light is amazing – attracting artists such as Turner who painted the coastal towns and fisher folk of years gone by. Boasting lovely seaside resorts such as Le Touquet and Berck-sur-Mer and many other child-friendly seaside resorts it offers the perfect weekend or holiday. The activities on offer include horse-riding, cycling, donkey trekking and sand-yachting on the long sandy beaches as well as the World Kite Festival!
Picturesque old villages galore, Michelin starred restaurants, art galleries and museums – from flat Flemish landscapes to the rolling hills of Boulogne and plains of Artois, the region offers a wide variety of natural and historic landscape and also a great amount of warm and festive events all year round! With sound and light shows, historic pageants, fairy tales and giants and a fascinating heritage there’s always a vibrant festive air in the Calais Côte d’Opale.
For loads more information on what to do, what to see and where to go in the region visit our Nord-Pas de Calais section
Things to do in Nord-Pas de Calais
Wander the streets of Montreuil-sur-Mer where Victor Hugo once walked and took inspiration for his famous Les Miserables, and have a meal in a Michelin starred restaurant
Shop at elegant Le Touquet with its designer boutiques and fabulous restaurants
Visit Lille’s well known art museums, the Palais des Beaux-Arts and the Musee d’Art Moderne
Marvel at the spectacular scenery whilst walking along the Cote d’Opale coastline
Explore the Flemish-style Grand Place and Place des Heros in the centre of Arras
Soak up the atmosphere stepping back in time on the Plage des Allies at Dunkirk
Wonder at La Piscine art deco swimming pool at Roubaix – now an art gallery
Attend the Main Square Festival – the major musical event of the region in the Citadel of Arras every summer
The Lens Louvre Museum – the new wing of the Paris Louvre in the North of France