In days gone by, when Lens in the north of France (Nord-Pas de Calais) was famous for its coalfields, an annual event took place each summer – the miners’ holiday.
The miners and their families would take the same route each year from Lens to Berck-sur-Mer, the nearest coastal town. Golden sandy beaches, sand dunes to climb about in, ice cream parlours, traditional brasseries and restaurants and fresh sea air – that much at least has not changed.
The days of mining though have long gone and the traditional route to the seaside from the town that the miners took in the 1960’s, known as La Route des Vacances also disappeared – for a while!
In recent years the route has been resurrected and it has become an annual event for vintage cars and buses to make their way along the old Route des vacances, leaving Lens with a sejour at Hesdin, Montreuil-sur-Mer and finally arriving at Berck-sur-Mer. The journey is undertaken with huge enthusiasm and a lot of hope since some of these old cars are really very old indeed.
As Citroens and Peugeots of all shapes and sizes – and many other great French and foreign classics pass along the route, people wave and cheer on this very nostalgic journey and the drivers and their passenger’s wave back, flash their headlights and toot their hooters.
It’s all very French and a great deal of fun – indeed the journey was often called “ The Road to Happiness”.
The cars were parked in the town square in the idyllic country town of Hesdin, a place of sleepy little shops, charming boulangeries and appealing cafés. Tables and chairs spilled out onto the pavements as everyone made the most of the sun which was trying valiantly to light up proceedings.
Artists painted huge murals to hang from the ancient Town Hall, a band played stirring French music like the Marseillaise, La Vie en Rose and the Can Can. The atmosphere was one of fun and nostalgia. Some of the travellers wore vintage costumes – and so did their dogs!
The undoubted stars of the day however were the vehicles – ranging from the 1930s to the 1970s, over a hundred fantastic vintage cars, buses, caravans and vans took part whilst the 500 enthusiastic travellers enjoyed a French lunch – can’t be missing that most important celebration after all!
A Citroen H Van Police wagon, a Renault 8 Gordini, 2CVs of all colours, some with luggage racks, others with carefully colour co-ordinated mini luggage trailers, a 31 seat Saurer bus, a Citroen Ami 6 Berline (saloon) – the line-up of fabulous old French cars was astonishing.
Lunch over and the passengers embarked and drove on to Montreuil-sur-Mer – the road was lined with well-wishers, the cars hurtled past tooting their horns, flashing their lights and waving out the windows en route to the seaside – the same journey that their fathers and grandfathers had made all those years ago – possibly in the same vehicles!
This was the 3rd year of the revival of the Routes Des Vacances and we think it’s set to be a winner and definitely one not to miss.
Find out more about Lens and its Mining heritage as well as the Louvre Lens, the new wing of the Paris Louvre museum in the north of France: Lens Tourist Office website (English language site)