It was Nobel Prize-winning poet Anatole France who uttered the magical words ‘Sometimes one day in a different place gives you more than ten years of life at home’. And while the French writer was renowned for his oftentimes sceptical works, even he couldn’t deny the inspiration to be found in his beloved country. With a whole world of new paths and experiences to be found just a few hours from the port of Calais, we take a look at some of the best spots for a quick break in the Hauts-de-France region. But best book a flexi ticket – these stunning locations in northern France will have you checking in for an extra night.
A scenic trip to the culture of Arras
First established during the Iron Age, art-lovers and novices alike will be swept away by the wave of historic architecture honed and perfected in Arras over the centuries. Two of the city’s buildings have been named UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the first being the 15th-century belfry. Having taken almost 100 years to complete, the structure was almost entirely destroyed in the fighting of WWI and later reconstructed. Perhaps ironically, the other is the Vauban citadel – the 17th-century fortification commonly nicknamed La belle inutile (or ‘the beautiful useless one’) for its ineffective role in the World Wars. Just 25 minutes’ drive north of Arras you’ll find the Louvre-Lens, which houses works from its sister museum for those avoiding the buzz of Paris.
A taste of old France in Boulogne-Sur-Mer
This important harbour town is the chief fishing port in France, with hundreds of species of fish hauled in from the Atlantic every day. As such, you’re sure to get a taste of traditional French specialities at their very best. Stock up on your own to take home at the commercial harbour of Capécure, where the day’s catch is prepared for auction. Alternatively, head to the specialist restaurants in Basse Ville to try the freshest moules marinières. On the other side of a fairly steep walk up the hill you’ll find Haute Ville, the old town where rose-lined walls and horseshoe-shaped castles have stood for many hundreds of years. When you’re all done taking in the sights of the old town itself, turn around for a stunning view over the whole of Boulogne-Sur-Mer.
Sweet château in Chantilly
It may be a little further than the other destinations, but drive just two and a half hours from Calais and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported into another world entirely. The town of Chantilly is a fairy tale world of thick forests, illustrious castles reflected in shining waters, and a love of horses dating back hundreds of years to the French royal family. Visit the Château de Chantilly, the iconic former residence of princes of Condé, which now holds art exhibitions showcasing old masters such as Fra Angelico and Rafael. Of course, you’ll have to try the local speciality while you’re exploring this rich area – be sure to try a thick hot chocolate with a generous helping of crème Chantilly.
Art in the city of Lille
The capital of the Hauts-de-France region is a bustling city filled with artistic nuances around every corner. Locals and visitors alike love to gather on the cobbled streets of Lille’s historic centre, surrounded by immaculate 17th-century houses and home to the Old Stock Exchange, one of the area’s best examples of Rennaissance-style architecture. The city has three major art galleries, the Palais des Beaux-Arts, one of the largest museums in the country which champions works by local masters, Lille Cathedral, a national monument showcasing the likes of Andy Warhol, and the Lille Métropole Museum of Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art – featuring such artists as Picasso and Modigliani, as well as rising stars of alternative art.
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