Nord & the Pas-de-Calais
is a former region now joined with neighbouring Picardy as part of a new region called, rather surprisingly, "Hauts de France".
Surprisingly because everywhere else in French names the word
"Haut", implies altitude. This however is the lowest-lying of French
regions, bordered on the north by the
Channel and the North Sea, on the northeast by Belgium, and on the
south by Picardy. It is made up of just two departments, the Nord (59)
and the Pas de Calais (62).
Nord - Pas de Calais region
This is the region of France that is most easily accessible for day trips or short breaks from the UK or Benelux countries.
In historic terms, this region covers most
was once the French part of Flanders, and the old province of Artois.
Yet if we are to be quite honest, it is not a region that people in
France tend to think of in terms of tourism.
That being said, it
is nevertheless a
region that has plenty to offer in its own way: the "Cote d'Opale", or
Opal Coast, is an attractive west-facing coast with chalk cliffs,
elegant resorts, and many sandy beaches; inland there are many areas of
unspoilt countryside, particularly in the Pas de Calais. The area has
many interesting towns and cities starting with Lille,
the regional capital, and one of the great historic cities of Flanders;
other interesting towns include Arras, Saint-Omer, Boulogne, Douai and
Valenciennes, and there are many more places and sites of interest.
One factor that is above all
in favour of the
Nord–Pas-de-Calais as a place to visit is its proximity to
populated areas of the south of England and the Low Countries. Lille is
under two hours train journey from London by Eurostar, and Calais is
(though unfortunately few Eurostars from London actually stop
there...). For anyone travelling by car from the UK, this region is
very accessible for a weekend break or short stay, taking advantage of
the cheap short-stay return fares offered by Eurotunnel and the Ferry
Flanders and Artois were areas that lay
at the heart of Europe; before becoming definitively a part of France
under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, this region had been
fought over by the French, the English, the Austrians, the Spanish and
the Dutch. More recently, it was a region that witnessed the
terrific carnage of trench warfare in the Great War (see WW1 sites and map),
evacuation of Dunkirk in the Second World War.
If the region was
much fought over in
past centuries, one of the reasons was its wealth. This part of France
has fine agricultural land, mostly flat or with gently rolling hills,
like the South Downs in England: it was part of the great European
cloth-weaving area, and the weavers and tapestry-makers of Lille, Arras
and Valenciennes were famed throughout Europe. The fine historic
squares of Lille and Arras bear witness to a prosperous past, as do the
great belfries and fine churches of towns like St. Quentin and Douai.
But it was in the
that this part of France built its modern identity. From its weaving
tradition grew a modern textile industry, powered by the area's
plentiful underground resources of coal; and from that grew much more.
Nord-Pas-de-Calais - and notably the department of the Nord - was for a
long time France's great industrial heartland. Lille was to France what
Birmingham was to England, the capital and hub of a seething industrial
complex covering mining, cotton, tranformation industries, transport
and agriculture. It grew to be, and is to this day, the most densely
populated region of France outside the Paris region.
Like neighbouring industrial
the border in Belgium, and like similar areas in Britain, the USA and
other countries, the Nord–Pas-de-Calais region went into
decline in the 1970's, as the industrial age came to an end; factories
went out of business, the mines were closed down, and the future looked
sombre. Since then, it has done much to reinvent its economic base,
aided by the fact that it lies in the economic heartland of Europe, the
triangle between Paris, Cologne and London. Nonetheless,
Nord–Pas-de-Calais remains the region of France with the
unemployment rate (about 12.9% in the third quarter of 2015, three
points above the national average).
Going further: Official
Nord-Pas-de-Calais tourism site
in Nord -
in the Nord – Pas-de-Calais region
"Nord" department is almost 200 km from northwest to southeast.
Sites in the Nord department are grouped by area, for easier
holiday planning. The Nord-Pas-de-Calais region has four
major art galleries (■)
Lille, the main square
The Cote d'Opale, south
The beach at Berck: tourists from England feel very much at home!
Sculpture area in the unique Art-deco Piscine gallery, Roubaix, once a
The First World War raged over much of this region of France.
department (59) - northern area:
Belfries of France and Belgium (59, 62, + Belgium): over
mediaeval Renaissance or baroque belfries, listed as a dispersed UNESCO
world heritage site.
Audomarois (59 n , 62): the St.Omer fens, including a
wetland area with rich bird life, and a nature reserve.
memorials and museums commemorating the Great War. See First World War sites
department (59) - central area:
Attractive small town sitting on a hilltop dominating
the plains all around. Old houses, market square.
Port city with famous carnival. Marina, Art gallery.
department (59) - southern area:
capital, historic centre with fine squares, Vielle Bourse, a fine 17th
century ensemble, the mediaeval Palais Rihour, Minibus city tours in
eight languages, the zoo (free), and the ■ Palais des
Beaux Arts, the
best provincial art gallery in France.
(59) : "Art and history town" - The town, once a major
textiles city, has an
interesting heritage of old textile mills and urban
art gallery has a major collection of French 19th and 20th century art,
housed in and around a former art-deco 1930s swimming pool.
de Calais department
(59). Ecomusée: Living textile museum telling
the story of
the region's industrial heritage.
museum, in the town where Matisse was born.
collection. Close by is the village of Ors where war poet Wilfrid Owen
died in 1918, and is buried. Historic brewery, with visits.
Small town, one of the finest fortified cities in France, with 3.5 km
of ramparts. The 17th century ramparts were designed by Vauban and
consolidated until the 19th c. Bike hire at the tourist
(62): Glassworks factory visit. Arques crystal is among
the most famous in France.
(62): Capital of Pas-de-Calais, the city boasts a fine
Dutch baroque square and belfry, one of the Unesco sites. Wellington
Quarry underground World War 1 museum.
(62), or Berck sur Mer: Classic seaside resort in the
south of Pas de Calais. Long sandy beaches.
sur Mer (62):
Classed as a "Town of art and history", Boulogne is an attractive
seaport. Historic old town, surrounded by mediaeval ramparts, museum with a world-class collection of Egyptian antiquities.
the French national Sea Centre, and one of the largest aquariums in
d'Opale (62): Attractive coastline south of Calais, with
fine sandy beaches and coastal footpath.
(62). The notorious blockhouse from which V2 flying bombs
were launched at London during the second world war. Museum and visits.
Opened 2012, ■ Le
Louvre Lens - an annexe of the Paris Louvre, permanent and
temporary displays of works from the main Louvre, including many major
sur Mer (62) Small old town with fortifications and an
Omer: (62) Gothic cathedral and St. Denis church.