Hauts-de-France

Photo © priscillaz

Travel Guide Europe France Hauts-de-France

edit

Introduction

Hauts-de-France (Upper France) (Picard: Heuts-d'Franche) is the northernmost region of France, located to the north of the French capital Paris and situated on the English Channel at the point closest to England. The region also fronts much of the French border with Belgium. The area is sadly known for its central part in the trench warfare of the First World War (1914-1918), perhaps most notoriously the Battle of the Somme, which lasted four and a half months during which more than one million men and women lost their lives. Unsurprisingly, Hauts-de-France hosts a large number of battlefields, war cemeteries and memorials. Less well-known, but still worth your time are the region's many belfries and Gothic churches, and the remnants of France's industrial heartland.

Destroyed in parts by both world wars, home to heavy industry, and cold by French standards, this is not a major tourist region. However, there are some areas of beautiful countryside, fine local foods and beers, and many historical landmarks. War history buffs in particular will find much to see. The lack of crowds can be a plus for people desiring a slower pace. Too many people passing through on the way to Paris miss out.

Because of its particular location in the north of France, between Paris and the English Channel, this is a war-torn region that was often throughout history the place of invasions and battles. The two world wars ripped through this region, leaving behind a legacy for today's inhabitants and tourists. Notable are the battlefields of the Somme where French, British, Canadian, Australian, and African soldiers fought the Germans in World War I, and the deportation camp in Compiègne where, during World War II, prisoners were kept while waiting to be deported to the east.

The current region of Hauts-de-France was created in 2016 after administrative reorganisation grouped Nord-Pas de Calais and Picardy. The latter was formerly a province dating back to the Middle Ages, and its removal from the map has caused some controversy, with the slogan Touche pas à ma Picardie ! (Hands off my Picardy!) becoming current. The name Hauts-de-France means "heights of France", which refer to the region's northern (high) position on the map, rather than physical height. In fact, this is one of the flattest and most low-lying regions of Europe, an irony not unnoticed by the French press, which has roundly mocked the choice of name.

Top

edit

Geography

The region borders Belgium (Flanders and Wallonia) to the northeast, the English Channel to the northwest, as well as the French regions of Grand Est to the southeast, Île-de-France to the south, and Normandy to the southwest. It is connected to the United Kingdom (England) via the Channel Tunnel. Hauts-de-France comprises five departments: Aisne, Nord, Oise, Pas-de-Calais, and Somme.

Top

edit

Cities

  • Lille - the capital of the region is a handsome ex-industrial city with vibrant culture and lots of students.
  • Abbeville – small cathedral city with plenty of gardens and parks.
  • Amiens – beautiful small city with a UNESCO-listed cathedral and picturesque canals to explore. The hometown of Jules Verne and Emmanuel Macron.
  • Arras – good base for touring the battlefields of the Western Front, known for its wide market squares and typical Flemish architecture.
  • Beauvais – has a Gothic cathedral and an international airport.
  • Boulogne-sur-Mer – pretty coast and the Nausicaa aquarium.
  • Calais – Britain's gateway to France, home to a large seaport and the continental end of the Channel Tunnel.
  • Laon – an early Gothic cathedral perched on a hill overlooking the rather elegant town.

Top

edit

Sights and Activities

  • Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin is a WV-Unesco-icon-small.svg UNESCO World Heritage site and best known for its slag heaps, which tower like mountains over this otherwise flat region. Also present across the area are the abandoned pits themselves, and the distinctive brick architecture (reminiscent of Industrial Britain) and infrastructure of the region have all been shaped by centuries of mining. The listing also tells of how the industry's mid-20th century collapse devastated the region's economy, a depression from which some communities never recovered.
  • Belfries of Belgium and France - another UNESCO site and has around 20 belfries in this region, spread across an area including the Channel coast, the Lille conurbation and as far south into Picardy as Amiens. Belfries (beffrois) are tall clock towers attached to churches and civic buildings.
  • Picardy is sometimes claimed to be the home of Gothic architecture, and there is certainly no shortage of buildings to choose from: the cathedrals of Notre Dame d'Amiens and Beauvais are two shining examples, as is the basilica in Saint-Quentin.
  • Thiepval - the memorial to the missing of the Somme is monolithic and sombre
  • La Coupole, Rue André Clabaux, 62570 Wizernes (from Saint-Omer, follow the D928 to Wizernes, then turn left immediately after the railway tracks onto the D210; after 1 kilometre, you're there), ☎ +33-321-12-27-27. Open 09:00-18:00 year-round, extended hours in summer. This underground bunker near St. Omer, Pas-de-Calais, was once home to Nazi Germany's V2 rocket programme, and now hosts a museum dedicated to the history of the programme, including its links to the space race. Popular with school groups, the site offers audio guides in multiple languages, has a great gift shop and is bound to make history come alive. €10 adults, €7 children (6-16 years).
  • Vimy - The site of the famous World War I battle, now a Canadian National Memorial, just outside Lens.
  • See England from Cap Gris-Nez (Audinghen) and Cap Blanc-Nez (Escalles). On a clear day you can see the White Cliffs of Dover, and view the ships on the world's busiest shipping channel, from these points.
  • Villers-Bretonneux - The site of the famous battle in World War I, now an Australian National Memorial just outside Amiens.

Top

edit

Events and Festivals

  • Fête Nationale (14 Juillet) is celebrated on 14 July to commemorate the storming of the Bastille prison, during the French Revolution, with festivities on the Champs-Élysées attended by the President of France and other dignitaries. There are fireworks displays in many cities, with the largest display in Paris against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower. This holiday is informally known as Bastille Day.

Top

edit

Getting There

By Plane

There are two small international airports in the region, though both are targeted at the domestic market.

  • Beauvais–Tillé Airport (BVA IATA). Marketed (rather insidiously) as Paris Beauvais by Ryanair, who fly from Manchester, Dublin, and a range of continental destinations.
  • Lille Lesquin (LIL IATA). Mainly receives domestic and continental flights, but nothing from the UK or Ireland. Bizarrely, Ryanair flies to Marseilles from here, going directly head-to-head against high-speed rail.

By Train

On the Paris-Brussels-London high-speed rail corridor, the region is highly accessible by train. From London, Ebbsfleet and Ashford, most Brussels-bound Eurostar trains stop at Lille (1 Gare de l'Europe (1hr 20 min from St Pancras) and some also stop at Calais (Fréthun (1hr 2 min). The journey to Lille from Brussels on a Thalys train takes 30 min, while travellers coming from Paris might consider taking the TGV from Gare du Nord, stopping at Gare TGV Haute-Picardie (mockingly called "Gare de Betteraves" or "beetroot station", highlighting its isolated location) (between the towns of Saint Quentin and Amiens, a 30-min bus connection). Arras and Lille (Gare de Flandres), or the slower Intercités service (also from Gare du Nord) which is more useful for the western and coastal parts of the region.

By Car

Driving from Paris is really easy; take the A1 and your wallet, and expect to fork out at least €25 for the toll. Motorists from Belgium have it slightly harder. While both countries are in Schengen and should in theory have open borders, the migrant crisis and terror attacks have made police checks on the major roads between Belgium and France more frequent, causing delays. To avoid these, stick to the back routes. Drivers from Britain can load their cars onto a Eurotunnel train in Folkestone, and drive off in Calais 35 minutes later. Alternatively, there are ferry crossings (see below). The A26 is the famous Autoroute des Anglais, which conveys traffic from the ferries and tunnel south into France and the rest of Europe.

By Boat

Calais is connected to Dover in England by ferry services operated by P&O Ferries and DFDS Seaways. DFDS also operate ferries between Dover and Dunkirk. The crossings take a relaxed 1hr 30 min, and you get to enjoy a view of England, France and Belgium all at the same time.

Top

edit

Getting Around

By Train

The TGV provides a local high speed service from Lille south to Arras and Picardy, and north-west to Calais. The rest of the regional network is provided by Trains Express Régionaux (TER Nord-Pas-de-Calais and TER Picardie). The entire system is nationalised under the SNCF, so tickets and schedules are easily synchronised.

By Car

Hauts-de-France is well-served by motorways (autoroutes), with the following being the most useful:

  • A1 (north-south): Lille, A21, Arras, A26, A2, A29, Chantilly, Parc Astérix, Île-de-France, towards CDG Airport/Paris.
  • A2: A1 (from Paris), Cambrai, Valenciennes, Belgium, towards Mons as E19.
  • A16 (along the coast, then south): Belgium, from Bruges as E40, Dunkirk (A25), Calais (A26), Channel Tunnel, Boulogne, Le Touquet/Montreuil, Abbeville, Amiens (A29), Beauvais (N31), Île-de-France, towards Paris.
  • A21: A26, Lens, A1, Douai, A2.
  • A23: Lille, Valenciennes.
  • A25: Lille, Dunkirk (A16).
  • A26 (northwest-southeast): Calais, A16, Saint-Omer, Lens (A21), Arras, A1, A2, Saint-Quentin, Laon, Grand-Est, towards Reims.
  • A29 (west-east): Normandy, from Rouen, Amiens (A16), A1, Saint-Quentin (A26).
  • N31 (good west-east road in the south of the region): from Normandy, Rouen, Beauvais (A16), Compiègne, Soissons, Grand-Est, towards Reims.

Some of the autoroutes are free, notably the A1 and others around Lille, and the A16 between Boulogne and Belgium. The rest of the network is tolled, operated by the private company SANEF. Away from built up areas, you'll find the roads of northern France very quiet indeed, with far-reaching views over desolate fields.

Top

edit

Eat

The dish of the region has to be moules frites - a steaming bucket of mussels served with mountains of fries - glorious! Often associated with neighbouring Belgium, it's no surprise they're adored in Hauts-de-France too. The most common variant is moules marinières, which sees the mussels steamed in a white wine, shallot and butter sauce, seasoned with parsley, pepper and garlic. This dish has become so popular, it has spread around France and been given dozens of regional makeovers, trading marinière sauce for cream in Normandy, and rich tomatoes and Mediterranean vegetables in the Provence. But the original recipe is best; perfect for sharing, but so moreish you may not want to.

Another classic dish is the ficelle picarde, an oblong savoury pancake stuffed with ham, emmental or gruyère cheese and mushrooms. Treated as comfort food, you will find it on the menu in restaurants and people's homes.

While you're here, summon your courage and hold your nose to try maroilles, a stinky cows' milk cheese produced in the region. It is an acquired taste, but once done so you can truly say you have experienced the north of France. Besides, it has been made since the 10th century, and was a favourite of four kings of France - if it was good enough for them, why not you? In restaurants, it is served in a chicory salad (often labelled something like salade du Ch'ti), or else on toast, and in bakeries look out for it in tarts.

Top

edit

Drink

Unlike most of France, this area is better known for its beer than wine. Luckily the beer is also amazingly cheap compared to certain other places in Europe. A particular local favourite is "Bière de garde," a type of French pale ale. Other good ones to try are 3 Monts and anything from Brasserie de Clerck. A 1L bottle, which looks like a wine bottle, complete with a cork in it, costs only €2 in a Lille supermarket.

Top

Hauts-de-France Travel Helpers

We don't currently have any Travel Helpers for Hauts-de-France

This is version 2. Last edited at 13:30 on Nov 29, 18 by Utrecht. 1 article links to this page.

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted, content of this article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License