Historic heritage, beautiful belfries, friendly locals... welcome to the sticks, the real deal!
In Nord, there is nothing but miner's cottages… Immortalised in 2008 in a film that enjoyed phenomenal success (Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis or Welcome to the Sticks in English), the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region carries memories of the past, with its magnificent belfries, but also looks dynamically to the future. Tucking into Maroilles cheese tart will round off any stay but the warm welcome will be the first thing you notice. As they say: "Welcome to… the people of Nord".
André Dennequin is the manager of the INTER-HOTEL Belle Hotel in Bailleul, a 3-star hotel near Lille. And what a character! "I am Flemish born and bred and, with my wife, really love the job I have had for half a century as a hotelier and restaurateur. The region lies between Nord-Pas-de-Calais and the Belgian border, a country where the humble potato was transformed into the French fry during the truce of World War I. To relax, I play a sport that dates back to the Middle Ages, popinjay archery, in which the targets are birds. But don't worry, we use artificial birds these days," he smiles.
"The heritage of the miner's cottages is very important to us. The Leward museum is a great place, taking a look back at mining life". "In Nord, remembrance tourism is everywhere. Many Brits, Australians and Canadians come to visit the war cemeteries, reminders of an ever-present and painful past".
"Our heritage also includes the textile industry. Spinning still takes place and lace from Calais and Caudry is greatly prized by top designers. Our magnificent red brick buildings, with ledges for birds, also give off a certain warmth, and our belfries, classified as a World Heritage Site, dominate the towns. You can hear the bells ringing for miles". In Nord, each town has its own "Giant", which represents an imaginary or historical character or an animal. They can be seen at festivals, carnivals and generous feasts of carbonade stew, Potje Vleesch, moules frites and Maroilles cheese tarts. The giants turn out in all their finery for the region's various carnivals.
In Saint-Omer, in Pas-de-Calais, explore the Audomarois marshes and try a glass of Genièvre de Houle. Near Fontaine-Notre-Dame, in Cambrai to be precise, savour the famous "Bêtises" boiled sweets and admire the beauty of the buildings. And lastly, the "Route du Houblon", which starts in Poperinge on the French-Belgian border, has many microbreweries. Discover how the beer is made and enjoy a glass or two.
In Lille, the "capital" of Nord, where General de Gaulle was born and raised, you cannot fail to be won over by the incredible charm of the Old Town. The city has 10 neighbourhoods in total. Classified as a "City of Art and History", Lille has a fine art museum (the Palais des Beaux Arts), considered to be the second best in France after the Louvre, as well as a natural history museum and the Hospice Comtesse, a museum about life in Flanders from the Middle Ages to the Revolution. The house where Charles de Gaulle was born has also been converted into a museum. Lastly, for many people, the Braderie de Lille flea market also provides a great opportunity to visit the region, while getting some real bargains.
Stay in one of our hotels in Lille, Ronchin or Villeneuve-d'Ascq and discover everything the city has to offer. Near Noyelles-Godault, don't miss the Louvre-Lens Museum. Opened in 2012, this museum houses painting by Delacroix, Botticelli, Raphaël, Rubens and Poussin. Head towards Maubeuge, near Louvroil. The Fortifications of Vauban provide one of the most marked testimonies of the city's history. Arras, near Fresnes-les-Montauban, also has a citadel constructed according to Vauban's plans. It is a splendid example of 17th century military architecture. Then, continue your journey to Douai. Its museum houses Flemish and Dutch paintings dating from the 15th and 17th centuries. And why not visit during the Gayant festival and witness its famous folkloric procession?
Head to Calais, near Coquelles, and tackle the 271 steps of the lighthouse, a unique opportunity to take in the incredible views of the sea and the whole city. Finish your trip in Béthune, not far from Bruay-la-Buissière. Lovers of regional cuisine and cheeses may be tempted by the "Fort de Béthune", a strong cheese made from leftover cheese mixed with alcohol. "The Nord-Pas-de-Calais region also has a stunning coastline and breathtaking cliffs," André Dennequin goes on. The exact place where, on 25 July 1909, Louis Blériot won fame with his aeroplane by crossing the English Channel. The lovely kite festival, which takes place every April, is held on the beach at Berck-sur-Mer".
André Dennequin has the final word: "Welcome friend, my door is always open". And in Nord, you will always receive a warm welcome.