SAINT-LAURENT BLANGY (Pop: 6,650)
Saint-Laurent-Blangy German necropolis
Built in the early 1920s by France to regroup the remains of German soldiers killed south of Arras, the necropolis hosts most of the unidentified bodies in the Artois sector. Bodies found north of the sector were regrouped in another necropolis in Neuville St Vaast. From 1926, the VDK (Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge, the service of German military graveyards) signed an agreement with French authorities to plant trees and build a wall around the tombs. The work of identification of the soldiers only ended after WWII. In 1966, the VDK continued its mission of reconciliation and replaced wooden crosses by iron ones. Nearly 32,000 German soldiers rest on the site, 11,500 of whom have not been identified.
SAILLY-EN-OSTREVENT (Pop: 720)
Several megaliths can be found in the area but the most spectacular is probably the cromlech of Les Bonnettes, composed with five stones standing on a small hill in Sailly-en-Ostrevent.
NEUVILLE-SAINT-RÉMY (Pop: 3,850)
This town in Cambrai’s suburbia gave its name to the De Neuville chocolate brand that used to be made in town since 1883.
CAMBRAI (Pop: 33 000)
Known worldwide for its “betises” (follies), the sub-prefecture of the Nord department hosted the Tour de France three times in the 21st century. In 2004, the “town with three bell-towers” was the starting point of a team time trial finishing in Arras. In 2010, Alessandro Petacchi won a bunch sprint in Reims. In 2015, Germany’s Tony Martin won on his own in Cambrai after breaking clear three kilometres from the finish line of a stage already taking place on the Paris-Roubaix cobbles. Less industrial than its neighbours, destroyed during WWI, Cambrai has always risen from its ashes and has always reconciled its past and its present. A good example of this is the transformation of the imposing Jesuit College into the new municipal library.
The belfry is a World Heritage site like 22 other belfries of the North region. All symbolise the liberties aquired by the rich merchant towns of the Middle Ages.
Campanile and Martin et Martine bell-strikers
Standing in the middle of the main square, the Town Hall has been since 1512 home to bell-strikers Martin and Martine, the wardens of the town. Thirty-two chimes and bells ring every 15 minutes to the tune of Martin’s children.
ANICHE (Pop: 10,000)
A mining and glassware stronghold, formerly the French capital of window-making, Aniche remains an active little town, with seven glass factories still active (Drion, Saint-Gobain). From this industrial past, Aniche retained a cinema, the Ideal Cinema, installed in the former headquarters of the local trade union and considered the oldest cinema of its kind in the world because it has been in service since 1905. The town also has a glassware memorial museum, retracing the history of the industry. Legend has it that novelist Jules Verne came to Aniche in 1860 to discuss with the local glaziers whether the nine portholes of his Nautilus submarine would resist the pressure of the deep sea. The industrial history is linked to cycling for Aniche used to hold a cycling Grand Prix in the 1950s during the St Laurent Fair honouring the patron of the glaziers. In 2016, Aniche held a stage of the Dunkirk Four Days won by Bryan Coquard.
MONTIGNY-EN-OSTREVENT (Pop: 4,800)
In Montigny stands one of the last vestiges of the Middle Ages in the Douai region, the 13th century chateau de Montmorency. In 1130, Robert I of Montigny built a first stone tower on a hill in the middle of a marsh. In the 13th century, a second tower was added and the castle took its current aspect. Partly ravaged during the Hundred Years War, it became a noble residence. A medieval festival is held every year in the castle, now turned into a professional school.
MARCHIENNES (Pop: 4,620)
From the abbey around which the town was built, only remains the huge portal now housing the town hall and a few outside buildings, including the former jail, now turned into a museum. The town held for 25 years a peculiar festival know as Curcubitades, honouring squash and witches! It could start anew in 2018.
Marchiennes is also the birthplace of Alain Deloeuil, sports director with Team Cofidis since its creation in 1997.
ORCHIES (Pop: 8,500)
Orchies is better known by cycling fans thanks to its cobbled sector, a classic of Paris-Roubaix, also know as Pavé du chemin des abattoirs (cobbles of the slaughterhouse path). The town hosted Tour de France stages twice. In 1982, for the first time in the Tour history, a stage scheduled to start from Orchies had to be cancelled because of a demonstration by workers from steel company Usinor. Thirty years later, in 2012, Peter Sagan won a stage starting in Orchies and finishing in Boulogne-sur-Mer. Orchies was also three times the finish of a Dunkirk 4 Days stage, each time crowning sprinters (Marcel Kittel in 2011, Arnaud Demare in 2014 and Bryan Coquard in 2015). Orchies is also known as the headquarters of the Leroux Chicory company, implanted in town since 1858. Leroux sponsored a cycling team from the late 1950s until 1963, with riders such as Jacques Anquetil or Jean Stablinski. The company also used to organise the GP d’Orchies between 1953 and 1977. The Museum of Chicory retraces the history of the Leroux company in Orchies.
CAPELLE-EN-PÉVÈLE (Pop: 2,250)
The town has been since 1830 the home of Florimond-Desprez, one of the leading companies in the world for the production of seeds. It was founded in 1811 by Florimond Desprez, who made his first attempts at producing beetroot seeds at a local farm, which still host the company’s headquarters.
TEMPLEUVE (Pop: 6,000)
Known as “the witches town” since a series of trials for witchcraft in the 17th century. Templeuve also features on the Pairs-Roubaix route thanks to the cobbled sector known as “the windmill of Vertain”.
Moulin de Vertain (Vertain windmill)
This windmill of Vertain, possibly dating from the 15th century, is unique by its mechanism. While the wings of other mills turn from the roof, Vertain’s are articulated around a pivot placed in the middle of the building. The mill ceased to function in 1908 and was seriously damaged in WWI before being restored in 1980. It became a historical monument in 1978.
CAMPHIN-EN-PÉVÈLE (Pop: 2,300)
Another traditional town on the Paris-Roubaix course, Camphin-en-Pévèle is also the commune on which lies the infamous Carrefour de l’Arbre, one of the Hell of the Norhts most renowned spots. The site of the Battle of Bouvines, the Carrefour (crossroads) does not feature on the stage course. The estate of Luchin, home to Lille football club LOSC, is also in Camphin.
HEM (Pop: 19,000)
Hem is the town of former pursuit world champion Alain Bondue, who rode the Tour de France three times between 1984 and 1986, the year when he won a stage of the Vuelta. The general manage of the Cofidis team until 2004, he now works in real estate. To see in Hem, the Sainte-Thérèse-de-l'enfant-Jésus et de la Sainte-Face chapel, designed in 1956 by Swiss architect Hermann Baur by request of textile tycoon Philippe Leclercq. It contained stained glass windows by Alfred Manessier and several other modern works of art.
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