Por el camino

HAUTS-DE-FRANCE REGION

Departments: Aisne, Nord, Oise, Pas-de-Calais, Somme.
Population: 6.1 million inhabitants
Prefecture: Lille
Surface area: 31,813 km2
Specialities: beer, chicory, cheese (Maroilles, Vieux Lille, Boulette d'Avesnes), fried mussels, carbonade, bêtises de Cambrai, potjevlesch, fricadelle.
Sports clubs: Lille OSC, Amiens SC, RC Lens, Valenciennes-Anzin (football), BCM Gravelines-Dunkerque, ESB Villeneuve d'Ascq (basketball), US Dunkerque (handball), Amiens Gothiques (ice hockey), 
Competitions: Paris-Roubaix, Dunkirk Four Days, Grand Prix de Denain et de Fourmies, Liévin athletics meeting, 2019 women's football world cup, Davis Cup in Lille, Enduropale du Touquet, Hauts de France Golf Open, Trail Côte d'Opale.
Festivals: Arras Main Square Festival, Amiens International Film Festival, Lille European Film Festival, Amiens Archaeology Film Festival, Arras Film Festival, Opal Coast Festival, Amiens Comic Book Festival, 
Economy: mechanical and metallurgical industries, chemicals, plastics, glass, textiles, transport, logistics, mail order, food processing. First region in France for vegetable production, half of the French sugar production. 
Tourist sites: cathedrals of Amiens, Beauvais, Laon, Soissons, Abbeville, Saint-Omer, belfries of Nord-Pas-de-Calais and the Somme, citadels of Arras, Lille, Amiens and Montreuil, mining basins, castles of Chantilly, Pierrefonds, Hardelot, Olhain, Rambures
Websites and social networks: www.hautsdefrance.fr et https://www.facebook.com/regionhautsdefrance/

NORD (59)

Population: 2,608,346
Prefecture: Lille
Sub-prefectures: Avesnes-sur-Helpe, Dunkirk, Cambrai, Douai, Valenciennes
Surface area: 5,743 km².
Number of communes: 648
Specialities: potjevleesch, waterzooï, hochepot, Flemish carbonnade, welsh, petit salé, fried mussels; desserts and pastries: sugar pie and libouli pie, waffles. Local products: potatoes (30% of national production), beetroot, chicon, smoked garlic from Arleux (IGP); cheeses: Bergues, Boulette d'Avesnes, Maroilles (AOP), Mont des Cats, Vieux-Lille; charcuterie: Lucullus tongue, Cambrai andouille; confectionery: Bêtises de Cambrai, Babeluttes de Lille, Chuques du Nord; drinks: chicory, beer, juniper.
Sports clubs: LOSC, VAFC (football), LMR (rugby), Vélo Club Roubaix Lille Métropole (cycling), BCM Gravelines-Dunkerque, AS Aulnoye-Aymeries, ESBVA-LM, Saint-Amand Hainaut Basket (basketball), TLM, Volley club de Marcq-en-Barœul Lille Métropole, Cambrai Elan (volleyball), USDK, Saint-Amand Handball Porte du Hainaut (handball), Les Corsaires de Dunkerque (ice hockey), Douai Hockey Club, Cambrai Hockey Club, Lille Métropole Hockey Club (hockey) Competitions : Paris Roubaix, Grand prix de Denain, Grand prix de Fourmies, Lille-Hardelot (cycling), Ch'ti bike tour (mountain biking), Tour Voile (sailing), Play Inn Challenger (tennis).
Festivals: Dunkirk Carnival (February), Nuits Secrètes in Aulnoye-Aymeries (August), Braderie de Lille (September), Name Festival (September), Kermesse de la Bière in Maubeuge (October)
Economy: Automobile industry, transport and logistics, mass distribution, mail order, steel industry, petrochemicals, agriculture. Seven universities, including the largest in France. Websites / FB : www.lenord.fr / www.jadorelenord.fr / @departement59 / @nordtourisme

Km 1.5

LEFFRINCLOUCKE (Pop: 4,200)

This locality bordering Dunkirk is also the birthplace of Michel Hidalgo (1933-2020), former coach of the French football team (1976-1984), who led Les Bleus to win the Euro 84 on home soil. Michel Hidalgo, who died in 2020 in Marseille, where he became OM's general manager at the end of his career, was born in Leffrinckoucke because his father, of Spanish origin, had settled there as a metal worker before moving to Normandy. Another native of the town and son of a "metal worker" is the former AS Saint-Etienne midfielder Christian Synaeghel, a finalist in the European Champion Clubs' Cup with Les Verts in 1976.   

Fort des Dunes

Foundation: built in the 19th century (1878 to 1880).
Characteristics: the fort could accommodate 13 officers, 22 non-commissioned officers and 416 soldiers.
History: built as part of the Séré de Rivières system, it was later integrated into the Maginot line, was used during the battle of Dunkirk and then under the German occupation. During the Second World War, the Fort des Dunes was at the heart of Operation Dynamo, which was the largest embarkation in history, allowing the evacuation of 338,000 Allied soldiers. About a hundred soldiers died under the intense German bombardment. Other dramatic events took place there during the war, notably the execution of 8 resistance fighters in 1944.
Current use: now hosts exhibitions and guided tours (approximately 600 m² of permanent exhibition space).  

Km 10

BERGUES (Pop: 3,600)

In the 9th century, Bergues was formed on the edge of a marshy region on a spur of land by an invading people from Germania who gave it the name of Groenberg or Mont Vert. Bergues was once part of Maritime Flanders and the diocese of Ypres. Many restaurants offer local specialities: Bergues cheese, Bergues sausage or potjevleesch, washed down with a good local beer.  

Bienvenue chez les Chtis (2008)

Bienvenue chez les Chtis, released in 2008, is a comedy written and directed by Dany Boon. It tells the story of Philippe Abrams, director of a branch of the French Post Office in the South of France, who is transferred for two years to Bergues, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, as a disciplinary measure. With 20,489,303 spectators, it has the largest ever audience for a French film in cinemas in France, and the second most seen film of all nationalities (behind James Cameron's Titanic, released in 1997 with 21,774,181 spectators). Since the success of the film, Bergues has become a stronghold of French and European tourism. The Ch'ti Tour, a visit organised by the Tourist Office, brings to life this particular moment in the life of the town during the filming, in the footsteps of Dany Boon.  

Belfry of Bergues

Foundation: built in the 12th century, then rebuilt in the 14th, 16th and 20th centuries. Style: Gothic (Arch: Paul Gélis).
History: the third belfry built on the same site (the first was built in 1112), this one was rebuilt in 1961 after it was destroyed by fire (30 May 1940) and then by dynamiting (16 September 1944) by the Germans. It is broadly based on the previous belfry.
Trivia: the last surviving of the three carillons existing before the French Revolution of 1789 rings its ritornello every quarter of an hour and thus gives rhythm to the town and all its activities.
Listing: Historical Monument in 1840 and then in 2004. The belfry is also listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site as part of the Belfries of Belgium and France.
Current destination: the Belfry now houses the carillon, the Tourist Office, the Espace Beffroi and the town's art and music schools.

Km 14.6

QUAEDYPRE(Pop: 1,120)

Quaëdypre is the birthplace of Pierre Everaert (1933-1989), former teammate of Jacques Anquetil who took part in eight Tours de France between 1959 and 1966. The Northern rider also won Paris-Brussels (1960) and Paris-Camembert (1965) and wore the leader's jersey in the Tour of Spain. 

Km 19

WORMHOUT (Pop: 5,600)

Wormhout is a very old place, whose existence can be found towards the end of the 7th century in a title of the Saint-Bertin abbey. The town has twice hosted stages of the Four Days of Dunkirk, the last one for a start in 2018 (victory of André Greipel in Cassel).

Saint-Martin Church

Foundation: built in the 17th century (1613-1616).
Style: Flemish ogival style. Church-hall built of sand bricks.
History: the history of St. Martin's began in the 7th century when St. Winoc, sent by St. Bertin in 695, arrived in Worom-Holt (Wormhout) with three monks to found a monastery and a hospice. When he died in 717, St Winoc was buried in the monastery church. Devastating Norman raids destroyed the monastery, which was built largely of wood. However, the relics of the saint were saved and brought to the safety of Saint-Omer in 846. The church was rebuilt with an altar dedicated to St. Winoc. From 1547 to 1616, major restoration work was undertaken. The tower was completed in 1689; its spire was destroyed during the revolutionary wars in 1793 (Battle of Hondschoote).  

In the commune of Esquelbecq  

Esquelbecq Castle

Foundation: built in the 18th century.
Style: Flemish Renaissance.
History: the toponym Ekelsbeke, "the stream of oaks", recalls the ancient settlement of oaks in the Houtland (woodland). In the 13th century, the lordship of Esquelbecq is mentioned in genealogical documents. After the Dutch War of Independence against Spain, Valentin de Pardieu and his heirs undertook the reconstruction of the village, the church and the castle. Trivia: the imposing 126-step keep that stood in the inner courtyard of the castle was lost in a landslide in 1984.
Listing: Historical Monument in 1987.

Km 30.3

CASSEL (Pop: 2,300)

Before the arrival of the Romans, the town was an oppidum, probably the chief town of the Morins: it was then called Castellum Morinorum which later became Castellum Menapiorum. The commune won the 2018 edition of the TV show Le Village préféré des Français (France’s favourite village).   Due to the presence of one of the most famous hills in the North of France, Mont Cassel, the town is an almost obligatory stopover for the Four Days of Dunkirk, which Cassel has hosted twenty times. Cassel will also host the 2023 French road championships. It was also the hub of the Roubaix-Cassel-Roubaix race, held from 1933 to 1970.  

Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame de la Crypte

Foundation: partly erected in the 13th century.
History: burnt down and desecrated many times, it was rebuilt on its old foundations. After the revolutionary period, when it was used successively as a stable, a prison, a hospital and a Temple of Reason, it found its current form under the impetus of the Archbishop of Cambrai (the diocese of Lille did not yet exist). Remains from the Gallo-Roman era still make up the building.
Characteristics: inside, a magnificent furniture such as the organ case dating from the 17th century, or four altarpieces. Paintings by Flemish masters are also on display. There is an Adoration of the Divine Child, which is said to be attributed to Rubens.
Listing: Historical Monument in 1981.

PAS-DE-CALAIS (62)

Population: 1,466,743
Prefecture: Arras
Sub-prefectures: Béthune, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Calais, Lens, Montreuil, Saint-Omer
Surface area: 6,671 km2
Specialities: beer, endives, chicory, herring, scallops, cheeses (Fleur d'Audresselles, Abbaye de Belval, Wimereux), Andouillette of Arras.
Personalities: Raymond Kopa (Nœux-les-Mines), 1st French Ballon d’Or; Georges Carpentier (Liévin), former world boxing champion; Guy Drut, former Olympic athletics champion and former Minister for Youth and Sport (Oignies); Camille Cerf, Miss France 2015 (Calais); Louane, singer (Henin-Beaumont); Franck Ribéry, professional footballer (Boulogne sur Mer); Gérard Houllier, international football coach (Thérouanne); Nando De Colo, professional basketball player (Sainte Catherine); Maurice Garin, 1st winner of the Tour de France in 1903, died in Lens in 1957.
Sports clubs/Major events: RC Lens. Classique Cyclo Lille-Hardelot, Grand Prix Cyclisme d'Isbergues et de Lillers, Circuit automobile de Croix-en-Ternois, Trail de la côte d'opale, Enduropale du Touquet, Meeting international d'athlétisme Hauts de France - Pas-de-Calais à Liévin, Les rencontres internationales de cerfs-volants de Berck.
Main tourist sites: Côte d'Opale, Site of the 2 Capes (Blanc-Nez, Gris-Nez), Le Touquet Paris-Plage and its congress hall, Audomarois Marsh (Unesco), Tourist Railway of the Aa valley, Coupole d'Helfaut, Olhain departmental park, amusement parks (Bagatelle, Dennlys Parc... ), Keep of Bours, Great War sites and monuments (Canadian Memorial at Vimy, Ring of Memory at Ablain-Saint-Nazaire, Notre Dame de Lorette, Bullecourt...), Belval Abbey, Towers of Mont-Saint-Eloi, twin slag heaps of Liévin 11/19 (the highest in Europe)...
Culture/Festivals: Louvre-Lens, coal-mining sites (Unesco), Sainte Barbe Fair, 6 Belfries (Unesco), Arras citadel (Unesco), Main Square Festival, Dragon of Calais, Arras Film Festival, Entente Cordiale Cultural Centre in Condette-Hardelot and its Elizabethan theatre, Nausicaá National Sea Centre, Maréis Sea Fishing Discovery Centre, Azincourt 1415 Centre.
Economy: 35,054 active establishments. Roquettes Frères, Arc International, Française de Mécanique; Agricultural sector (beetroot, several cooperatives including UNEAL) and food industry (Herta, McCain, Ingredia, Pasquier, Volailles de Licques), automotive equipment manufacturers (Faurecia...), fertilisers, seafood processing industry Boulogne: 1st fishing port in France. Calais: 1st passenger port, Channel Tunnel, Pas de Calais Strait, the busiest strait in the world Major project of the Seine North Europe Canal, Delta 3 multimodal platform in Dourges, Aquimer competitiveness cluster
Websites: pasdecalais.fr @DepartementduPasdeCalais  @le_pasdecalais

Regional Nature Reserve of the Schoubrouck Meadows
Creation: 15 October 2012.
Area: on a surface of 10 hectares
Characteristics: to the north-east of Saint-Omer, the Schoubrouck meadows nature reserve covers 10 hectares of wet meadows and their ditch belts ("casiers" and "watergangs"). These environments have been preserved from the usual disturbances (drainage, water bodies, etc.) and the maintenance of extensive agricultural activity allows the presence of original habitats, sheltering characteristic and sometimes rare or threatened species.

Opale Capes and Marshes Regional Nature Park
Creation: 12 February 1986.
Surface area: 1,365 km2
Characteristics: one of the four regional nature parks (PNR) in this region. The perimeter of the park was established in March 2000 by grouping together the Boulonnais and Audomarois parks. Three countries share the territory: the Boulonnais country to the west, the Calaisis country to the north and the Saint-Omer country to the east.

Km 49.7

SAINT-OMER (Pop: 15,000)

In the east of the Pas-de-Calais, on the border with the Nord department, Saint-Omer stands out for its heritage. Labelled a Town of Art and History, it has several remarkable buildings. It is part of the regional nature park of the Opal Capes and Marshes, of which it is the most populated commune. Saint-Omer hosted the Tour de France in 2001, for a stage won by Erik Zabel in Boulogne-sur-Mer. The town also hosted the French road cycling championships in 2017, with Arnaud Démare winning the road race and Pierre Latour the time trial.  

Ruins of Saint-Bertin Abbey

Foundation: built in the early 13th century.
Style: Gothic.
Characteristics: originally, the abbey was 122 m long, 40 m wide and 25 m high under the vault.
History: a former Benedictine abbey founded in the 7th century on the edge of the marsh by the bishop of Thérouanne, it enjoyed great prosperity until the throes of the French Revolution. Most of its monastic buildings were destroyed and sold as national property.
Current destination: today, a large landscaped park retraces the history of this religious building.
Listing: Historical Monument in 1840.   

Notre-Dame de Saint-Omer Cathedral

Foundation: built between the 13th and 16th centuries.
Style: Gothic.
History: a magnificent building renowned for the richness of its furnishings and the works of art it houses, notably a 1558 astronomical clock that is unique in France. In addition to the original decorations and the materials used (marble chapel, 13th century paving stones, cabinetwork), an 18th century organ case is also listed. There is also a painting by Rubens representing the Descent from the Cross.
Listing: Historical Monument in 1840. 

Km 54

LONGUENESSE (Pop: 11,000)

The origin of this name is not perfectly established but it is likely that it is related to "Long-nez", thus designating the promontory shape of its territory. In 2004 the commune hosted a stage of the Dunkirk Four Days, won by Didier Rous.  

In Helfaut

Coupole d'Helfaut, history centre and 3D planetarium

Foundation: built in the 20th century (1943).
Creation of the museum: 1997.
Characteristics: the dome measures 71 m in diameter, 5.5 m thick and required 55,000 tons of reinforced concrete. The planetarium houses a 130-seat projection room, a 360-degree screen 15 m in diameter. It is the most modern planetarium in the world with 10K 3D technology.
History: secret underground base, built in 1943-1944 by the German army to launch V2 rockets over London.
Current destination: History centre, a space for understanding the historical and scientific stakes of the Second World War, from the Occupation to the hidden side of the conquest of space.

Km 62.9

LUMBRES (Pop: 3,600)

Lumbres was partly built on an ancient marshland, at the crossroads of the Aa and Bléquin valleys. Lumbres is one of the secondary centres of the regional nature park of the Opal Capes and Marshes. Lumbres also has the only BMX track in France that meets Olympic standards. In 2012, it was used as an Olympic preparation site for the London Games. The equipment, difficult to maintain, has since been reduced to more modest proportions. Until the end of the 1970s, the town also organised a good level cycling race, the Lumbres Three Days.

Km 105.4

ALQUINES (Pop: 1,000)

The Bullescamps relay, situated at an altitude of 211 m, is the highest point in the Pas-de-Calais department.

Km 115.4

LICQUES (Pop: 1,600)

The town hosted the Dunkirk Four Days in 2014. Thierry Hupond won the fourth stage of an edition largely dominated by Arnaud Démare.  

Notre-Dame de Licques Abbey

Foundation: built in the 18th century.
History: the collegiate church of the Virgin Mary was founded in Licques in 1131 by a nobleman known as Robert the Bearded Man on his return from the First Crusade, and then became the abbey of Notre-Dame de Licques of the Premonstratensian order in 1132.
Listing: Historical Monument in 1983 (church).

Km 133.8

RINXENT (Pop: 3,100)

Rinxent is the birthplace of Félix Goethals (1891-1962), winner of seven stages in the Tour de France between 1920 and 1924. He finished 9th overall in 1920.   

Vallée Heureuse Quarry

Operation: quarry exploited since the 19th century (1859).
Materials: hard compact limestone deposit
Surface area: 200 hectares.
History: limestone rocks are extracted and then transformed in order to produce products whose physical and chemical characteristics meet the needs of the construction and industrial sectors in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Great Britain. The activity reaches a daily production capacity of 20,000 tonnes of materials shipped by road, rail, sea or river.

Km 147.4

AUDINGHEN (Pop: 600)

A village in the Boulonnais region, it is known as the home of Cape Gris-Nez, and is therefore the closest French commune to England (only about 30 km as the crow flies). It is one of the eight communes that make up the Grand Site of the Two Capes, which was awarded the Grand Site de France label in 2011. It was in Audinghen that singer Alain Bashung married Chloé Mons in 2001. The popular French singer often went to the Opal Coast to rest.  

Museum of the Atlantic Wall

Foundation: built in the 20th century (1942). 
History: in February 1942, the Todt Battery went into action from its highly strategic location south of Cape Gris-Nez: its fire could reach the English coastline with 800 kg shells. Until 29 September 1944, the date of its surrender, the Todt battery was very active.
Current destination: in 10 rooms are displayed a quantity of collections of weapons and ammunition, uniforms as well as numerous documents relating to this dark period. Reconstructions allow visitors to immerse themselves in the confined atmosphere in which the German soldiers lived. There are also exhibits that are unique in Europe, notably a German K5 gun and marine artillery on a railway.  

St Pierre Church

Foundation: Built in the 20th century (1960).
Style: modern architecture
Characteristics: distinguished by its concrete bell tower in the shape of a lyre.
History: the old village church was destroyed during the Allied bombing in 1943. After the war, the project to rebuild it identically was abandoned. Only a few statues remained and were reinstalled in the present church.
Listing: Historical Monument in 2006.

Km 159.3

ESCALLES (Pop: 220)

A village on the Côte d’Opale, it is mainly known for being home to Cape Blanc-Nez, one of the main tourist sites in the north of France. The village is one of the eight communes that make up the Grand Site of the Two Capes, which was awarded the Grand Site de France label in 2011.  

Grand Site of the Two Capes

The Grand Site of the Two Capes, awarded the Grand Site de France label in 2011, covers the coastal area of the Opale Capes and Marshes Nature Park on a territory of 7,500 hectares consisting of the cliffs of Cape Blanc-Nez and Cape Gris-Nez, the dune massifs of the Slack located between Ambleteuse and Wimereux and the undulating bocage. The Grand Site of the two capes includes the municipalities of Sangatte, Escalles, Wissant, Tardinghen, Audinghen, Audresselles, Ambleteuse and Wimereux, as well as fine sandy beaches that stretch over several kilometres, various hiking trails including the GR 120 that runs along the coast from Sangatte to Wimereux.

Km 153.4

SANGATTE (Pop: 5,000)

Small seaside resort, which also includes the hamlet of Blériot-Plage. It has an 8 km long beach of fine sand. From 1999 to 2002, the commune received significant media exposure for hosting a reception centre for migrants seeking to cross into the UK. It has also hosted several refugee camps. The town will bring back fond memories for Thomas Voeckler, who won a stage of the Dunkirk Four Days in 2005.

Km 168.3

BLERIOT-PLAGE        

On 25 July 1909, Louis Blériot was the first aviator to cross the Channel, taking off at sunrise, a condition demanded by the Daily Mail, which was behind the challenge and handed him the sum of 25,000 gold francs at stake. The crossing took 37 minutes, from the hamlet of Les Baraques, near Calais, to Dover, at the controls of the Blériot XI. A monument to Louis Blériot was inaugurated on 15 July 1911 in Les Baraques, a hamlet which, in accordance with the decision of the Sangatte municipal council of 9 August 1936, was named after the aviator and is now called Sangatte-Blériot-Plage.  

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