Discover coast and countryside in northern France
Closest part of France to the UK, the Hauts de France region – formerly Nord-Pas de Calais and Picardy – offers culture, coast and countryside in one neat package. You can easily combine all three in one short break.
Why go to northern France?
Hauts de France stretches from the Channel coast in the northwest to Épernay and the vineyards of Champagne in the southeast; the revitalised mining basin around Lens near the border with Belgium to the Chantilly forest on the northern outskirts of Paris. With more museums than any region outside the capital, northern France can satisfy any culture lover, but with 124 miles (200km) of broad, sandy beaches and an abundance of protected green space, the region issues an open invitation to reconnect with nature.
Take the car by ferry from Dover to Calais or Dunkirk with DFDS or drive aboard a Eurotunnel train at Folkestone and disembark in Calais. Foot passengers can relax on board Eurostar for the 82-minute journey from London-St Pancras to Lille-Europe.
5 must-do culture visits
Explore 5,000 years of history in one free-flow museum space at Louvre-Lens, first satellite museum for the internationally renowned Louvre in Paris. Wander through the Time Gallery to enjoy changing exhibits loaned from the Parisian collection as well as special exhibitions. Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, Louvre-Lens was the flagship project for the regeneration of the former mining basin around Lens, now listed by UNESCO for its cultural significance.
Premier cultural city of the north and easily accessible from the UK by Eurostar, Lille offers elegant architecture and world-class art museums alongside an exciting restaurant scene, outlet shopping and upmarket boutiques. Love art? Lille and the surrounding area caters for all tastes. Enjoy the old masters at the Fine Arts Museum, modern and contemporary works at LaM and a wide range of applied and fine arts at La Piscine, a restored Art Deco swimming pool in nearby Roubaix.
Lace and Fashion Museum in Calais
Stop off at the Lace and Fashion Museum in Calais for exquisite needlework and a whole lot more. Housed inside an atmospheric 19th-century lace factory, the museum covers everything from techniques and tools to lingerie and haute couture, fashion icons of the past to contemporary designers. The Duchess of Cambridge incorporated lace from Caudry, further south near Cambrai, in her spectacular wedding dress – find out more at the Lace and Embroidery Museum.
Around an hour’s drive from Calais, the historic market town of Arras is a gem with its huge twin squares fringed by gabled Flemish houses, most of them completely rebuilt after the devastation of the First World War. Ride the lift up the bell tower for a bird’s-eye view of squares and rooftops, take a guided history tour of the historic cellar network and browse the Saturday market stalls. And don’t miss Wellington Quarry where 24,000 Commonwealth soldiers sheltered in 1917 before the Battle of Arras – a moving visit on any Remembrance tour.
Domaine de Chantilly
You’ll need a full day to do justice to the Chantilly estate at the northern gateway to Paris. One of the most prestigious chateaux and gardens in France, it was home to the Duke of Aumale, son of the last king of France and a passionate collector. Here you can tour the second largest collection of paintings after the Louvre, relax among woods and water in the landscaped park and watch a demonstration in the Great Stables, built in the 18th century and now home to the Museum of the Horse.
5 countryside retreats
Site des Deux Caps
West of Calais, the twin headlands of Cap Blanc-Nez and Cap Gris-Nez (White Nose and Grey Nose) face southern Britain across the English Channel. Discover the geology, flora and fauna of this undulating coastal gem at Les Deux-Caps visitor centre – browse the latest nature exhibition and buy local produce from biscuits to craft beer at the shop. Then rent a bicycle or e-bike or simply set out on foot to inhale some fresh sea air and take in two countries in one stunning panoramic view.
The Seven Valleys
Inland from the stylish seaside resort of Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, the lush valleys and rolling farmland of the Seven Valleys are dotted with small character towns, glorious gardens and stirring historical sites. Admire the imaginative topiary of the Jardins de Séricourt and the scented paths of the Jardin des Lianes. Step back to the Middle Ages at Battle of Agincourt visitor centre beside the iconic battlefield. And take a tranquil walk through the Hesdin forest or a canoe excursion on the river Canche.
hoch2wo/Alamy Stock Photo
The marshland of Saint-Omer and Amiens
Time stands still in the UNESCO-listed marshlands close to the centre of historic Saint-Omer in the far north of the region. Head for the Le Maison du Marais visitor centre and take a boat trip to discover the flora, fauna and daily life in the Audomarois Marshes, a community governed by the cultivation of seasonal vegetables. Further south at Amiens, glide along the waterways of the Hortillonnages, a maze of cultivated islands close to the towering Gothic cathedral, also listed by UNESCO.
Baie de Somme
Many visitors to the Somme valley come in search of ancestors lost in the Great War, but the river estuary is one of five Regional Natural Parks in Hauts de France thanks to its wildlife and unspoilt landscape. Walk across the Baie de Somme with an expert nature guide, visit a seal colony by boat and go birdwatching at the Marquenterre bird sanctuary. Or visit the dunes and pastures of the Marquenterre on the back of a Henson horse, native to this tranquil area.
The Oise-Pays de France Regional Nature Park
Just 31 miles (50km) from Paris, Oise-Pays de France Regional Nature Park is part of a green belt of forests and open spaces to the north of the capital. Explore more than 600 miles (1,000km) of footpaths, hire a bike or book an excursion on horseback. In the heart of all this greenery, explore historic towns like Senlis and Chantilly, visit castles and manor houses and spend a day at Chantilly’s famous racecourse.
Where to stay in northern France
Explore historic Boulogne, as well as Calais and the Deux Caps from La Matelote on Boulogne seafront. And expect 5-star luxury living behind the Art Deco façade at Le Westminster in stylish Le Touquet, gateway to the Seven Valleys.
Enjoy the atmosphere of a 19th-century chateau and landscaped park at Château Tilques near Saint-Omer. Or maybe combine a city break with a round of golf at Le Fairway Hôtel and Spa on the edge of Arras golf course.
Najeti Hôtel Château Tilques/Facebook
Lille and Amiens
Find tranquillity in the beating heart of Lille at the Hotel Carlton, just ten minutes’ walk from Lille Europe station. And stay in a historic street beside the glorious cathedral in Amiens at Le Prieuré.
For a special occasion, pamper yourself in the luxurious surroundings of the Chantilly Chateau Hotel Mont Royal. To stock up on Champagne, stay close to the vineyards at the Hôtel Île de France at Chateau-Thierry overlooking the Marne Valley.
Map of northern France
Discover our favourite places in northern France with this handy map:
Lead image: BIOSPHOTO/Alamy Stock Photo
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