In these landscapes of red brick and black slag heaps with a sometimes painful past, everything is reinvented, from the Louvre-Lens to the Cité de Wallers. History may have left the cities of the North with a marvellous architectural heritage but, above all, its their legendary sense of welcome and celebration that provides life to the evenings of the Grands’Places and the elation of their festivals. Meanwhile, this region of mining basins uses ingenuity to highlight its heritage, now classified by UNESCO. Your stay in this moving region won’t fail to surprise you.
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It’s by gauging the architectural splendour of Grand’Place and its little sister Place des Héros that you can begin your discovery of the town of Arras. From there, visit the Town Hall before heading up to the Belfry. Here, from a height of 75m, you can view the entire town before heading 12m below ground to explore the galeries des Boves. After the treasures of the Museum of Fine Arts, you can see the inimitable style of Vauban at the Citadel. Return to Place des Héros to contemplate the illumination of its Flemish Baroque facades and enjoy a warm and friendly evening in one of its cafes.
In one morning, you will find that the 14-18 war has shaped the landscape of Vimy Ridge. Here, since 1936, the huge National Memorial of Canada has stood in honour of its 66,655 victims. At Notre-Dame-de-Lorette Hill, the largest French military cemetery encircles the Basilica with 20,000 crosses. The International Memorial gathers the names of 580,000 soldiers in a ring of memory. But a century on, the region’s future is written in the fascinating Louvre-Lens, built on an old mining tile. Then your evening will let you appreciate the Art Deco elegance of Lens.
Explore the mining basin that stretches from east to west around Lens; a moving testimony of a bygone era when work in the mines shaped the lives of men and their environment. A hike on the terrils jumeaux of Loos-en-Gohelle, the highest in Europe, offers exceptional views of this World Heritage site. Spend the afternoon visiting Bruay-La-Buissière for its ancient Cité de Corons and its amazing Stade-Parc and art deco pool. The welcoming city of Bethune will offer a pleasant surprise for an evening on the illuminated Grand’Place.
In Douai, don’t miss the Hôtel de Ville and the Belfry, a splendid body of Gothic architecture built in the 14th century. Gaze all around as you walk through the old centre and be sure to take in all of its magnificent facades. Have lunch in the charming lanes before a visit to the Musée de la Chartreuse which houses some of the masterpieces from the history of painting. To end things in style, treat yourself to an evening at the daring Scène Nationale de l’Hippodrome.
Within the vast and historic mining centre of Lewarde, you can relive that time of morning when each day the ‘gueules noires’ (black faces) descended to extract coal from the bowels of the earth. Three centuries of industry, as told by the objects, the places, but also the live-testimonies of former miners. Striking. Your journey ends in Wallers where the Fosse d’Arenberg offers further evidence of the dynamic reconversion of these mining basins. The location in which Claude Berri shot his iconic Germinal, is now a university and event centre dedicated to cinema.
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