Far away, so close
Hauts de France: culture, art, gastronomy and architecture.
Athough the northernmost region of France, Hauts-de-France may be synonymous with destinations such as the Somme and Villers-Bretonneux, travellers heading to France for the Rugby World Cup in 2023 are encouraged to explore its diverse assortment of history, art, culture and gastronomy.
An easy train trip (or drive) from central Paris, the Gothic cathedrals of Amiens and Senlis await, as well as 18th-century chateaux in Chantilly and Pierrefonds, the magnificent floating gardens of Amiens, and the cobblestones and markets of the quaint 'Old Town' of Lille.
Paris - Lille
Slightly crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside (photo © Hauts-de-France/AS Flament)
One-of-a-kind boutiques, historic monuments and memorable gastronomy abound in Lille. Leave the train (just an hour and 10 minutes from Paris) and make your way towards the main square, to the town hall's belfry. From up high are spectacular views across Lille. from the Porte de Paris, bearing the hallmark of Louis XIV, all the way to the hills of Flanders in Belgium.
Keep watch for the heroie goddess enthroned on a column at Place du Général de Gaulle, (named after the former French leader born in Lille). Nearby, at Vieille Bourse, the Old Stock Exchange, with its 24 identical houses adorned with coats of arms. It's easy to recall an era in which Lille was a thriving commercial hub. As you step through the sloping cobbled lanes of Lille's Old Town, look up and observe the facades of the Flemish inspired houses. Look for the lion, the symbol of the capital of Flanders, and look forward to generous hospitality.
Cafes and dining options abound - Tous les Jours Dimanche for savoury tarts and homemade cakes; L'Impertinente tearoom for tasty 'gatals', or local beers at the Célestin microbrewery. For a culture fix, Palais des Beaux Arts de Lille is home to works by Goya, Rodin and Raphael.
After a big day on foot, the elegant, five-star Clarance Hôtel on Rue de la Barre is a welcoming retreat. The gastronomy of Table du Clarance, under Michelin starred chef Thibaut Gamba, is a worthy illustration of the region's gastronomie excellence.
Lille - Viller - Bretonneux - Amiens
Honouring those who lost their lives (photo ©CRT Hauts-de-France Nicolas Bryant)
Get behind the wheel for a deeply moving experience as you witness the battlefields of the Somme. Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery, 15 minutes west of Lille, honours those who lost their lives in The Battle of Fromelles, the single bloodiest day in Australian military history, on which day 5,000 Australians were killed, wounded or missing. The cemetery contains 225 Australian soldiers.
Villers Bretonneux is the site of the Australian National Memorial, the Victoria School, the Franco-Australian Museum and Sir John Monash Centre where so many varied and moving experiences can be found in relation to Australia's commitment to our allies in the first World War.
Wrap up the day with a 20 minute drive to Amiens, major city of the Somme county.
With its meandering canals lined with cafes and restaurants, it's known to many as the 'Venice of the north. For a luxe stay in central Amiens try Hotel Spa Marotte. Dine at La Galerie des Recettes or any number of bistros such as Bistrot Saint Germain, Bistro Regent and Bistrot La Peña.
Australia's story of the Western Front at The Sir John Monash Center( photo ©CRT Hauts-de-France Nicolas Bryant)
Amiens - Naours - Pierrefonds
Travellers with a sweet tooth and a taste for tradition must stop in at the renowned Jean-Progneux 'macaron d'Amiens' which dates back five generations. Take your pick of moreish macarons, delicate pastries or devour a box of delicate handmade chocolates.
Within 10 minutes of Hotel Le Marotte is the picturesque Saint- Leu Quarter. With its scenic alleys and colourful, half timbered houses in Place du Don of wattle and daub, wood and brick, il's easy to muse on Middle Ages canals and alleyways alive with the sounds and scents of the many mills. They once processed wheat and sometimes woad leaves (which made the pigment for the famous 'Amiens blue') and tanneries.
A colourful history
A famous landmark funded from the proceeds of the lucrative woad processing trade in the 12th century is the well-known gothic, UNESCO-listed Amiens Cathedral. From July to September its facade is illuminated in bold colours reminiscent of medieval times.
Twenty minutes from Amiens, beneath the plateau of Picardy, is the fascinating subterranean city of Naours. Hollowed out of limestone in the third century, Naours features a three-kilometre complex of tunnels and caves, recognised as the largest in northern France and a place of refuge for soldiers on leave. Thousands of soldiers' signatures - 1,800 believed to be Australian - were discovered on the caves' walls after WWI; the largest concentration of World War 1 inscriptions on the Western Front. Look out for the graffiti at the eaves' entrance.
Equally impressive in the nearby village of Vignacourt is a photo archive of WW1 diggers, discovered in 2010. French couple Louis and Antoinette Thuillier photographed people passing through their village, an allied staging point, casualty clearing station and recreation area for troops on the Somme. The collection holds nearly 4,000 lithographs of Australian, British, French, American and Indian soldiers, along with Chinese labour corps and French civilians.
Pierrefonds is the final drive for the day (allow 1.5 hours). For a quaint hotel, book in at L'Auberge À La Bonne Idée, in Compiègne Forest, five minutes from the Château de Pierrefonds. A one Michelin-star meal is a must.
The Saint-Leu quarter is the oldest part of the city of Amiens ©CRT Hauts-de-France Stéphane Bouilland
Pierrefonds - Senlis
If vou're fascinated by feudal life, get your fix of cannon balls embedded in walls (real cannonballs), barricades and weaponry of the Middle Ages at Cháteau de Pierrefonds. It was taken down in the 17th century and rebuilt in the 19th century by prominent architect Eugène Viollet-le Duc, also responsible for the Notre Dame Cathedral restoration of the time Afterwards, try a gente paddleboat ride on Pierrefonds Lake.
Complete the day in the medieval village of Senlis, once home to the monarchs of the early French dynasties. Walk carefully through cobblestoned streets and get along to the gothic Senlis Cathedral and the Art and Archaeological Museum.