Recharge your batteries in the Hauts-de-France

Here, kindness grows like watercress, and resilience takes root with the strength of chicory. The opalescent blue-grey of the sea, mystical forests, royal buildings, lend themselves to invigorating escapades. With its totem poles, belfries, slag heaps and cathedrals, the flat country combines humour and love.

Fraternising with a tree

Frail birches, young pines, flamboyant beeches: for 20 years, Christian Decamme has been accompanying people on forest baths under the forest trees of Compiègne. Neither the 850 year old yew nor the oldest forest oak in France, the one in Saint Jean aux Bois, are on the programme: every tree is remarkable in the eyes of this pioneer of sylvotherapy. We progress in silence, slowly, with our feet on the moss, attentive to the canopy that wanders up there, to the silences inhabited by the cracking of branches, the squeaking of insects. Little by little, you let go until you dare to put your palm down, to press your forehead against the bark. Behind, the sap pulsates. How calm and welcoming a tree is. Thanks to sylvotherapy, hugging trees is no longer reserved for deer and children.

Christian Decamme's Facebook page (External link)
More about sylvotherapy in Hauts-de-France (External link)

Dancing with the waves of the North Sea

Hearts up! The swell settles with regularity on the long grey wave of Malo-les-Bains. You put on your thick wetsuit, slip a slipper into the North Sea, and let the cool water slide down to your chest. Trying the longe-côte in Dunkirk, its birthplace, is an additional pleasure. With the smiles of dolphins and the sharp eye of a seagull, the instructors of the Opale Longe Côte club reassure the novices and help them to walk along the shore. An hour to sculpt your abs, to soak up the sea spray, to watch the gulls skimming the foam a few metres away, and to recharge your body with mineral salts. No shower, unfortunate!

Opale Longe Côte (French website) (External link)

Botanising above the mining towns

The 51 slag heaps, classified as Unesco heritage sites, which emerge from the flat country are hanging gardens. This is demonstrated by the two pyramids overlooking the base of the 11-19 and the former pithead of Loos-en-Gohelle. Their soot-coloured slopes are riddled with the yellow flowers of the horned poppies, the red fruits of the rosehips and the green leaves of the reeds. Up to 300 species of flora grow on the ancient sediments excavated at a depth of almost a thousand metres. And as their dark hues attract heat, the most northerly lizards in France can even be seen here. From the top, 186 m high, the view embraces the Lens stadium, the Flanders mountains and the metal trestle of the former mining city.

Climbing to the top of a slag heap (External link)

Swimming under the chapel of a royal hospital

Since 1767, the Hôpital Général de la Charité has stood with its Hainaut blue stone walls in the heart of the beautiful brick town of Valenciennes. Seven years of renovation have transformed it into an exceptional hotel, with a monumental veranda and 79 rooms and suites under six-metre high ceilings. The chapel is the largest in a hospital in France. The jewel of the place is hidden under the altar: a 22 x 10 metre swimming pool with eight columns.

Le Royal Hainaut Spa & Resort Hotel (External link)

Listening to masterpieces in Lille and Roubaix

The senses as well as knowledge are delighted to visit the 90 museums in France. In Roubaix, the Piscine floods its visitors with perfumes (on the 3rd Sunday of each month). Pilates classes, on certain evenings, are held in front of Bourdelle's Muses: a beautiful way to gain strength. As soon as you enter, the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille displays close-up details of its remarkable works. Scrutinised with a magnifying glass, the Parliament of London and the Feast of Herod reveal the delicacy of Monet's brush and Donatello's chisel. Fascinating! Until next January, as part of the Open Museum, desks will be set up to allow the contemplation of certain works to music. No bans. Bizet's Carmen brings Puvis de Chavannes' Sleep to life with vigour, and Tchaikovsky's 4 Seasons brings to life the famous relief plans...

Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille (External link)

Enjoy a vegan brunch in Lille

There is no menu in this tiny tea room on the rue d'Angleterre, which hides a green heart behind its black façade. At Oxalis et Bergamote, gluten-free speculoos cheesecake and pumpkin velouté are accompanied by plant milks and spring water teas prepared with respect for the leaves and roots. Recognised by les Sublimeurs (External link) , a network of locavore gourmets, this balanced brunch is as virtuous as it is delicious.

Oxalis and Bergamot (External link)

Awakening your senses in the Baie de Somme

With the nature guide Maxim Marzi, Caroline Dassonville invites you to "blow in the bay". On an immense territory, the foreshore joining the Opal and Albatre coasts, which the tides constantly renew. The sophrologist likes to make an appointment with the Pointe du Hourdel in the morning, when the moon can still be seen in the sky. Little by little, the waters infiltrate the mudflats, rehydrate the saltwort and transform the sands into mirrors. In the distance, some dark shapes: seals? She invites us to put our feet in the water to feel the force of the tilt, the attraction of the moon and the sun. Facing the roofs of Le Crotoy, the birds sing at the top of their voices. Hello, the Bay of the Somme!

Sophrology with Caroline Dassonville (External link)
Outings in the Bay of the Somme with Maxim Marzi (External link)

Getting to Hauts-de-France