France needs no introduction when it comes to travel. Despite being one of the world’s most famous holiday destinations, 95% of France remains largely off the tourist map, more so in the case of Indians. Traveling to France usually means a visit to Paris and French Riviera. However, just one hour away from the home of Eiffel Tower lies “France’s best-kept secret”.
Northern France, an under-the-radar region has always remained in the shadow of the glamorous capital. However, once you visit the region, it’s impossible to not become its diehard fan. Northern France has an astoundingly rich and diverse historic heritage and its range of natural environments in unrivaled by any other region in France or even Europe.
Here are the 10 reasons to visit Northern France:
1. Because it is well connected with major cities
There are a very few places that can boast of the connectivity as Northern France has. 1 hour from Paris, 30 minutes from Brussels and 1.5 hours from London. You can use Eurail Global Pass to get from anywhere in high-speed trains like TGV. The best part is you don’t have to travel a lot from the airport to get to a train station. Within 4 minutes of coming out of the Paris Airport, I could board a high-speed TGV train to Lille. Yes, it’s that easy. The other option is self-drive. Personally, that’s my favourite as you can pull over anywhere to admire the French dreamscapes.
2. Because it wrote the history of Europe since the middle ages
Whether it was the French revolution or the two world wars, Northern France has always been in the thick of the action. The famous battles of Normandy and Dunkirk were fought in the region. And, one can still see the relics of the glory as well as horrid past juxtaposed next to the modern world. And, it’s not just war relics that are preserved. French are very passionate about their past and culture. And, that’s the reason why you can still hear classical songs on the radio or in restaurants. And, traditional cuisine is not limited to annual events.
3. Because it’s difficult to encapsulate region’s sheer variety
Northern France has an astoundingly rich and diverse historic heritage, and its range of natural environments is unrivaled by any other region in France or even Europe. Lille impressed me with its Flemish-Spanish influence, cool brasseries, and swanky shopping streets while Le Touquet simply swept me off my feet with its coastal glamour. Amiens bewitched with its heritage-nature charm and Chantilly doled out a royal carpet. It’s difficult to encapsulate the sheer variety in the region.
4. Because it has the friendliest and kindest people in France
French people are misjudged to be unfriendly and cold. But, I experienced the opposite. Not only are they friendly and funny but they go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and welcomed. Here’s an example.
I was on a self-drive trip through Northern France when on one fateful day I forgot my laptop charger in the hotel. I was 115-km away and was running on a tight schedule. To make the matters worse, I had a flight next day and my charger was of an old make that wasn’t available in stores. It was a catch-22 situation with no feasible solution in sight. At that time, a local friend, Pierre, came to my rescue. Without batting an eye, he spent a day on the road correcting my mistake.
5. Because it has the largest and the tallest Cathedral in France
Paris’ Notre Dame might be the most popular cathedral in France, but Notre Dame Amiens gargantuan cathedral is about twice the size. It is impossible to not get impressed by this twice conferred UNESCO World Heritage site, which is one of the largest medieval cathedrals in the world, filled with jaw-dropping sculptures and soaring gothic spires.
6. Because it has France’s Horse Capital – Chantilly
Just an hour’s drive from Paris or 30 minutes by train— I found a Renaissance gem and the Horse Capital of France, Chantilly. A city that has been built around racehorse and no wonder Chantilly Racecourse is home to two of France’s most important races – the Prix du Jockey Club and, the Prix de Diane. Not only does it have the largest racehorse-training community in France but is also a home to the Living Museum of the Horse at Great Stables.
7. Because here you can find the Venice of the North
The charming town of Amiens in the Hauts-de-France region combines the watery beauty of Venice with French small town elegance. The Saint-Leu district with its canals and the 2000 years old floating gardens (hortillonnages) are a must-see attraction. Rustic cottages, colourful flower beds, and activity areas dot islands along the canals, with ducks and swans playing along peacefully.
8. Because it is where the rich come to relax
Le Touquet, an affluent coastal town, has long been a playground of the rich, not just from France but from all over the world, where famous figures like French President, Emmanuel Macron, owns a home. In the past, frequent visitors included Winston Churchill, Prince Edward, and even James Bond’s creator Ian Fleming, who lived here and drew inspiration for Casino Royale from the town’s casino. There’s no dearth of action here – endless sandy beach, horse riding, tennis, golfing, racing, gambling, and sand-yachting.
9. Because you can follow in the footsteps of Joan of Arc
Saint-Valery-sur-Somme’s name was written in history books because of Joan of Arc, one of the greatest Lady General in the world and the National Heroine of France, who led the country to many victories in the 15th century. In 1431, she has held a prisoner in the local prison before being dispatched to Rouen for her execution.
10. Because here eating and drinking is a serious business
Eating in Northern France is a voyage for your taste buds. Whether you love sweet or savoury, fine dining or quick bite; your food will always delight you. It would be a crime to not try local signature dishes like the Carbonnade Flamande (Beef stew), Méert waffle (a favourite of General Charles de Gaulle), Welsh (Ham, bread, beer and cheese), pot’je vleesch (rabbit, veal, chicken meat, served cold in a pot of savoury jelly with French fries) and Mussels. Northern France is not a wine-growing country and locals prefer beer. Do try Célestin’s beers. And, like other parts of the country, cheese is very good here. You can find over one thousand variety of cheeses here.
So, when are you booking a trip to #Northern France? And, don’t forget to visit three Villages along the Saone River as well.
An edited version of this story was published in Sakal Times
Have you ever visited Northern France? If yes, I would love to hear from you.
PS: I am sure many of you are following my ongoing #OffbeatEuropeWithTSW journey on my social media channels. In case you want to know more, do read how I am managing 4 months Solo Budget Travel in Europe and stay tuned for upcoming posts.
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I was in Northern France on the invitation of region Hauts-de-France. Everything expressed above is based on my personal experience and conversations I had in the region. All images used were shot by me. Please don’t use any image or text without written permission.