Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardy region guide
PUBLISHED: 16:37 15 June 2016 | UPDATED: 15:01 15 November 2016
An insider’s guide to Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardy in northern France, including the main attractions to visit on holiday, the best towns and villages to live in, the major festivals and events, and buying property in Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardy
France’s northernmost region, Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardy comprises of the two former regions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy which were merged when France’s regions were changed in January 2016. It borders Belgium and the other French regions of Île-de-France, Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine and Normandy and to the north is the English Channel. The new name of this merged region has yet to be confirmed but it is likely to be Hauts-de-France.
The region is easy to reach from the UK with regular ferries from Dover to Calais, a direct Eurostar train from London to Lille and only a few hours from Paris, so it is popular with visitors. The region was a major battleground during both the First and Second World Wars and many visitors come to see the battlefields, memorials and museums. There is also much beautiful countryside, picturesque coastline and a few lively towns, including Lille, to explore.
The food and culture in the region is heavily influenced by neighbouring Belgium and you will find Flemish beer is as popular as wine here and you may also hear Flemish still being spoken.
Departments in Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardy
Pas-de-Calais is the northernmost tip of France on the Channel. It has a spectacular coastline, historic villages and war memorials. The capital is Arras.
Nord borders Belgium and is one of the most populated departments in France with plenty of history. The capital is the bustling city of Lille.
Aisne is home to many forests and, despite suffering badly during the two world wars, it has a number of historic monuments. The capital is Laon.
Oise is just north of Paris and is a treasure trove of former royal palaces, gothic cathedrals, castles and chateaux as well as 120,000 hectares of forest. The capital is Beauvais.
Somme is home to a number of war memorials and battlefields including the site of the infamous Battle of the Somme in WWI. The capital is Amiens.
Plane: Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport is just 30 minutes from Chantilly and 90 minutes from Amiens.
Train: There is a direct Eurostar train from London St Pancras to Lille which takes around 90 minutes or TGV trains from Paris to Lille take just over an hour.
Car: There are regular ferries from Dover to Calais or you can take the Eurotunnel from Folkstone to Calais which takes just 90 minutes.
Places to visit in Nord-Pas-de-Calais
Lille has strong industrial roots but is now a classy and self-confident commercial and cultural hub. Start at La Grand Palace, a large open square, and visit the Vieille Bourse, 24 identical 17th-century houses surrounding a large inner courtyard. There were three renowned art galleries, including the Palais des Beaux Arts, stylish shopping and dining options and a vibrant night-life.
Arras was heavily bombed during the First World War but has been carefully rebuilt. The old town now has two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Gothic town hall belfry and the Vauban citadel. Other attractions include La Grand’Place and La Place des Héros which are flanked by 155 Flemish-Baroque townhouses topped with curvaceous Dutch gables. The Art District is renowned for its Italian-style theatre hall built in 1785.
A small industrial town in Pas de Calais, Lens came to everyone’s attention when the Musée Louvre-Lens opened in 2012. A satellite of the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the museum is located on a former coal mine and features a selection of masterpieces from the Louvre’s core collection. In 2016 Lens is once again on the map as host of several of the UEFA Euro 2016 matches. The coal slagheaps, a legacy from the town’s mining days, are now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Amiens has an impressive Gothic cathedral which has been given UNESCO World Heritage status. The St-Leu quarter is particularly pleasant with narrow streets full of art galleries, bookshops, boutiques and antiques dealers, mingling with its narrow and colourful houses. The floating gardens of Les Hortillonnages are a must-see and on a Saturday morning the hortillons (gardeners) sell their products at the water market.
Dunkirk is probably best known for its role in the First World War when Allied troops were rescued from the beaches by the ‘little ships’ from Britain in the Dunkirk Landings. Now it is a bustling port town with traditional shops and street markets and a sandy beach.
Boulogne-sur-Mer is located on the Opal Coast and is an important fishing port. It has nice sandy beaches and a pretty old town with 13th-century ramparts, a castle and cathedral. The belfry is one of a series of belfries across northern France and Belgium that are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Roubaix was once a major textiles town and has an interesting heritage of old textile mills and urban architecture. It is famous as being the end of the Paris-Roubaix cycle race. Make sure you visit the Musée d’Art et d’Industrie which is housed in La Piscine, a stylish art deco swimming pool.
Beauvais stands on the River Thérain where it meets the River Avelon. The city’s cathedral, the Cathédrale St-Pierre is a rare example of Carolingian architecture and heroine Jeanne Hachette whose bravery saved the city in 1472, is commemorated in a bronze statue which stands opposite the town hall.
Laon is home to many historic monuments and is designated a town of art and history. The ornate Gothic cathedral is a must see as are the ruins of the Vauclair Abbey and the town’s medieval centre. On a hill just outside the town, Château de Coucy is a 13th-century castle that is popular with visitors.
There are only two plus beaux villages de France in Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardy – Parfondeval its striking red-brick and grey slate-roofed houses and Gerberoy home to pretty half-timbered houses. Other pretty villages to visit include Valery-sur-Somme, a charming medieval village on the Baie de la Somme, and Fort-Mahon-Plage with a sandy beach backed by colourful houses.
Things to do in Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardy
The Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardy region was a major battleground during both the First and Second World Wars and many people visit to see the battlefields, memorials and museums. The major battlefield in the region is that of the infamous Battle of the Somme 1916-18, where more than a million men were wounded or killed. Memorials include those along the Chemin des Dames and Vimy Ridge and some of the best museums are the Museum of the Great War in Péronne, the Somme 1916 museum in Albert and the Carrière Wellington Museum in Arras.
As well as war museums you will find one of the largest aquariums in Europe, Nausicaa in Boulogne-sur-Mer; the Musée Louvre-Lens, a satellite of the Louvre in Paris; and the Cité Internationale de la Dentelle et de la Mode in Calais dedicated to the history of lace-making.
Oise is only 35km from Paris and was a retreat for the royals meaning there are plenty of royal residences, castles and chateaux to explore, including Château de Pierrefonds, Palais de Compiègne and Château de Chantilly.
There is plenty for nature-lovers in the region. The Côte d’Opale (Opal Coast) is a spectacular coastline of chalk cliffs, elegant resorts and sandy beaches bordering the Channel. Try the dunes at Malo-les-Bains, the family-friendly beach at Wimereux, or the wide beaches of Hardelot and Le Touquet-Paris-Plage for a bucket-and-spade day. Further inland you will find the Sept Vallées (Seven Valleys), France’s first regional nature park, the Parc Naturel Régional de Scarpe-Escaut, and the Site des Deux Caps made up from Cap Gris-Nez and Cap Blanc-Nez which offer spectacular views. If you are looking for wildlife then head to the Baie de la Somme, one of the best areas for bird-watching in France.
If you visit in December then don’t miss the Christmas markets, especially the Lille marché de noël. Other events not to be missed are the annual braderie de Lille, a massive antiques fair, the Paris-Roubaix cycle race, the international kite festival in Berck-sur-Mer and the bird and nature festival in the Bay of Somme. Keep the kids amused by visiting Parc Astérix, a theme park based on the stories of Astérix and Obelix.
Some of the local food specialities include moule-frites, beef braised in Flemish beer, ficille Picardie, a ham and mushroom crêpe baked in a rich cream sauce. Also try the macarons d’Amiens, crème Chantilly, honey from Aisne and AOC Maroilles cheese. The part of France loves beer as much as wine and you will find a number of local Flemish beers from small artisan breweries.
Buying property in Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardy
The average property price in Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardy region is slightly lower than the average for France. Large towns, like Lille, are more expensive as are areas that are within commuting distance of Paris.
The most expensive area of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardy is around the town of Senlis which is near Chateau de Chantilly and on the border of the Ile-de-France region. The department of Oise, which borders Ile-de-France and is therefore within commuting distance of Paris, is the most expensive department in Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardy with an average property price of €180,000. The town of Lille is also expensive, with an average property price of €178,500.
The good news is that there are plenty of areas in Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardy where the property prices are lower than the national average. If you are looking for a lively town then try Arras (average property price of €135,000) or Amiens (€150,000), or, if you prefer the coast, take a look at Boulogne-sur-Mer (€144,500) and around Montreuil-sur-Mer (€145,000). However, if you are looking for a real property bargain then try the areas around Vervins (€70,000), Saint-Quentin (€90,000), Cambrai (€99,000) and Péronne (€90,000).
Many houses in northern France and made from brick so in Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardy you will find plenty of red or brown brick properties both in towns and the countryside. You will also come across a lot of farmhouses with fully enclosed central courtyards and maisons de maître. Along the coast you will find large seaside villas that often come with land and a peaceful surrounding.
You can find properties for sale in Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardy on France Property Shop
Don’t miss our other region guides including:
And find out how and why France’s regions changed