It’s so easy to get to Nord-Pas-de-Calais that it’s easy to overlook our nearest French neighbour and that’s a shame.
It is true to say that the weather is more akin to that of Southern England, but in the summer it can be very pleasant and there are some splendid sights to be seen with delightful coastline and sleepy villages further inland.
If you don’t want to travel far or only have a few days to spare, this diverse region is the ideal spot for a quick French fix, with many gîte owners offering short breaks.
Sand, sea and scenery
Nord-Pas-de-Calais certainly came up trumps with the sandy side of the Channel. From Malo-les-Bains in the north to Berck-Plage in the south, the region is blessed with some glorious beaches. Have a sand yachting lesson on the wide open sands of Le Touquet, go horse riding through the shallows at neighbouring Hardelot, or just create your own beach games beneath the coloured seaside villas at Wimereux. Enjoy views of Britain’s south coast from the cliff path over the Grand Site des Deux Caps, classified as an area of outstanding natural beauty, and visit the environmental discovery centre amongst the dunes at Saint-Etienne-au-Mont.
Walking and cycling
With so many sign-posted footpaths and cycle tracks, Nord-Pas-de-Calais is perfect for family fun in the fresh air. Undulating enough to be interesting, but flat enough to be accessible to all, the region offers a wide choice of inland and coastal tracks where you can relax and enjoy the great outdoors away from the traffic. Ask at any tourist office for maps, leaflets and suggested itineraries. In need of refreshment? Refuel at a traditional village pub to enjoy local food and maybe even some traditional Flemish wooden games.
Sports and soft adventure
The chic seaside resort of Le Touquet offers horse riding, tennis and a wide range of water-based sports. Head inland up the river Canche and you enter the Seven Valleys, an idyllic area of lush countryside and rolling fields, dotted with pretty villages. Hire bikes, strike out on foot, or paddle down the Canche from Beaurainville; enjoy nature walks along the shady trails of the Hesdin forest; or stroll the country lanes with a donkey from A Petit Pas in Ruisseauville. In the far east of the region, go sailing on the tranquil lake of Valjoly in the Avesnois Regional Nature Park or try a range of other sporting activities including archery and mini-golf.
Our shared history
The history of Northern France is inextricably linked with our own and many British schools take pupils on visits to the battlefields of World War I and II. Create your own itinerary along five themed Remembrance Trails that link museums, memorials and cemeteries – perhaps trace the footsteps of a family member. Visit Azincourt, scene of Henry V’s famous victory over the French in 1415, and home to an interactive museum. Fast forward a century and the Field of the Cloth of Gold at Guines near Calais was where Henry VIII met Francis I of France in 1520 – discover the full story at La Tour de l’Horloge museum.
Extraordinary sea creatures
Much more than just an aquarium, Nausicaa in Boulogne is a showcase and international research centre for marine environments across the world. There’s something here to suit all ages and all levels of interest, with information in both French and English. Look a shark in the eye; spot fluorescent tropical fish amongst the coral; and watch penguins and sealions swim underwater. The many interactive displays including a touch tank, and you’ll find thought-provoking exhibits about marine pollution and species conversation.
Region of museums
Nord-Pas-de-Calais has earned a reputation as the museum region of France and whatever your family’s interests, you’ll find something to inspire the kids. See an Egyptian mummy and treasures from the tombs in Boulogne; visit the industrial heritage Mining Museum in Lewarde; and go on board ship at the maritime museum in Dunkerque. Amongst the huge range of art museums is the former Art Deco swimming pool of La Piscine in Roubaix, whilst the latest prestigious attraction is Louvre-Lens, the first satellite museum of the world-famous Louvre in Paris. Opened in December 2012 in the regenerated mining district around Lens, it features a unique timeline of international artworks.
In the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region the weather is very similar to that in the UK, heavily influenced by the Atlantic, resulting in a mild climate and yet affected by higher rainfall than most areas of France.