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Nord (department number 59) is located in the region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais. Situated in the far North of France bordering Belgium, Nord is the country’s most populous department (approx 2,583,493 in 2006). Nord is located along the western half of Belgium’s border and is unusually long and narrow in shape.
The region is often referred to as the ‘gateway to France’ and Nord offers many local breweries producing quality, well-known brews.
Why you should visit Nord for your next holiday in France
Nord is ideally located for quick weekend breaks as well as longer holidays given its close proximity to the channel. Also, with Eurostar having a major station in the department capital of Lille, you can travel from London to Nord in 1 hour 20 minutes!
The department’s climate tends to be fairly similar to the South of England. The region also sees its fair share of rainfall. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it helps to give Nord’s landscape its lush appearance of gentle meadows and marshland, forests and woods. The department is more Flemish in appearance with the countryside dotted with windmills as opposed to vineyards. Wide open spaces make up the Regional Natural Parks. There is also a wonderful network of waterways that offer river cruising and a chance to take in the beautiful scenery off road.
As well as being a popular destination for vacations, Nord is also an ideal area for artists, both for its diverse landscape and also for offering a lot of light.
What to see in Nord
The entire region prides itself on its traditions with fairs, fêtes and festivals occurring frequently throughout the year.
Lille is a cultural city renowned for its Fine art Palace, its ancient district and it’s fair. In addition to being a major station for Eurostar, the City also offers a lot of the fun and atmosphere of Paris with its variety of delicious fine food and drink, art museums, range of shops and trendy cafés at every turn.
Gourmet food lovers flock to Lille in spring to enjoy Wazemmes' vibrant open-air food and flower market and the Marché Sébastopol. Other food orientated events include the annual Golden Ladle fair and Lille aux Saveurs, a gourmet food fest in Place Rihour.
In comparison to many of the beautifully designed buildings that normally house Frances’s museums, the famous Modern Art Museum in Lille is nothing particularly special to look at. It is a simple single-storey brick building with tinted windows to protect the exhibits. However, once inside you'll find something quite special. There are no barriers, ropes or glass anywhere amongst the priceless pictures and sculptures. Among the permanent exhibits you will find six Picasso's, including his famous Musical Instruments and Death’s Head.
Parc Loisirs is a popular destination with local families and visitors to the area as it is home to Lille Zoo, the best free attraction in town.
The town of Douai is situated about 20 miles south of Lille and is located on the River Scarpe. Douai was formerly the seat of a university. It was strongly fortified, and the old ramparts have only been removed in recent years. There is also a church of Notre-Dame which dates back from the twelfth century.
Dunkerque dates back to the 8th century and was once a simple fishing harbour. It became famous as a haven for pirates who preyed on shipping in the North Sea - the most celebrated being the local hero, Jean Bart. Today, the sand dunes help to make Dunkerque a popular seaside resort. The city is also a major international port and industrial centre, handling bulk cargoes from all over the world, as well as being a ferry port for cars and freight with many lorries crossing between the UK and Europe. Taking into consideration its vast quantity of traffic flow, it is still a relatively ‘green’ city.
A textile town sine the 14th century, Cambrai was famed for its fine linen (Cambric), used for handkerchiefs and delicate underwear. There are still many textile factories today and some with factory shops offering a variety of linens at discounted prices.
The town is also famous for its food specialties including small chitterling sausages (andouillettes), and mint-flavoured sweets, the Bêtises de Cambrai, which are sold all over France.
Once a fortified town, Cambrai's town walls were mostly demolished at the end of the 19th century - but some of the gates and towers were saved.
Nicknamed “Athens of Nord”, Valenciennes can be located on the Escaut River. Historically the town was renowned for its production of lace but since the decline of the steel and textiles industries in the 70’s, the focus has been moved to automobile production. In 2001, Toyota built its Western European assembly line for the Toyota Yaris in Valenciennes.
There are a few monuments and places of interest that remain today, undamaged by the wars over the years and they include the façade of the city offices; Notre-Dame du Saint-Cordon, to which there is an annual pilgrimage; La Maison Espagnole, the remains of the Spanish occupation and The Dodenne Tower, the remaining part of the medieval fortifications after Charles V ordered them destroyed.
There is also a large, pin-like monument 45 metres (148 ft) in height called the 'Beffroi'. It was built in 2007 on the site of the former belfry which was destroyed in 1843.
Other towns in the department include:
All the towns are equally interesting places to visit, and offer plenty of historical sites.
How to get to Nord
Holiday accommodation in Nord is easily accessible. Nord Pas de Calais is extremely well connected to the south coast of England with ferries running from many ports to the French ports of Calais, Dunkerque and Boulogne sur Mer. The Channel Tunnel also arrives into Calais with Eurostar going direct from London to Calais and Lille.
Lille Airport is served by a number of airlines. Air France will take you from Heathrow to Lille. Alternatively, BMI provides flights direct from Leeds Airport, while Lydd Air will fly to La Touquet.
P&O, Sea France and Hover Speed all operate services between Dover and Calais while Norfolkline will take you between Dover and Dunkerque
Go by Eurostar direct from the UK to Lille in under an hour and a half or take the Eurotunnel from the UK to Calais.