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Last updated : Nov 2009
Nord, Pas de Calais & Picardy
Nord, Pas de Calais & Picardy - TravelPuppy.com
Northern France is made up of the départements of Nord/Pas de Calais (French Flanders) and Somme-Oise Aisne (Picardy). Amiens, the principal town of Picardy, has a beautiful 13th-century cathedral, which is one of the largest in France. The choirstalls are unique. The nearby Quartier Saint-Leu is an ancient canal-side neighbourhood. Beauvais is famous for its Gothic Cathedral of St-Pierre, incorporating a 9th-century Carolingian church, which would have been the biggest Gothic church in the world, if it had been completed. Its 13th-century, stained glass windows are particularly impressive and there is also a fine museum of tapestry.

Compiègne is famous for its Royal Palace, which has been a retreat for the French aristocracy from the 14th century onwards and where Napoleon himself lived with his second wife, Marie-Louise. There are over 1000 rooms within the palace and the bedrooms of Napoleon and his wife, preserved with their original decorations, are well worth viewing for their ostentatiously lavish style. Surrounding the town and palace is the Forest of Compiègne, where the 1918 Armistice was signed, and which has been a hunting ground for the aristocracy for hundreds of years, a wander through its dark and tranquil interior is an exceptionally pleasant experience. The town also has a fine Hôtel de Ville and a Carriage Museum is attached to the Palace.

The château of Chantilly now houses the Musée Condé and there are impressive Baroque gardens to walk around, as well as a 17th-century stable with a ‘live’ Horse Museum. The town of Arras, on the River Scarpe, has beautiful 13th and 14th century houses and the lovely Abbey of Saint Waast. There are pretty old towns at Hesdin and Montreuil (with its ramparts and citadel). Boulogne is best entered by way of the lower town with the 13th-century ramparts of the upper town in the background, the castle next to the Basilica of Notre Dame is impressive.

Le Touquet is a pleasant all-year-round coastal resort town with 10km (6 miles) of sandy beaches. The port of Calais, of great strategic importance in the Middle Ages, is today noted for the manufacture of tulle and lace, as well as being a busy cross-Channel ferry terminus. Calais and its surrounds are also very popular for their large shopping malls, which are particularly popular with British visitors, who often travel across the English Channel specifically for shopping trips. To the north, the more beer is drunk and used in the kitchen, especially in soup and ragoûts. Wild rabbit is cooked with prunes or grapes. There is also a thick Flemish soup called hochepot which has virtually everything in it but the kitchen sink. The cuisine is often, not surprisingly, sea-based, matelotes of conger eel and caudière (fish soup). Shellfish known as coques, ‘the poor man’s oyster’, are popular too. The marolles cheese from Picardy is made from whole milk, salted and washed down with beer. Flanders, although it has a very short coastline, has many herring dishes, croquelots or bouffis, which are lightly salted and smoked. Harengs salés and harengs fumés are famous and known locally as gendarmes.