Being at the crossroads of continental Europe and the British Isles, the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region serves as a gentle introduction to France for many UK travellers.
In terms of the scenery, this remarkable French region has many similarities to the south east of England, but it does not take long before visitors are pleasantly surprised by the unique character and rich heritage of Nord-Pas-de-Calais. Due to its strategic location on the English Channel, Nord-Pas-de-Calais has played a crucial historical, commercial, and political role since the Middle Ages. The area was once home to a thriving coal mining industry, and its busy ports were a focal point of activity for centuries. Nowadays, the physical landscape of Nord-Pas-de-Calais has been transformed due to constant population growth, but the area has successfully reinvented itself and remains an attractive destination for travellers from all over the world.
Due to the region's geographical location, the climate in Nord-Pas-de-Calais is very similar to the weather in southern England. Thanks to the warming effect of the North Atlantic Current, the temperatures in Nord-Pas-de-Calais are not as cold as one would expect from destinations in such latitudes. The climate is oceanic/continental, which means that temperatures are generally mild during the spring and autumn and that rainfall is abundant. While the departments of Artois, Avesnois, and Haut Bolonnais experience significant rainfall all-year round, other areas in the north are as dry as southern France.
This region receives an average of 1,600 hours of sunshine every year, with July and August being the best bets for visitors who are looking forward to clear sunny skies. During the summer, the average temperature is 16.5°C. In the winter, thermometers stay at around 4°C.
Visitors are also reminded about the possibility of encountering crowds during the Dunkerque Carnival (February) and during French bank holidays.
Nord-Pas-de-Calais is one of the most populous regions in France. However, outside of three major cities, the region offers a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Its more than 90 miles of mostly pristine coastline attract watersports lovers, photographers, and families with young children. The beaches at Berck and Gravelines have been awarded Blue Flags. Fishing, sand yatching, kiting, and sailing and popular activities in the area, particularly in the Côte d'Opale, which is dotted with well-equipped seaside resorts.
Other highly popular recreational activities include golfing, river cruising, canoeing, kayaking, pony trekking, horse riding, and cycling. There are numerous opportunities for hiking in regional parks like Scarpe-Escaut and Avesnois.
The local gastronomy has been heavily infuenced by both Flemish and Picard cuisine. The result is a magnificent blend of rich flavours and hearty dishes that make use of locally sourced ingredients, such as white wine, garden vegetables, dairy products, and wild game meat.
Some popular regional specialities include:
The region produces a wide range of sweet treats and confectionery items, such as bêtises, tarte à gros bords (custard tart), and gâteau battu (sponge cake), and gaufre dunkerquoises (vanilla biscuits).
The most widely known local cheese is Maroilles, a soft variety made with cow's milk. Other cheeses worth sampling include Gris de Lille, Boulette de Cambrai, Guerbigny, Dauphin, and Coeur d'Arras.
The local beers have gained international recognition and show a strong resemblance to Belgian brews. The best-rated beers include Grain d'Orge, Saint Poloise, Septante 5, and Ch'Ti.
Size: 12,414 square kilometres / 4,793 square miles
Population: 4.052 million people (2013)
Capital city: Lille (225,700 inhabitants)
Provinces: Nord and Pas-de-Calais
Landscape: Expansive windswept beaches, rolling meadows, picturesque valleys, densely forested areas.