The Nord Pas de Calais coast stretches for some 140 km and includes vast dunes, sandy and shingle beaches popular for a range of sand sports.
Wimereux and Boulogne beaches offer sand yachting and it is almost an obsession all along the Opal coast. Wissant beach is the place for surfing and there are kite surfing contests at Le Touquet.
To the south of the region, WWI battles such as the Somme, were fought in this now peaceful countryside – 58,000 soldiers were killed on the first day alone (1July 1916) and more than 150,000 in all.
Over 90 years later, many of the amazingly well preserved original trenches can still be seen. Memorials and monuments mark the battlefield sites and you can visit museums specifically dedicated to WWI.
For more information go to www.greatwar.co.uk
The large concrete bunker, the ‘Blockhaus’, built by slave labour for the Germans to manufacture liquid oxygen rocket fuel and assemble and launch V2 rockets against London in WWII is hidden deep in the Eperlecques Forest.
Luckily Allied bombing in September 1943 prevented its use. Nowadays, it is open for the public to view and you can take a guided tour to gain an insight into its history.
La Coupole was Hitler’s second attempt at a bunker, and the ‘bomb proof’ concrete dome has tunnels which you can visit, stretching far underground.
There are audio visual displays about the weapons which would have been used and about life in France during the period - including the work of the Resistance and the liberation. Open every day of the year except Christmas Day and the first 2 weeks of January.
Restored 1950s diesel trains travel from Arques to Lumbres through the Audomarois Nature Park with guides giving a commentary along the way. Tourist trains run each summer at weekends and holidays, Easter and May to September.
Bikes are carried free. See the old canal boat lift next to Arques station. Lumbres is an excellent starting point for walks and cycle rides.
With origins in the sixteenth century, the Nord Pas de Calais ‘geants’ were first carried in religious processions. Many of the figures were destroyed in the Revolution. Although Napoleon allowed a few geants to remain, the tradition was not revived until after his abdication in 1814.
New geants were then developed and carried in each town’s carnival processions. In Dunkerque, there is a giant procession each weekend from late January to early March.
Take a guided trip with an ex-miner down the coalmine used in the film of Emile Zola’s nineteenth century mining novel “Germinal”. Coal was mined here from 1930 – 1971. Learn about working conditions, see shafts and galleries, stables for pit ponies and much more at Delloye Colliery, 59287 Lewarde. Tel Historic Mining Centre, Lewarde (00 33) 3 27 95 82 82.