People often ask me why I chose the department of Pas-de-Calais as my home in France. Why not Normandy? An established expat community, beautiful countryside, beaches, historic sites? Why not Provence with its sunshine, beautiful villages and fabulous countryside scenery?
Well if you want to know, I chose this region for many reasons: it is so easy to get to and from the UK, I have a family there, and as a journalist it means I can work and meet in London if need be.
The main reason I chose this place though, and choose to stay here, is that it is without doubt the most historic, artistic, cultural, scenic and friendly region in France that I’ve ever visited.
I could cite you hundreds, thousands even, of examples of beautiful countryside, buildings and sites that I come across in daily life but I thought I’d share just a few to give you a flavour of what holds me entranced year after year.
Take Verchin – a tiny village in the Seven Valleys area. It is famous locally for its magnificent church with a twisted spire, what the French call a clochet tordu. The church is around 400 years old and served as a place of refuge in times of conflict for both the villagers and soldiers.
If we’re going to be pedantic we’d admit the twisted spire is the result of using green oak which dried out too quickly in the sun causing it to shrink and turn and pull the spire round with it.
I prefer the local legend that the young girls of the village in days gone by had poor manners and loose morals. When a virgin arrived at the doors of the church at Verchin for her wedding the bell tower was so astonished that it leaned over to look and when it arose, it was twisted! It is said that the bell tower will only unwind if such a strange thing occurs a second time.
The village next to Verchin is Lugy. There has been a mill there for centuries; these days the mill is managed by Betty and Bernard Delrue who have renovated and restored it to a charming, working mill where they run courses on how to bake bread the traditional way baking in an impressive oven called the “Grandmére”.
From the country to the towns, like Arras, the historic capital of Pas-de-Calais with its fabulous cobbled squares and it’s Musée des Beaux Arts, which is currently hosting a world class exhibition of carriages from Versailles called ‘Roulez Carrosses‘. Wonderful shops, restaurants, architecture – there is something for everyone here.
Boulogne-sur-Mer on the Côte d’Opale, a historic old town, beloved of Charles Dickens and artists. It’s easy to see why when you stroll up the Rue de Lille, lined with art supply shops which sell such wonderful items as violet scented inks and a chemist which has not changed its store front since 1847.
Festivals that draw you in with their authenticity and warmth such as the Hareng Roi at Etaples – a celebration of herring. It reflects how in ancient days the people of the town would be grateful to this humble fish that kept them going through the dark and hard days of winter.
Or the Festival des Soupes et des Pains at Montreuil-sur-Mer, the town which Victor Hugo loved and where he was inspired to base characters he met and scenes he saw in his famous work Les Miserables.
I could go on… and on – there isn’t room of course, but I hope that I’ve given just a little flavour of this wonderful region of mine and perhaps you’ll come and visit for yourself one day.
3. The mill at Lugy
4. Arras, Musée des Beaux Arts
5. Festival des Soupes et des Pains at Montreuil-sur-Mer