Great Escapes

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nord-pas-de-calais memorials

Discovering Nord-Pas-de-Calais’ museums and memories

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Today we’d like to share a guest post from our very own Ingrid Delamarre, who has worked here for over 10 years. She originally moved from France to Portsmouth, on the south coast of England, to be with her husband, who she met on a ferry between the two countries (how romantic!).

Over to Ingrid…

I have recently returned from a great couple of days exploring Nord-Pas- de-Calais, organised by the region’s tourist office. Although I am French (from Rouen in Normandy) I didn’t know the region all that well, so I welcomed the opportunity to learn more about this fascinating part of France.

Nord-Pas- de-Calais coast line

Nord-Pas- de-Calais coast line

The Wellington Quarry Museum, Arras

On arrival in Calais, we drove to the Wellington Quarry, where an underground museum has been created in a section of the many kilometres of tunnels dug by the British Army during the First World War. These tunnels connect with original tunnels and quarries dating back to the middle ages and Roman times underneath the city of Arras.

It was here that some 24,000 troops hide to be near the German front lines and the museum tells the story of the lives of these troops from many parts of the World. As we approached the end of the tour, we stopped at exit 10, where men entered the remorselessly kill or be killed battle on April 9th, 1917.  The tour was very well organised, informative and of course, very moving.  It is impossible not to feel humble before the memory of these men whose courage will never be forgotten.

Hotel de l’Univers

As I very much prefer character hotels, I was very pleased to check into the Hotel de l’Univers in Arras where we received a very warm welcome.  My room was very comfortable and charming in a classic French style, which I love. After an aperitif in the cosy bar, we enjoyed a delicious meal in the hotel’s  “Le Clusius restaurant”.

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A moving visit to memorials and cemeteries

After breakfast on our second day, we drove to the Canadian National Vimy Memorial raised in remembrance of the 11,000 Canadian soldiers reported missing during the WW1. A clear blue sky enabled me to capture the monument’s beauty in photographs.

nord-pas-de-calais memorials

From the memorial, in the distance, we could the see the coal slag heaps, a memory of a distant mining age. Our guide explained that vines had been planted on one of the slag heaps and soon a new wine, cleverly called “Charbonnay” – charbon meaning coal in French, will be bottled. I hope I get to try some!

Arras museums

We then drove to the French cemetery, Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, the World largest French cemetery, where over 40,000 casualties are buried. While a sad sight to see, the cemetery is, at the same, very beautiful. The Neo-Byzantine basilica with colourful mosaics and numerous memorial plaques is stunning. Its 52-metre high lantern tower can be seen over 70 kilometres away when lit-up at night.

The British cemetery, Cabaret Rouge

The British cemetery, Cabaret Rouge

Moving on, we also visited the British cemetery, Cabaret Rouge, one of the largest in the area. Its name came from a small red brick café close to the site, which was sadly destroyed in March 1915. Over half of the 7,000 soldiers buried in the cemetery are unidentified; a poignant sight.

The Louvre-Lens Museum

We then carried on to Lens where we had a delicious lunch at the stylish Atelier-Marc Meurin restaurant opposite the Louvre-Lens museum, an extension of the Louvre museum in Paris. On a much smaller scale, this museum displays art from different historical periods; my favourite piece being Oedipus and the Sphinx, painted by Jean August Dominique Ingres in 1808. Many pieces had commentaries available through the audio system which brought it all to life.

Fam Trip Nord-Pas-De Calais 091

Following the visit of the museum, we then drove to the India memorial, which really reflected the meaning of “World” war; so many different nationalities and cultures fought in the region. From there we carried on to the Portuguese cemetery designed with the idea of a church in mind. Sadly the cemetery didn’t look as well-kept as the others.

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After this very enriching day, we checked in to La Chartreuse du Val St Esprit, an elegant property with very attentive staff. My room was delightful and again in the traditional French style which, of course, I was very happy with. After a glass of Champagne, in the very welcoming bar, we were served the most sumptuous meal I have experienced for a long time, complemented with fine wines in the Robert II restaurant.

From lace to wines!

On day 3, after a good night sleep and a hearty breakfast, we set off to the lace museum in Calais “La Cité de la Dentelle”. I couldn’t believe that I had visited Calais so many times yet had never set foot in this great museum. From the history of lace to the process of making lace as they would have done in the original workshops, this museum is very interesting. An array of garments all using lace throughout the ages is on display. A temporary exhibition that changes every 6 months is also featured in the museum. I would well recommend a visit to anyone who has an interest in fashion.

Before our return home, we stopped at Calais Vins where we sampled a wide selection of wines and purchased a few bottles. I did enjoy tasting wines I had never tried before. As Calais Vins is conveniently located near to a traditional French cheese shop and a bakery, I was able to buy some supplies for my forthcoming dinner party.

These few days in the Nord-Pas-De-Calais were fascinating and I am eager to return with my husband soon. The trip has given me a keen interest to learn more about the Great War. I have also learnt that The Nord-Pas-de-Calais is a region rich in not just history but also culture and gastronomy; a region well worth visiting.

Author: Kathryn Burrington

Travel writer, photographer and blogger for the Serenity Holidays group, including the short break experts, Great Escapes.

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