Described as one of the prettiest towns in France, Arras, the capital of Pas-de-Calais, is just a 75 minute drive from the port of Calais and a great alternative to some of the more obvious choices for a short break, any time of year. The people of Arras are well-known for the warm welcome they give their visitors and the town itself has a wealth of heritage and architecture, fabulous cuisine and all has the requirements for some serious retail therapy to boot.
Any first time visitor to Arras should start at the Town Tall, where you’ll find the tourist information centre. Their friendly staff love showing off their city so you’ll easily get your hands on loads of useful information, however, this is in no way the only reason to start your visit here. Be sure to climb the dizzying heights of the Belfry (or use the lift) for a spectacular view of the city from this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Next venture deep underground on a tour of the Boves, a labyrinth of tunnels that run underneath the town but, somewhere along the way, don’t forget to stop and admire the magnificent rooms of the town hall itself. It’s here you’ll find the town’s giants, Colas and Jacqueline, together with their son Dede, unless they are out enjoying a local festival, of course.
You’ll find the Town Hall in La Place des Héros, one of the two famous squares of Arras, lined with Flemish Baroque-style architecture and the stone-pillared arcades that have sheltered traders since the Middle Ages. As well as many fabulous shops in the arcades themselves, twice a week, on every Saturday and Wednesday morning, you’ll also find a bustling market. And of course there are plenty of pavement cafés and fabulous restaurants too.
Much of the town was destroyed during World War I, but you’d never know it as the Belfry, and many of the buildings in the squares, have been lovingly re-built, brick-by-brick, so that it virtually impossible to tell the difference between the original and the new.
Beyond the squares there is plenty to make a visit to Arras worth making more of than a quick day trip. Check out the museums and art galleries or hire an audio guide from the Town Hall and follow the “Heart of the Town”, a1.9km marked walking trial taking in the main historic sites along the way.
Further afield explore this lovely region’s rural heritage with many a picturesque village, château or windmill to discover.
And of course there are the famous battlefield sites and museums including Vimy Ridge (above) and the Wellington Quarry (below), where some 20,000 troops of the Commonwealth hid underground, while preparing the most surprising attack of World War I.