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Regions of France - Nord- Pas de Calais

Nord-Pas de Calais is the northern most region of France with Belgium to the northeast and the English Channel to the north. In fact, on a clear day you can gaze across the water to see the White Cliffs of Dover, just 42 km away.

The region has an undeserved reputation for being boring, gloomy or a bit of a backwater which was portrayed in the hugely successful French comedy Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis or Welcome to the Sticks. But as was discovered in the movie, it is a region of warmth and vitality which will charm you with its friendly people, unspoilt countryside and interesting attractions.

Nord-Pas de Calais is the home to a diverse range of festivals including an international gathering of kites, 2,000 motorcyclists labouring across the sand, an adventure film festival, a musical rendez-vous on the coast and the legendary Paris-Roubaix cycle race.

The largest city and administrative centre of the region is Lille, while the second largest city, Calais serves as a major continental economic and transportation hub with Dover across the channel.

Nord-Pas de Calais was a major centre of heavy industry with coal mines, steel mills and traditional textile manufacture, however, it suffered badly in both World Wars and experienced economic slumps as the mines closed, and the steel and textile industries declined. In 1994, the opening of the Channel Tunnel gave the region a boost with millions of passengers passing through the area. Sadly, many of them just zip through on their way to Paris and other areas of France without really appreciating the region.

French is the main language, however, there are also two significant regional languages; West Flemish, a Dutch dialect; and the Picard or Ch'ti language. Although next door neighbour Belgium and some city governments within the Nord-Pas De Calais recognize and encourage both Picard and Dutch, the national French government maintains a policy of linguistic unity and generally ignores both languages, as it does with other regional languages in France.

Regardless of what language you speak, you will always be able to enjoy the distinctive gastronomy of Nord-Pas de Calais. You might like to sample red herring, endives au gratin, beef stew and potjevleesch (3-meat terrine), Vieux Lille and brittle Mimolette cheeses, Maroilles cheese tart, stuffed Flemish waffles, ice creams with spéculoos (thin almond biscuits), a brown sugar tart or custard tart with prunes or plums and endive liqueurs. Unlike most of France, this area is better known for beer than wine, so you might like to wash it all down with a real craft beer unavailable elsewhere in France. And then finish off with a nice home-made coffee with genever gin.

Once you get over the misconceptions about the region and have experienced all the wonderful delights that Nord-Pas de Calais has to offer, you’ll understand the Ch'tis proverb: "A visitor cries twice up north: once on his arrival and once at his departure."