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Photo gallery “Nord-Pas-de-Calais”

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Nord-Pas-de-Calais

France’s refreshing Nord-Pas-de-Calais has been overlooked by travellers for too long. The region has embraced the jokes about chilly weather and yokel locals while quietly transforming into a world-class destination with a daring arts scene, clutch of historic sights and irresistibly rugged charm.



The new Louvre gallery in Lens has had an eventful first year. First was the wave of scepticism, as art lovers pondered the news that France’s most famous gallery was setting up an outpost in Lens, a depressed former mining town. Then came controversy when a vandal defaced the Louvre-Lens’ piece de resistance, Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People. More recently there have been fears that the ‘Guggenheim effect’ - the extraordinary renaissance of Bilbao credited to the world-famous gallery  - would never materialise in Lens.


But the genre-busting Louvre-Lens deserves attention. All polished aluminium and glass, the gallery's futuristic air is a delicious contrast to northern France's rustic red palette. Its ambitious Galerie du Temps aligns thousands of years of art in a single room. And while there’s been no sudden makeover for sleepy Lens, sceptics will be pleasantly surprised.


A new craze for northern France was born after the 2008 release ofBienvenue chez les ch’tis’ (translated as Welcome to the Sticks; a ch’ti is a term for a northerner and a type of regional French slang). Ever since this affectionate satire, the unpretentious warmth of northerners has been a mainstay of French popular culture (sparking offshoot TV shows about no-nonsense northerners and their exploits).

It took a while for travel to the region to feel the ch'ti effect, but Bergues, where most of the film’s action takes places, is riding the wave. There are guided tours of the film’s key sights while visitors continue to be surprised by Bergues’ small-town prettiness and the peaceful plains of Flanders.

 

Finally the 'hell of the north' Paris-Roubaix cycle route hammers along the cobbles once a year in April and is well worth attending. 


‘A stranger coming to the North cries twice,’ according to the movie. ‘Once when he arrives, and once when he leaves.’ When the time comes for you to leave behind the Nord-Pas-de-Calais's quaint and quirky towns, rich history and hearty cuisine, we think you’ll agree.

 

 


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