About Northern France – Hauts-de-France
Sugar beet, spreading farmland and battlefields seem to be the main constituents of the countryside south from Calais towards Paris. The region is by-passed to the east by the main Paris-to-the-coast corridor, the A26/A1, and few visitors get around to stopping off at the two best places to visit in the region, France’s tallest cathedrals at Amiens and Beauvais. Perhaps understandably: not so long ago the towns offered little else in the way of tourist-friendly diversions, and both suffered from sadly unimaginative rebuilding after the Second World War.
Amiens has fared better: the purity of its great Gothic cathedral is unmatched, the old canal-side artisans’ quarter of Saint-Leu has been attractively restored, there is plenty to admire in the Musée de Picardie, and summer season boat trips explore a watery maze of miniature market gardens on the edge of town.
Besides its cathedral, Beauvais has the national tapestry gallery: not to everyone’s taste, but the gallery’s themed exhibitions provide a rare chance to view masterpieces of this under-rated art form as well as demonstrating its versatility.
In the north of the region, Saint-Omer makes a convenient break an hour’s drive from Calais; while Amiens, mid-way between Calais and Paris, is well situated for making a longer pause, perhaps staying the night. East of Amiens lie the First World War battlefields of the Somme, scattered with memorials to the dead and beautifully-tended cemeteries (insert link The Somme, Circuit de Souvenir). Head north-west, and you come across one of the prettiest corners of the region, the Vallée de la Canche around Hesdin, where the French and the English fought two key battles during the Hundred Years War: Crécy and Agincourt.
If you’re in a hurry you may decide to forsake the autoroute, and will find the main roads fairly fast. The N43 heads south-east of Calais via Saint-Omer to Béthune for the D916/N25 to Amiens; the N1 links Amiens and Paris via Beauvais. If you have more time to spare, the D928/N1 between Saint-Omer and Amiens is a more pleasant drive, passing through Hesdin and Le Boile in the Authie Valley (insert link Saint-Omer).
Hauts-de-France was created in 2014 when Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy were combined into this the country’s northernmost administrative region.
There are frequent daily train services between Calais and Paris via Amiens; and between Paris and Beauvais. Between Amiens and Beauvais buses provide the best link. For the Somme, buses and trains from Amiens serve Albert and Arras (click here). Local services to Hesdin are very sketchy and do not cover the battlefield sites.