Celluloid Diaries: The part of France no one knew existed

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The part of France no one knew existed

north of france

Did you know that there's a part of France no one knew existed until six years ago? No one ever visited, and those who had heard about the area had major misconceptions. Even the French didn't know what was going on in this mysterious part of their own country. 

We're talking about the far north of France. For a long time, many people thought that Paris was the North and didn't know that there was an entire region to discover underneath. A region where almost every village produces its own beer, that is rich in history because of its strategic location in times of war, that is ideal for hiking and biking activities, and that has a vast array of local culinary specialities.  

bienvenue chez les ch'tis
bienvenue chez les ch'tis locations

So why is the far north of France so popular now? 

In 2008, the movie Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis (Welcome To The Sticks) was released. In this French comedy about the misconceptions surrounding the region, a public servant from the Provence (Dany Boon) is banished to the distant, unheard of town of Bergues, in the far north of France. Strongly prejudiced against this supposedly arctic and inhospitable place, he leaves his family behind to relocate temporarily there, with the firm intent to quickly come back. But against all expectations, he loves it. 

As soon as the movie was released, Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis became a humongous success in France and Belgium, and even got an Italian remake (Benvenuti al sud) and sequel (Benvenuti al nord). In no time, tourists went in hordes to the far north of France to discover the locations of their new favorite movie.


Exactly one week after I left The Gambia, I was invited by Pays de Flandre Tourisme to discover the far north of France, more in particular the villages of Cassel, Bailleul, Hondschoote, and Drincham. Here's a little overview of the places of interest I discovered during my trip. 

kasteelhof cassel
jardin du mont des recollets
cassel marshal foch

Cassel 

The most beautiful village I visited in the North of France was undoubtedly Cassel. The place has recovered well from the destruction during World War I and has preserved its ancient, almost medieval character, resulting in old city gates, small alleys, many passageways, and old houses. 

I explored Cassel via a city walk and a stroll through the Jardin du Mont des Recollets (voted 'best gardens of France'). From here, I had a wonderful vantage point over the region, because Cassel is built on the highest mountain of French Flanders (176 meters). In the past, many battles have been fought on the flanks of the Mont Cassel. 

I enjoyed an even better view from the estaminet Kasteelhof, that is decorated with traditional furniture and garlands of hop. Culinary enthusiasts from Belgium and the Netherlands often cross the border to dine in Kasteelhof. The dishes are typical of the area and make recurring use of ingredients such as chicory, speculoos and violet. What do you think for example of chicory wine or speculoos liqueur? I even tried Maroilles, the local cheese mentioned in Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis because of its strong smell. 

After lunch in Kasteelhof I visited the Musée de Flandre. During the battle of Ypres, the museum was the headquarters of Marshal Foch. Nowadays the museum houses a rather weird collection of Flemish art from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. 

bailleul
bailleul
bailleul belfry
bailleul architecture

Bailleul 

Bailleul is interesting because of its history. During World War I, the Germans bombed the town on an almost daily basis. Ninety-eight percent of Bailleul was destroyed and then rebuilt in Flemish style by the architect Louis-Marie Cordonnier. The War Memorial, a fake ruin from which a winged victory rises, refers to this destruction. 

For the best views of Bailleul, I had to climb the two-hundred steps of the belfry. The interior was particularly worth noting, mainly the carillon playing Flemish folk songs and the inside of the clock. The reconstructed belfry of Bailleul is since 2005 a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

Also on the program was the Benoît de Puyd museum. Benoît de Puyd was a wealthy art collector who bequeathed both his art collection and his house to the municipality of Bailleul in order to turn it into a museum. The sculptures, paintings, furniture, ceramics, and lace from the Benoît de Puyd museum give an idea of the Flemish culture between the fifteenth and the nineteenth century. 

I finished my tour in Bailleul with a visit to the lace school. Lace making has always been an important activity in the region, and the school is a way to keep this tradition alive. 

hondschoote church
noordmolen hondschoote
le grenier du lin
hondschoote grenier du lin

Hondschoote 

Since the middle ages, Hondschoote is known as 'the land of flax'. From June to september, the surrounding fields are beaming with blue flax flowers which you can discover by following the flax route or by participating in the Rallye Bleu. 

In the cozy Le grenier du lin you can browse through several types of flax-based products: cosmetics, beer, food, linen clothing, etc. 

Did you know that the oldest windmill of Europe is located in Hondschoote? According to certain sources, the Noordmolen was built in 1127. Together with the Spinnewyl, the Noordmolen is still in use. 

My tour of Hondschoote ended with a visit of the St-Vaast's Church. This Flemish gothic church contains several exceptional altarpieces, confessionals, and organs. If you look closely, you'll notice that everything is made out of wood.

north of france guest-house

Drincham 

I spent the night in the guest-house Au Gallodrome in Drincham. It's super cozy, especially the bar/restaurant area where you can eat around a large wooden table in front of the fireplace. The food was excellent. 

If you are subscribed to my other blog, Traveling Cats, you will already know that Au Gallodrome is the home of two felines. Have a look at the pictures if you have not already done so. More pictures of the guest-house can be found here.

Overall, my stay in the far north of France was a cozy one and it was fun to recognize many of the elements from the movie. If you're a fan of Bienvenue chez le Ch'tis, then the north of France should definitely be added to your list of places to visit. 

P.S. The north of France organizes many Christmassy things right now. In Vallée de la Lys, for example, a decorated trailer will take you on a tour through the area while listening to a beautiful Christmas story and enjoying a snack. Of course, there are many Christmas markets on offer in the region. Some upcoming ones can be found in Watten (December 6 and 7), Méteren (December 7), Hazebrouck (December 12 to 24), Merville (December 12 to 14), Bergues (December 13 and 14), Neuf-Berquin (December 13 and 14) and Wormhout (December 17 to 21). 

Disclaimer: I visited the North of France as a guest of Pays de Flandre Tourisme. The opinions are my own. For more information, call 0033 328 48 61 54.

74 comments:

  1. thanks for your comment by me , I my self was not in Delft , but that's gonna change
    you talk about the north off France , but you do mean Belgium , right

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    1. It IS the North of France, but it's right across the border from Belgium ;-)

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  2. Een zeer uitgebreid en goed stuk informatie, met mooie foto's Vanessa. Die molen is werkelijk prachtig.

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  3. Ha Vanessa, mooie foto,s en prachtige plekjes laat je hier zien
    ik wens je een fijn weekend
    groetjes Christiene.....................

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  4. The place looks marvelous! It's so colorful! Thanks for all the pics and explanations, and have a great weekend! :)

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  5. Lovely tour of North France! Sounds so intriguing! Thanks for note, too.

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  6. Amazing photos, especially of Cassel. What a view!

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  7. It's sounds like you have a grand adventure. I love the photo too, especially the one from the view of the belfry showing all the lovely buildings.

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  8. North France looks so lovely. I love discovering hidden gems like this that no one ever goes to or hears about, so much better than busy tourist sites when you can't experience the real culture.

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  9. Ik,heb genoten van je reportage het is als even meereizen

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  10. Thank you for sharing this unknown area of France, not unknown any more it seems. Your photos are very enjoyable.

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  11. Oh the photos of Northern France are divine~ looks like a wonderful place to visit!

    artmusedogs and carol
    Happy Weekend to you

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  12. I had to laugh that people thought Paris was the north of France. There are maps. :)

    Beautiful, beautiful pictures. They look magical.

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  13. How wonderful! It is my goal to visit the north of France some day because of its connection to Canada's service in World Wars I and II -- battlefields like Ypres, the Menin Gate, the Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge and Juno Beach in Normandy.

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  14. The first shot of the windmill is wonderful. Tom The Backroads Traveller

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  15. What an amazing trip! I really enjoyed your story and photographs! I was in France many moons ago and I miss it. I hope to visit the places in the far North of France if I get a chance. Thanks for sharing! :)

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  16. One of my hubby (who is French) and I's favorite movies. Always good for a laugh! We have talked about visiting this region on one of our annual trips to France because it has such interesting history!

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  17. That looks like such a cute little town! Thanks for the insight—I've always wanted to visit France!!

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  18. I admit, I have never lingered in the north of France, though I have visited France around 30 times. But since the south of Germany is beautiful, it does not surprise me that the north of France would be great too. It's funny how much those pictures look like Netherlands and Belgium! Makes me nostalgic and wanting to travel Europe once again - thansk for sharing!

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  19. I am inlove with all the photos... Always wanted to go to France... Nice post!

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  20. What a wonderful place to explore. I am surprised about a school of lace making. Awesome pictures.

    Deedee

    http://madeupgirl-madeupgirl.blogspot.com/

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  21. North France looks so cute!!! I love European towns!! They seriously look like you took a step back in time! I love it ;-)

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  22. I haven't seen the movie. After looking at all these photos, I am interested.

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  23. Beautiful. Especially love the photo of the bike and the beer. :)

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  24. |^‿^|❀

    Un petit bonjour amical chez toi chère Vanessa !!

    J'adore visiter ton joli blog !
    Merci beaucoup pour cette belle et intéressante visite !

    GROS BISOUS d'Asie ! Bon week-end !

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  25. France looks so beautiful! I would sure love to visit there someday!

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  26. Dank voor je reactie Vanessa.
    Je geeft hier het Franse sfeertje weer met mooie foto's.
    Een goede zondag gewenst.
    :)

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  27. What a bucket list vacation. Thanks for sharing all you beautiful photos of France.

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  28. What a lovely place! I could see myself enjoying a nice long walk here!

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  29. What a beautiful place! Wow! I would love to visit one day! Gorgeous!

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  30. I am so jealous! I would love to visit France and put the French I learned in college to use one day! :)

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  31. What a lovely set of photos and the text was so interesting too. I have travelled through this area, I did know it existed, but Bailleul is the only town I recognise. This was a visit to see the Flanders Fields where we spent time in Ypres and visited the graves. A really interesting area, the north of France, and I hope more tourists pay a visit then pop across to Belgium.

    As always, thanks for an interesting post.

    Denise :)

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  32. Gorgeous! Beautiful photos, and the imagery is so descriptive! Just lovely.

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  33. This place looks gorgeous. Your post makes me really want to visit. Well done!

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  34. This was fascinating and the photos are beautiful!

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  35. Ooo, als jij een log neerzet is het beslist de moeite waard Vanessa: een schat is dit, boordevol interessante informatie en knappe foto's! Bedankt dat je me dit ongekend stukje Frankrijk leerde kennen... Bedankt ook voor je leuke reactie bij mij en maak er een heerlijk dagje van hé!

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  36. prachtige foto's en plekjes, over zin om er gelijk heen te gaan gesproken :-)
    Dank je voor je leuke reactie, Bram

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  37. Hi Vanessa .. you've definitely whetted my appetite for a visit to your 'north' .. I'm not sure I could watch the film if I had to decipher the elocution as well as the sub-titles! - but the area .. is now definitely on my list to visit.

    Wonderful photos of the three villages and descriptions .. it looks just delightful - lucky you .. cheers Hilary

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  38. Wow, gorgeous photos! I have never been and would definitely would love to visit one day! The architecture in Cassel is so pretty!

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  39. Wow what beautiful images! Very nice to the a look at I hadn't seen any of these!

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  40. oh wow this play looks awesome, I love love france and next year going to disney paris so excited. Definitely would love to visit the north if i get a chance.

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  41. Oh my gosh, these photos are gorgeous. I so want to travel there!

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  42. Wow what an amazing place! I've always wanted to go to France, gorgeous!

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  43. Oh my goodness, I absolutely loved reading of this wonderful adventure. Beautiful photos!

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  44. Beautiful photos! I have never been to France, but it is definitely on my bucket list!

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  45. It looks very Flemish somehow. Must catch up with that film, had never heard of it, I must admit.

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  46. what a lovely spot. And lace making. That sounds pretty quaint.

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  47. Oh wow!!! How interesting!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

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  48. I absolutely love your blog and your writing. What an amazing place, France is high on my bucket list and now I will be sure to allot some time to go to the far North of France. But first, I'm going to watch Bienvenue Chez les Ch'Tis. Thanks for a great read Vanessa!

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  49. How interesting! Your photos are beautiful!

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  50. Looks like it would make for a lovely visit. I've always wanted to see France, but I'd rather visit a quaint destination like this over a touristy place like Paris. Maybe that's just me, though.

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  51. What beautiful pictures. I hope to visit France someday. I would love to see all of France.

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  52. It is almost like the village can sustain itself. Looks so wonderful.

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  53. What a beautiful unspoiled place. I would love to go there for a holiday.
    Lynne

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  54. Wow, that is very interesting. I dream of going to Europe one day, hopefully soon. Those pictures are absolutely gorgeous!

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  55. Bedankt om mijn blog natuurfreak bezocht te hebben.Heel interessant artikel hier met boeiende foto's
    Groeten
    Marylou

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  56. Wow, what an adventure! It looks so quaint! <3

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  57. What great shots of France. It looks so beautiful there! I bet you had so much fun!

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  58. Beautiful photos. What wonderful places to relax and explore. Thanks for giving us a peek!

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  59. I desperately want to go to these amazing gems of towns in France! Your travels are absolutely incredible!

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  60. What a nice read...I learned a lot. I also enjoyed viewing the images...there's a lot of bold colors and interesting architectural features shown that caught my eye.

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  61. Those are lovely pictures. I would love to go there and of course Paris one day.

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  62. So much beautiful photos - as for me, I can only wish to be able to go there once in my life.

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  63. What a gorgeous hidden gem in the far North of France! All of your fabulous photos make me want to add this destination to my bucket list!

    Julie

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  64. These pictures are amazing. I'm glad this area is getting more recognition. I would love to visit.

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  65. What a beautiful place! I'd absolutely love to visit France!

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  66. wow - so beautiful.. I feel like I went on a mini vacay!

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  67. Beautiful! How did people not know all that existed? You'd think it would have been covered on TV or on the internet before now!

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  68. I was born and raised in North and I miss it.
    Dany Boon does not play the public servant from the Provence by the way, he plays the public servant from the North. The public servant from the Provence who is banniched is played by Kad Merad

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  69. Such a beautiful place...loved all the photos. Thanks for sharing!

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  70. It looks like a wonderful little place to visit.

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  71. These sights are amazing and the bistory of the area is fascinating. Loved the shuttered windows.

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