The Hauts-de-France are plural. Discover some of the highlights of this mosaic during a stay on land and sea between the Opal Coast and the mining basin. On the programme: 4,000 years of art and history and exceptional nature.

From Boulogne-sur-Mer to Hardelot castle

The rich heritage of Boulogne-sur-Mer is priceless. Hundreds of years of history reside in its fortified centre, which crowns the city and is spatially inscribed through emblematic buildings. In this architectural heart, two visits are essential: the basilica and above all its crypt and the castle-museum. The history of Christianity is displayed in the depths of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Boulogne. Its crypt is unique in France by its size and the richness of its frescoes. A stone's throw away, the fortified city hides other treasures. In 1825, a museum was set up within the walls of a 13th century castle listed as a historical monument. To visit it is to travel from antiquity to the 19th century and the impressionist workshops at the edge of the Alaskan lands

Twelve kilometres further south, heading towards Hardelot-Plage, let's stop at Condette, at Hardelot castle, and continue the visit of the past times... from the Middle Ages to the yéyé years. Medieval, the building seems to have always looked towards England. Object of struggle during the Hundred Years' War, symbolic place of the glaring rivalry between Francis I and Henry VIII, the fortress was destroyed during the 17th century. It was not until the 19th century that English owners took it over and gave it a neo-Tudor style. Among others, the castle passed into the hands of John Whitley, the founder of the seaside resort of Hardelot. Since then, it has more peacefully embodied the eternal bond between the two nations. Under the leadership of the Pas-de-Calais Department, which has completely rehabilitated it, it has become the Entente Cordiale Cultural Centre. This very beautiful building can be visited freely or guided. Thanks to its history and its magnificent setting, Hardelot Castle has for many years been the place where a very rich cultural life has flourished. This manifests itself throughout the year through a varied programme, which includes both exhibitions and shows

From stone to earth... and to the sea

Radiating around the castle, the gardens evoke the same cross-border spirit. Like him, they take us on a journey through the centuries. Works of art, the gardens of the castle begin at the full moat, which leads our steps towards an English park, of Tudor inspiration, romantic and abundant. Beyond it is the regional nature reserve of the Condette marshes. A place of great biological diversity, this area of wetlands has been formed over time and through human activity. Numerous paths, starting from Hardelot castle, allow you to walk there. Depending on the season, you may see a grey heron, or you may notice a royal fern in the peaty woods. And it doesn't stop there. The natural wealth of this Opal Coast is endless. Much further north, there is still to see the site of the Two Caps. So retrace your steps towards Boulogne-sur-Mer

The Opal Coast is home to the unmissable Nausicaa

A land of culture, history and art, the Opal Coast is also a coastline. Invited from the Gambetta quay to the Napoleon basin, the sea takes back its rights on the land of men, which has always welcomed them at the time of fishing. For it is through this activity born in the mists of time that everything began. Initially an artisanal activity, fishing on frail skiffs has become a powerful industry. It has made Boulogne a renowned fishing port and the leading European centre for the processing of seafood products. The Nausicaa centre did not settle there by chance. The Centre National de la Mer invites the public to discover the open sea with an exceptional 10,000 cubic metre basin that takes the public on a journey of discovery of the high seas with its resources, its wonders and its fragilities. To do, especially with children, who will love the attractions such as feeding the animals or immersion among the sharks. Animations are permanently organized there and this fabulous Centre does not hesitate to reveal you widely its unusual backstage. You will join the 600,000 or so visitors who make a stopover there every year, seduced by this visit that is both fun and educational.

Lens, heartbeat

The name Lens evokes many images to the one who hears it. Perhaps you will remember a jubilant crowd in the stands of the Bollaert stadium? Perhaps the scenes from the film Germinal will come to mind? The name of the Louvre will also float at the edge of your thoughts. More prosaically, you might have the irresistible urge to order a good beer! Lens, that's all this and much more. A flagship town of an industry, that of mining, on the outskirts of a territory marked by the Great War, Lens naturally invites you to historical and human introspection. It is quite naturally on a former mining site that the Louvre-Lens Museum has settled

So here is Lens, shaped by nearly two centuries of coal mining and the First World War, which destroyed 90% of the town. The concentration of military cemeteries in the surrounding area is exceptional: just think of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, where 42,000 French soldiers who died during the First World War are buried. Not far away, at Vimy, great history was also written, for it was there that the Canadian nation was founded. As the British crossed the English Channel, thousands of Canadians cross the Atlantic every year to perpetuate the memory of their ancestors who died here. Emotion also in this mining basin, which will be classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012. Something gets knotted up in the visitors' stomachs at the spectacle of the slag heaps and the ancient corons, whether or not they have, somewhere in the past, an ancestor who plunged into its 100,000 kilometres of galleries. The consecration of their work is there, in this Louvre-Lens museum, which has been set up on a pit tile

The Louvre-Lens Museum, from Homer to the workers of the depths

The Louvre-Lens Museum, a glass building located on the edge of a former coal mine, invites visitors to discover 4,000 years of history. The Galerie du Temps is the heart of the museum. Here, visitors can trace the thread of history from 3,500 BC to 1850. The 205 works on display, which are not compartmentalized and combine geographical areas and cultures in a vast symphony, provide a measure of man's great artistic and technical creativity. The Louvre-Lens is also a gallery of temporary exhibitions, two per year, which highlight artists, abound around a symbol or an idea, and shed light on a period or a place

And why not extend the visit into the night? Always in this spirit of respect and regeneration of the mining industrial heritage, a 4-star hotel has taken up residence in several coroners' houses in the Cité 9. The Hôtel du Louvre-Lens, very close to the museum, welcomes its guests in a unique atmosphere, which sublimates the ancient materials of oak, rough blue stone and old railway metal

And between two visits, let's taste the flavour of things. Let's sit down around a table, at an atypical host's house, and share a beer and cheese aperitif, products that are symbols of the region. Let's offer ourselves a tasting board and go on a tour of local producers, roasters, brewers, chocolate makers... for so many moments of culinary and human encounters. You have to open your eyes wide in the mining basin: nothing is less flat than this country. The slag heaps of the black mouths have become green paradises dedicated to fauna and flora. Set off on the 11/19 ascent in rope with the CPIE, an association of enthusiasts. Climbing, trails, microlight, all means are good to discover the surroundings of Lens. Don't forget to admire the landscape!

Smart info

Get there. Boulogne-sur-Mer and Lens are 130 kilometres away. 1h45 drive via the RN 42 and the A26. Hardelot castle is 18 minutes from Boulogne-sur-Mer via the RD 119.

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