The Hauts-de-France region, which includes the former Nord-Pas de Calais and Picardy, we got to know during our two visits (2015, 2016) as a hospitable and brittle area with a population "to match", with brittle charm and warmth. We found a mix of nature, culture and history that offers a wide choice of how to spend the vacation, long or short.
The region has lost two industries in quick succession that provided the economic basis for modest prosperity for the middle class, which mainly included workers in the coal mines and machine factories, and the textile industry that produced fabrics and carpets.
As in the regions with heavy industry in Belgium, Luxembourg or Germany, a process of many changes began: other job profiles emerged, new jobs followed, art and education were given new sites - or work in places that were once factory halls and now provide the framework for their creativity.
A culture of the 21st century is gradually emerging here that does not burn its bridges to the past and sees itself as a further development of the past.
A look back into the world of technology 1.0 can be experienced in the Roubaix Manufactory. Looms dating from the Middle Ages, when weaving was done by hand at home, to modern, computer-aided models show the evolution of a technology that was primarily aimed at increasing production speed.
The path to this goal can be marveled at above all when the old machines are brought to life for a short time.
The Louvre in Lens got off to an exciting start. At first, there were a lot of skeptics among art lovers, who debated whether it made sense for France's most famous gallery to open an exhibition space for world-class art objects in Lens, of all places, a then run-down former mining town. Controversy ensued there was damage by rioters and there were the "usual fears" that the Lens site would never be able to compete with other high-profile locations.
All these fears have now been dispelled, and this museum has joined the ranks of the world's greats, a fact that is also appreciated by visitors.
On the other hand, we find it a pity that apparently the visitors of the museum return home "right away" after their visit and do not visit or do not visit enough the basis on which this museum was able to invent itself in the first place. Just as the museum and its exhibitions are enjoyed, Lens also holds things worth seeing, tasty and for walking or cycling.
Lille is no longer just a stoppover point of Eurostar or TGV between London, respectively Paris and Brussels. The capital of the Nord-Pas de Calais, it is a city that wins over its visitors with a charming old town friendly, has great restaurants and around the citadel a park and a small zoo where the locals walk with their families, enjoy the sun and fresh, culinary delights under the open sky in the sun.
We start our excursion in Lille's old town, where all the interesting streets and squares are literally waiting for us: Rue de la Monnaie, where the same can be spent happily, well and a lot. The closer we get to the Chamber of Commerce, the Opera and the Old Stock Exchange, the smaller the temptation to buy something becomes, because the prices of the clothes on display move away from the possibilities of our budget with breathtaking speed...
But the city has other big and small surprises in store.
The same goes for the aforementioned Roubaix, where La Piscine, with world-class exhibits, has found a home in a former Art Deco-style public baths.
Here we found everything from art, to relaxing under the sun, to opportunities for workshops reserved for students from the city's and region's schools.
France is not only a land of wine and champagne, but also of beer.
Saint-Omer is home to one of the largest breweries in northern France, the Brasserie Saint-Omer, which we visit on the occasion of the Fête de la bière and observe how the solid ingredients end up becoming liquid and really good tasting beer.
This region of France we will continue to observe, because there are still a number of places here that are really worth visiting or revisiting.