Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis
Hauts de France region (formerly Nord Pas de Calais) – The northernmost part of France, neighbor to Belgium and the closest coast to Britain from across the channel.
This region is not exactly known as a tourist hotspot like Paris, Strasbourg, Lyon, etc. It’s more know for its gray, cloudy and rainy weather, and for WW1 and 2 spots like Dunkirk (yes as in the movie).
A great way to get to know the region is through “Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis“, a really funny and great movie about a guy who has to move to “Le Noooorrdd” for work. Here you can understand what the general sentiment, stereotype and cliches people in France have about this part of the country. I mean of course this is highly exaggerated in the movie but it’s a start.
Frankly, the area is pretty much unknown to third country citizens (a term very commonly used for people who come from non EU countries) like myself, and, to be honest, if I didn’t do a master’s in Lille (the capital of the region), I don’t think I would ever have explored this region.
Short intro to Lille
Lille is a city 1 hour north of Paris (by train) and the capital of the region of Hauts de France. The metropole is one of the largest in France, coming 4th after Paris, Lyon and Marseille.
It’s actually known as an international student hub with a number of big universities both private and public, in and around the city (Catholic University of Lille, IESEG, ISA, University of Lille, ESJ, EDHEC, Sciences Po…).
Interesting facts: Paul (the French bakery) was established in Croix (city in Lille Metropole) and has it’s HQ in the Lille Metropole as well. Decathlon and Auchan also have their HQs in the Lille Metropole as well.
But I digress, since living in Lille (on a student budget), I’ve had a lot of opportunities to check out all the interesting things around the region. This leads me to the actual topic of this blog, Les 2 Caps (The 2 Capes).
The 2 caps are, as the name implies, actually composed of 2 different places: Cap Blanc Nez (Cape White Nose) and Cap Gris Nez (Cape Gray Nose). The 2 capes are separated by about 15 km of coastline and can be found in the côte d’Opale facing the United Kingdom. On a clear day, you can actually see across the strait of Dover, and see UK land (I think Dover and Folkstone). This is a protected French site and has been named one of the Grand Sites of France.
There are a lot of walking routes in and around the 2 caps. Highly recommend to check out one of them.
CAP BLANC NEZ
Getting to Cap Blanc Nez means a pictursque drive through rolling hills and farmlands. The easiest way is of course just to drive, but the Cap is also accessible via local bus from the city of Calais. Here is a link to all the possible options on how to get to Cap Blanc Nez (without a car).
If you do come by car, parking is available on both sites.
Cap Blanc Nez, as the name implies, is made up of white chalk cliffs, similar to the white cliffs of Dover. There’s a nice lookout point, a war memorial and a lot of walking routes around and between the 2 caps. Check out this short tour of the view points here.
Cap Blanc Nez is located in Sangatte, near the charming village of Escalles. There’s no commercial activity (or toilets) in the Cap area so your best bet is to take the 15 minute walk to Escalles for restaurants (and toilets).
Hanging out at the beach near Cap Blanc Nez is amazing but watch out for the tides! The beach area is only available in low tide.
CAP GRIS NEZ
Cap Gris Nez is a bit further down the coast and is found in Audinghen. Sadly I’ve never been to Cap Gris Nez in really good weather so we never made it to the beach area near this cape. The walking area and viewing points in this cape is bigger than in Cap Blanc Nez so there’s a bit more exploration to be done from the top of the cliff. You can check out this view point tour here.
The drive between Cap Blanc Nez and Cap Gris Nez is equally picturesque. I also recommend that after Cap Gris Nez, you can stop by the city of Boulogne Sur Mer and check out the lovely old city. (Potentially a different post in the future)
With the high possibility of not being able to travel far this coming summer, I think we’ll probably book ourselves a weekend near this coast and take profit of the lovely beach, scenery, trails and ambiance of the suprisingly charming, Norther French countryside.