Situated only 55 minutes from Calais, Béthune, an attractive and bustling town, is situated between Arras and St Omer just off the A26 motorway. This relatively small town has a surprising array of designer clothing shops, interior design shops and exceptional delicatessens. A famous son of Béthune is the last Duke of Charros, Armand Josephe de Béthune who served in the army during the Seven Year War and retired to his estates in Berry where he tried to ameliorate the lot of his servants by abolishing feudal dues and introducing reforms in agriculture. He died of smallpox contracted in 1800 during a visit to a workshop for blind people which he had established in Paris.
The main square of Béthune is something of a surprise, featuring as it does a mixture of the eclectic, the neo-regional, art deco and yet with a belfry central to the scheme of things, reminding us that we are in the North of France. In 1918, 90% of the square was destroyed. The impressive Town Hall was rebuilt in 1920 and its stone façade depicts various events and triumphs of the town. The town and its citizens were awarded ‘Croix de Guerre’ and Légion d’Honneur’ medals for their part in the Great War. Amongst the many victims of the Great War in the area is the grave of a young man, John, whose family spent many years searching for confirmation of his death. Tragically, by the time confirmation was received in 1992, his father, Rudyard Kipling had, himself, died.
Most notable amongst the landmarks of Bethune is the belfry, one of the finest of Northern France, which is a square structure, surmounted by a wooden campanile dating from the 14th century. Originally a gift to the local populace for their loyalty to the crown, burnt twice - once in 1346 and again in 1664 - it was always reconstructed. It was however literally beheaded by the bombing of 1918 leaving only the construction dating from the XVIth century intact. Today it is the main emblem of Béthune and its bells still peal every hour on the hour. The old town is composed of streets and cul de sacs, bordered by Flemish style houses. The town lies in the midst of the richest coal mines of France and its industries include distilling oil, tanning, salt refining, brewing and the manufacture of earthenware and casks. Trade continues in flax, cloth cereals and oil seed.
A typical feature of towns in the Nord Pas de Calais is the tradition of ‘giants’. These characters are generally pushed around the town by a group of men concealed by the huge skirts formed by an upturned basket. Their progress around the towns is usually accompanied by music and dancers. The region is also known for the beer produced by the brasserie of Bénifontaine. Their most famous product is the CH’TI beer created in the late 20th century which remains one of the few examples of beer to be brewed by infusion. Coincidentally, Ch’ti is also the nickname given to the people of Northern France.
This delightful 17th century château, set in acres of secluded gardens and parkland, has been carefully converted into a tastefully-furnished hotel of great charm and character.The hotel in Busnes has two restaurants run by Marc Meurin and is merely less than an hour's drive from Calais and and fifteen minutes from Bethune.
Market days - Monday mornings - in and around Market Square.
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Distance from Coquelles - 1 Hour - 84 Kms (Approx)
Copyright text : Sarah Francis
Copyright photographs: Informationfrance