Dunkerque is nowadays the route many take into France and indeed is the third busiest port of France. The past is reinvented every year for two months in a carnival featuring the town ‘giants’. The town suffered badly in the War and was the last town to be liberated in 1945. The reconstruction was functional and the architecture unremarkable, but the Musée des Beaux Arts survived and has some superb paintings.
The highest hill in the area (175 metres) is outside Cassell and affords spectacular views. A single windmill still exists where before there were many. It is here that General Foch commanded troops in the First World War and it is reputed to be the Hill up which the ‘Grand Old Duke of York’ of the childrens’ nursery rhyme marched his men. Latterly in World War II, a defence was set up outside the town to protect the retreat of the expeditionary forces from Dunkirk.
The area has plenty to offer in terms of sporting activities from woodland paths in the extensive forests to beaches and windsurfing, sailing and a vast sports complex at Gravelines, set at the mouth of the River Aa, with its 17th century ramparts built by Vauban. In 1588 the Spanish Armada anchored off shore overnight at Calais and it was here that they set their fire ships ablaze. From the sand dunes and pastel colours of the sea, the landscape extends inland to beautiful unspoilt countryside.
Lille is the capital of Flanders and the fourth largest metropolis in France but is also known for its shopping and gastronomy and is becoming much visited due its excellent TGV and Eurostar links. The town is full of elegant 17th and 18th century buildings including those of the Grand Place, the Chamber of Commerce, the Opera, the Vieille Bourse (old stock exchange, currently a theatre) and the Place du Général de Gaulle. The General was born in Lille in 1890. The square is dominated by four women; the goddess in the centre who commemorates the siege in the 18th century by the Austrians, and the other three graces atop the gable of the Voix du Nord building constructed in 1932. Voltaire visited the town in 1741 when he held the premiere of his play ‘Mahomet’ there and the ‘Rue de la Vieille Comédie recalls this event.