Explore the history of northern France

The regions of Picardy, Artois and Flanders in northern France have a culture and character of their own. It's a region where civility and cheerful hospitality will surprise visitors brought up on stereotypes of the haughty French. It's also a region with considerable historical significance.

Eurostar (www.eurostar.com) offers return trains to Lille in Flanders, with fares starting from £69 return. The journey time is just 1 hour and 30 minutes. There are regular local trains from Lille with French Railways (www.sncf.co.uk).

Amiens (www.visit-amiens.com) was once an important Roman town, and is now a busy provincial city substantially restored after German bombing in 1940. The cathedral, the biggest Gothic building in France, survived, and is impressively huge. Locals like to tell visiting Parisians that you could fit 2 of their Notre Dames inside.

Chantilly is famous for its laces and its races, as the headquarters of the French horse-racing establishment. It's deliciously upmarket, with a lavish chateau,and a gallery containing masterpieces by Botticelli, Raphael and Poussin.

Arras, in the region of Artois, is an elegant old market town centred on the Place Des Héros, a pretty square with an arcaded line of small shops and restaurants with medieval frontages. It's difficult to believe this town was at the centre of the carnage in the First World War.

Head north towards the coast and pass through Agincourt, scene of the famous English victory in the Hundred Years War. The English who come here now are a little more peaceable, enjoying the fine restaurants, Flemish beer and warm welcome in northern France.

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