Château-Thierry _ Maison Jean de la Fontaine _ Statue Jean de la Fontaine © CRTC Hauts-de-France - AS FlamentChâteau-Thierry _ Maison Jean de la Fontaine _ Statue Jean de la Fontaine © CRTC Hauts-de-France - AS Flament
©Château-Thierry, Maison Jean de la Fontaine, Statue Jean de la Fontaine |CRTC Hauts-de-France - AS Flament

In the footsteps of…

They were either born in Hauts-de-France or settled here and have become forever part of the collective imagination of the region. Follow in their footsteps and be inspired by their achievements in France and across the world. They take you to Lille, Amiens, Montreuil-sur-Mer, Château-Thierry, Vermandois and Flanders. See the landscapes of Hauts-de-France through their eyes.

Northern France _ Amiens _ Jules Verne House© ADRT80 - Nos Cœurs VoyageursNorthern France _ Amiens _ Jules Verne House © ADRT80 - Nos Cœurs Voyageurs
©Northern France, Amiens, Jules Verne House|ADRT80 - Nos Cœurs Voyageurs

01. Charles de Gaulle

a man of the North

The North wasn’t just a place of birth but it represented a set of beliefs, an education and a way of seeing the world. Being effusive was deemed inappropriate. People didn’t like to make a fuss.” Philippe de Gaulle, son of Charles de Gaulle

That in part explains how the father of France’s 5th Republic was shaped during the formative years he spent in Lille in the home of his maternal grandparents. That house, at 9 rue Princesse, is now a carefully curated museum that showcases the spirit of the place and the man. Beyond Lille, Charles de Gaulle travelled throughout the north at different times of his life, including Arras, where he started his military career, joining the 33rd Infantry Regiment in 1909 to complete his compulsory national service. Time and again he returned to Arras, where a plaque outside 16 rue du 29 Julliet marks his time living there between 1912 and 1914. He also travelled extensively through Aisne, the Somme and the north’s mining basin. He spent time on the Opal coast – his favourite family holiday destination – as well as in Calais, which was his wife Yvonne’s hometown. A statue now immortalises the couple’s ties with the city.


02. Jules Verne

Tour the world in fewer than 80 days



See a house with a tall tower? Only Jules Verne could have had his head in the clouds in a house like that! The celebrated French author lived in Amiens for 34 years, including 18 years with his wife Honorine at the Maison à la Tour. It was here that he wrote in a second-floor study while he was at the height of his fame. The observatory house at 2 rue Charles-Dubois – adjacent to Boulevard Jules Verne – is now a museum. Discover the intimate details of the author’s life here and the secrets that inspired the science fiction stories that were ahead of their time. You can take a tour of the world thanks to the map on the ground, or immerse yourself in Verne’s intimate writing space. The contrast between the modesty of the neo-Gothic residence and the extraordinary imagination that has taken generations of parents and children on magical voyages may take you by surprise.

Explore Montreuil-sur-Mer with

03. Jean Valjean

Discover Jean Valjean, the protagonist in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, during a stroll through the streets of the walled town of Montreuil-sur-Mer. This is a literary walk first and foremost, with a hint of romance on the ramparts and a gourmet flavour too (Montreuil-sur-Mer – a town of just 2000 people – has more than 20 restaurants). Montreuil-sur-Mer left such an impression on Victor Hugo that he chose it as the setting for the first part of Les Misérables. He may have come across the inspiration for the character Cosette at the Relais du Roy, a former post office, while police officer Javert may have stationed himself diligently on Place Gambetta to keep an eye on the town. A strange quirk in Hugo’s plot is that Jean Valjean is also known in the book as Monsieur Madelaine – and the village of La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil is located just outside Montreuil. It is well worth timing your visit to coincide with a sound and light show the locals of Montreuil put on each summer as a tribute to the spirit of Les Misérables.


04. Jean de La Fontaine

The captivating world of the fabulist

Jean de La Fontaine, the popular 17th century French poet and fable writer, was born in private rooms in the town of Château-Thierry. The house at 12 rue Jean de La Fontaine is now a museum that showcases his life and letters. Everything here seems timeless, starting with the white stone facade and the wrought iron railings as you enter. The elegance continues inside, with a flight of stairs ascending to the various lounges and the intimate writing room where la Fontaine created his magical words. You’ll be amazed by a collection 59 paintings that illustrate his fables, many using traditional Indian miniature painting techniques curated by Baron Félix-Sébastien Feuillet de Conches, a lover of arts and letter who collected the illustrations by artists from around the world, such as Delacroix, Decamps, Horace Vernet and Ingres. After enjoying the art, take a break in the peaceful tree-lined garden. Unless, of course, you prefer to head straight to the Champagne cellars – this part of Aisne is renowned for its production of French Champagne. Don’t forget to take in the views from the ramparts of Château-Thierry.


05. Alexandre Dumas

A little history of a big writer

It’s time for some cloak and dagger with Alexandre Dumas in Villers-Cotterêts, a village that backs on to the Retz forest in the Aisne department. Dumas is one of the giants of French literature, perhaps best known for The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, which were both written in Villers-Cotterêts. The illustrious story of the Dumas family can be discovered in the house where Alexandre was born, which is now a museum. The story features the father, also called Alexandre, who was born in Saint-Domingue and went on to become a decorated general of the French Republic. An Olivier Pichat painting on display in the museum superbly portrays him as a great hero. Then of course there is the younger Alexandre, whose collection of manuscripts, documents, original editions and illustrations have been preserved. Famous authors and heroes of war aside, Villers-Cotterêts has another significant claim to fame. It was here that French was recognised as the official language of the kingdom in 1539. La Cité Internationale de la langue française – a dedicated cultural hub for the French language – is currently being established in Villers-Cotterêts to recognise this historic event.

Le Cateau-Cambrésis / Bohain-en-Vermandois

06. Explore Henri Matisse’s heritage

and his love of colour

It’s a little-known fact that 20th century painter Matisse, son of a seed merchant, was originally from Bohain-en-Vermandois in the Aisne département. Modern art enthusiasts can visit his ‘Maison Familiale’ (childhood home) here.

The artist – with his signature colour and joie de vivre – generously gifted many of his works to the people of Hauts-de-France when an art museum was created in his name in Le Cateau-Cambrésis. As you explore the works in the museum, you’ll be struck by the way his palette lightens as his journey through life progresses, culminating in a true explosion of colour in his Tahiti era. Exceptional works donated by abstract painter Auguste Herbin, and also by Alice Tériade, add further layers of colour.


07. Marguerite Yourcenar

An escape to Flanders

Set off along the le sentier des jacinthes, or the Hyacinth Way, to the Mont-Noir in Flanders to discover the area where Marguerite Yourcenar, the acclaimed French author, scholar and translator, lived during the first 9 years of her life. It’s not simply a matter of retracing the childhood of this extraordinary writer, but a way of experiencing the region that inspired her, the landscapes that touched and inspired her. Today, Villa Marguerite Yourcenar, an Anglo-Norman style mansion in Saint-Jans-Cappel, is a residence reserved for writers, a hotbed of writing and a temporary home for creatives who also find inspiration walking in the footsteps of Yourcenar.

“These immense flat landscapes with endless skies, where the clouds constantly change the sky, the humility and the modesty, and at the same time, the solidness of the peasant dwellings, the beauty of the trees, the beauty of the great rows of trees tracing in a way the line of the horizon, and the beauty of a constantly evolving ambiance, as in certain paintings of 17th century, which so marvellously captured this beauty that is so particular of the North.”

Marguerite Yourcenar about French Flanders