Northern France _ Équihen Plage _ Path going down the beach © CRTC Hauts-de-France _ Fabien CoisyÉquihen Plage Sentier Descendant à La Plage Crt Hauts De France Fabien Coisy
©Northern France, Équihen Plage, Path going down the beach|CRTC Hauts-de-France - Fabien Coisy

8 good reasons to explore Northern France, the closest‑to‑home Rugby World Cup 2023 destination

If you’re thinking about attending a Rugby World Cup match or two in September/October 2023, where could be better to do that than in the part of France that’s the closest to home and easiest to get to: Northern France – just the other side of the Channel. Fixtures take place in Lille (directly accessible from London by Eurostar, or an easy 75-minute drive from Calais) as well as in nearby Paris.

Yet there are many more reasons to choose Northern France than just the ease of travel. Whilst the buzz, spirit and conviviality of rugby between fans and locals is sure to ripple through every stadium and city square in France, only one region’s locals are officially France’s most friendly – and that’s Northern France’s!

And besides going to the matches, just take a look at what else you can do while you’re here: Did you know that within a short distance of from Paris you can get your thrills at theme park extravaganza Parc Astérix, see the James Bond filming location that is Château-de-Chantilly, clink flutes on the Champagne route or see the sobering trenches, memorials, cemeteries and museums on the WW1 remeberance trail? Or from Lille there’s a chance to visit the lesser-known Louvre in Lens, to (literally) sail the sands of the Opal Coast, or stand on the Dunkerque beach  where the famous evacuation took place – shipwreck evidence still in situ.

Memorable moments between matches are what we’re all about. Happy exploring!

Northern France _ Lille © CRTC Hauts de France - Nablezon - make Art MediaNorthern France _ Lille © CRTC Hauts de France - Nablezon - make Art Media
©Northern France, Lille |CRTC Hauts de France - Nablezon - make Art Media

01. All roads lead to the Hauts-de-France region

Whether by car, train or plane, Northern France is so easy to reach. Lille, the capital of the region, will host five games, including two England matches and one Scotland match. Located less than 80 minutes from London by Eurostar (including tunnel time!) or 60 minutes from Paris by train, it couldn’t be easier! From Paris or Lille you could then get efficient connecting trains to other key towns in the Hauts-de-France region such as Amiens, Arras, Boulogne-sur-Mer or Laon. Or if you’re planning to drive over, everyone who’s done it will tell you how easy, efficient and quiet the roads are in France. In other words, however you plan to get from A to B, you’ll have no problem getting out and about – even for a daytrip.

If you’re lucky enough to get tickets for the semi-finals in Paris, you might like to know that in under an hour’s drive from the capital (or 20-minute train) you can visit some of France’s most incredible places including Chantilly, most famous for its chateau and palatial stables but also for its signature whipped cream. If Mother Nature’s more your thing, it has to be the Compiègne forest – a 39-minute train ride from Paris where you can hire bikes to get on historic woodland trails.

02. Our duty of rememberance

 

 

Our love for rugby is not the only thing our nations have in common. Despite the atrocities of two World Wars, this shared past brings us closer. We all carry a duty of remembrance for those who fought continuously and sacrificed so much for our freedom, and the greatest embodiments of our deep gratitude are the memorials soaring over the battlefields, honouring soldiers from Britain, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and beyond. The  ‘Ring of Remembrance’ is one of the most impressive. 345m in perimeter, this vast ring-shaped sculpture, engraved with the names of over 580,000 soldiers who fell in the area – their names neither separated by nationality, grade, gender nor religion – is the ultimate symbol of peace and hope.

And there’s a whole host of other ways to find out more about WW1:  walk or cycle designated commemorative routes on the very ground soldiers fought the Battle of the Somme; explore the flagship WW1 ‘Historial’ museum in Peronne; experience scale and silence in the region’s war cemeteries; or plunge 20m below ground to see the secret tunnels of Wellington Quarry, near Arras.

 

03. Ready, set, go!

Since sport is what brings you here in the first place, it’s good to know that there are a multitude of ways to get active yourself on Northern France’s varied landscapes – fantastic playgrounds whatever type of activity you like.

If you like a good adrenaline buzz on the coast, there’s everything from sand yachting, surfing and sea wading to water skiing, wind surfing and wakeboarding.

Or if you’re more of a feet-on-the-ground type, you might be tempted by hundreds of hiking routes, the best known of them the Deux Caps site, where you can walk for 14 miles on soaring cliffs between land and sea. Further inland, take a walk in the green countryside of French Flanders, hopping from one hop field and picturesque village to the next.

This part of France excels at cycling too, not for speed, competition or to don a fancy yellow jersey but for pure pleasure. You could cycle along the coastline from Cayeux-sur-Mer on the Opal coast to Dunkirk the Somme Bay on the Eurovélo 4 route, explore the many inland cycle tracks through fields and forests, or opt for horseriding to discover some of the most scenic locations Hauts-de-France has to offer – from the forest of France’s equestrian capital Chantilly to cycle paths through our coastal dunes.

Just make sure you’re back in time to get behind your favourite team at the 8pm game!

04. "Bon appétit!", as we say in France!

One thing’s for sure; you can’t enjoy a rugby game to the max on an empty stomach! Wherever you go in Northern France, you’ll have no problem finding restaurants, brasseries, or our unique ‘estaminets’ offering delicious local dishes. If moules-frites (mussels and chips), carbonnade flamande (beer and beef stew), or ‘le welsh’ (a bread and ham dish literally swimming in cheese) could whet your appetite, you’ve come to the right place!

With 16 Michelin-starred restaurants and a buzzing food scene, the region is known for its creativity and its strong, tasty dishes full of character. Maybe not surprising then that Northern France is the first French region awarded the ‘European Region of Gastronomy’ label for 2023, a prestigious accolade denoting savoir-faire, culinary creativity and a local cuisine celebrated beyond national borders.

If you’re driving be sure to come with space in the boot so that you can take home some goodies from independent food producers en route, such as craft breweries, cheese farmers or champagne producers.

Find out more about Hauts-de-France’s culinary scene – and exactly where to drop your foodie pins below.

05. A vast cultural heritage

Culinary art is not the only artform mastered by the region. Northern France is also known for its variety of architectural styles, its heady mix of culture and a unique heritage influenced over the centuries by many different countries.

In terms of architecture, you’ll need to visit the magnificent gothic cathedral of Amiens (one of the largest in France!) or if you’ve a head for heights, admire the view from the top of one of the region’s Flemish-influenced belfries. They’re amongst the most emblematic landmarks of Northern France, so no surprise that 23 of them are Unesco-listed, including the one towering over Place-des-Héros in Arras.

More than just buildings’ designs, the region holds many awe-inspiring cultural sites such as Le Louvre-Lens, which is a branch of the Parisian Louvre, and La Piscine in Roubaix, once an Art deco swimming pool, now a serene art museum famed for its stained-glass window.

06. Family first

If you’ve passed down your passion for rugby to the next generation and you’re coming to the World Cup en famille, here are some crowdpleasing activities you’ll all love between matches.

For thrill seekers, the rides of Parc-Asterix, just a short hop from Paris, are a paradise for children and adults alike. For the really little ones and adrenaline evaders, there are also plenty of quieter activities!

Not too far from Parc Astérix, the enchantingly fairytale Pierrefonds Castle will captivate you all. If you’ve got a sense of déjà vu about it, you might be right; This impressive, fortified Castle regularly features on film sets including the hit BBC drama Merlin.

Fancy a trip to the coast? Some of France’s favourite beaches are here, packing a punch for all the family. And in Boulogne-Sur-Mer on the Opal coast, don’t miss Europe’s largest aquarium, Nausicaa. Kids will be amazed by over 100,000 fish and submarine species, a unique opportunity to dive into the ocean’s depths without any flippers or snorkel. Just a few miles up the coast in Calais, be sure to treat the kids to a memorable ride on the back of the Calais Dragon. No, you’re not hallucinating; this life-sized, animated dragon breathes fire, bats his wings and runs, taking you on a seafront ride offering fantastic views over the Channel.

07. A diverse and suprising nature

Whether you prefer to feel the wind on your face on white-sand beaches, or shade from the sun under age-old trees in the Compiègne forest, Northern France’s unspoilt nature has something for you.

With 15 nature parks, the region is rich with beautiful spots, from the calm of our forests to the lush green palettes of our countryside. Sweeping across 100 miles of coastline, the scenery is sure to wow you as it changes from cliffs to sand dunes and white sandy beaches. And there has to be a special shout-out to the Somme Bay, considered to be one of the most beautiful bays in the world. Here diverse landscapes go hand in hand with diverse fauna and flora, and if you’re lucky enough, you might be able to spot seals sunbathing. If birdwatching‘s your thing, don’t miss the Marquenterre park for frequent glimpses of the 250 species of migratory birds passing through.

08. The Northern spirit of conviviality

Just as with other monumental sporting events, the 2023 Rugby World Cup will be a spirited coming together of nations, and that’s just the kind of genuine conviviality that the people of Northern France are known for throughout France. It’s something you’ll see inside the stadium for sure, but most warmly on the outside too.

All over, people love to have a good time and share moments with others; the more the merrier! With traditional events organised throughout the year such as Dunkerque’s carnival or Lille’s 100-km-long Braderie (fleamarket), locals regularly demonstrate their ability to throw a good gathering. We’re therefore all looking forward to this big celebration that will be the Rugby World Cup.

If you want to mingle with the locals Northern style, there’s no better place than in a bar, watching the great game. Although we don’t guarantee we all speak perfect English, the international language of rugby dictates that everyone gets by and gets on and we always make our visitors feel “Highly Welcome”! And you can rely on our estaminets (Flemish restaurants) warming your hearts with generous local food, perhaps the best reflection of the warmth of Hauts-de-France people there is.