Separated from Great Britain by a narrow stretch of sea, the twin départements of Nord and Pas-de-Calais are pleasantly familiar yet delightfully different. Gillian Thornton explores the region’s coast, countryside and culture
Standing on the cliff top at Cap Gris-Nez with my back to France, I can clearly see the white cliffs of Dover sparkling in the late summer sunshine. The undulating coastline of home is just 32km away over the English Channel, though this narrow stretch of water has proved a more than effective barrier between the countries over the centuries.
In 1803, Napoleon amassed a huge army at Boulogne with his heart set on empire building; in 1940, German generals looked wistfully out to sea from Dunkerque after the epic evacuation of Allied troops. But no wannabe invader has successfully reached England from here since William of Normandy in 1066.
It’s a humbling thought that makes me contemplate, yet again, the weighty topic of Anglo-French relations.