John Ruler looks at how his love of Nord-Pas de Calais helped him discover a long-lost relative who perished in World War I.Read more...
Montreuil-sur-Mer and the Seven Valleys - A view from our expert author
If anywhere is guaranteed to explode the myth of Nord-Pas de Calais as being flat, boring and bleak, then this it.
There is a distinctive Camelot ring to this region. Dominated by Montreuil-sur-Mer, an Arthurian-style fortress in everything but name, it appears little more than a tranquil landscape of rippling rivers and lowing cows. But scratch the surface and you’ll find it’s not quite a land of bygone legends, rather one in which contemporary boutique businesses, fiercely proud of their pastoral heritage, are carving out cottage industries free from a world of big-brand blandness. Many are young entrepreneurs; others now have outlets in fashionable French cities. All are fiercely individual, fearful of trendy projects. One government accountant, convinced the Seven Valleys would wither and die without big-time rural tourism, reportedly made the mistake of suggesting a leisure park. He was promptly sent packing. Rightly so: the Seven Valleys is not a playground, but a working community in which country pursuits come naturally, and not as part of some grand eco design. It does have historic links, of which the Battle of Agincourt (‘Azincourt’ in French), is a glaring example, but above all the region still provides a chance to sit back, enjoy the countryside and soak up some stunning scenery.