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The Warsaw Voice » Travel » October 26, 2012
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Little Poland in Northern France
October 26, 2012   
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It might be the northernmost part of France, but Nord Pas-de-Calais is a region where traces of Poland can be found around almost every corner.

France fully deserves its status of the most frequently visited country in the world. It has it all takes to make a trip memorable, from glorious castles and palaces to countless historic buildings to wide beaches and majestic mountains. The legendary French cuisine and wine-making traditions play a major part as well. Most tourists choose Paris, the Loire Valley and the French Riviera as their destination, but France has for more to offer in many of its less popular regions.

Polish visitors can feel at home in the Nord Pas-de-Calais region in the north of the country. The region is home to the largest Polish expat community in France, if not the whole of Europe. The number of locals with a Polish background is estimated at 600,000 people. Most of them are descendants of economic immigrants who came to France in the first half of the 20th century. Nord Pas-de-Calais was a major coal mining region until quite recently and Poles sought jobs in the local mines before World War I and then between the wars. Their legacy is a large and strong Polish-French community which has its own organization and newspaper.

Despite the Polish connection, the general public in Poland is not familiar with Nord Pas-de-Calais, a welcoming vacation destination with seaside resorts and delightful, historic architecture. Many of its highlights were presented to Polish journalists during the Atout France press workshops organized by the French Tourism Development Agency.

The main city of the region, Lille, is the home town of legendary French President Charles de Gaulle. With a history going back a millennium, Lille attracts tourists with numerous sites of architectural interest, including General de Gaulle Square, dotted with picturesque town houses from the 17th century and several buildings dating back to the 15th century. The square is also where the Old Bourse and Opera are located. Visitors to the city might also like to see the Chamber of Industry and Commerce building and its Beffroi tower. Lille’s Palais des Beaux-Art (Palace of Fine Arts) from the 19th-century is a must-see for its art collection that boasts paintings and sculptures by the likes of Rubens, Van Dyck, Goya, Delacroix, Rafael and Monet.

Architecture aficionados will be happy to visit the city of Arras, whose name was borrowed by Polish to describe lavishly decorated tapestries commissioned by Polish kings and placed at the royal Wawel Castle in Cracow. The city’s main square, the Grand Place, is famous for a unique architectural complex of 155 town houses with Flemish Baroque facades. Art lovers should not miss the Louvre-Lens museum, which will open this December in the city of Lens and house masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Delacroix and Rembrandt. Opening a branch of the world’s largest museum in a former mining town is expected to inject new life into this part of northern France, somewhat impoverished since the local coal mines were closed down. The mines used to employ miners from around 30 countries, Poles being one of the largest groups, which explains why Lens is sometimes nicknamed Little Poland.

Architecture and arts aside, tourists flock to Nord Pas-de-Calais also because of its location on the North Sea. Even though summer is much shorter here than in the Mediterranean, the seaside resorts of Nord Pas-de-Calais have plenty of fans on both sides of the English Channel. The town of Le Touquet-Paris-Plage is particularly recommended for its beautiful, wide beaches, which have been highly popular with Parisians for over a century.

As you travel along the northern coast of France, you might also like to visit the cities of Dunkirk and Calais. Today, the two cities are important seaports and hubs for passenger and cargo transportation between Britain and mainland Europe. Ferries departing from the ports are highly popular among Polish immigrants living in Britain and Ireland.
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