About Time: You Discovered Gastronomy in Northern FranceBy Rosie Crossman
Holidays in France are just fantastic. Northern France lies in wait, a roadside blur for those venturing toward the heat drenched sunflower fields of the South. The escape route, which leads toiling workaholics towards Rose wine, and basking in the seaside air. But do not underestimate Northern France. To stereotype the flanders fields as a flat and disenchanting passageway, where little else but booze cruise transactions occur, would be to miss out.
Just a stone’s throw from Dover lies a history steeped matrix of culture. Flanders dwellers should be pompous, safe in the knowledge that their rich offerings are utterly captivating. Yet, they are modest, attentive and eager to share their stories and passions.
Grab your rucksack and hop on a ferry; we suggest MyFerryLink – they have fantastic pastries. Take a weekend, or even a day, to be captivated by the North.
The Hiltop Town – Cassel
With history stretching back to Roman times, the Flemish settlement of Cassel lies on something of a novelty in the North, a hill.
We wished that the cobbled streets could speak of the town’s fascinating war torn history. In 1940 Cassel witnessed the struggle of a generation, who fiercely contested the German invasion. During this time much of the town was destroyed, but Cassel’s decoratively clad streets have since been lovingly pieced back together.
The true beauty of the French Flanders owes a lot to the tangle of Flemish, Dutch, English, French and Norwegian cultures. On the outskirts of Cassel lies the Flemish styled red brick farmhouse of Jardin de la Ferme, The extensive gardens are the tireless craft of Emmanuel de Quillacq and Bruno Caron.
Those who consider garden visits a touch geriatric, are advised to sit beneath the hop draped beams of the farm house, with a slice of the superb Speculoos tart. That said, you would be mad to not take a wander through the fourteen themed rooms of greenery. Peering through the little ‘windows’ gauged in the hedge at intervals, you will be treated to many different views of the leaf framed landscape. While away the hours sketch book in hand, or take deep breaths to cure your pollution filled lungs.
For full frontal Flemish immersion, head to Bruno and Emmanuel’s side project, the Estaminet, Het Kasteel Hof. Estaminets are defined as ‘French cafes serving alcoholic beverages’. The restaurant may well be just the spot to sample the local beer, but it also offers the best grub in town, and a small but perfectly packed delicatessen. Watch on as freshly picked apples from Jardin de la Ferme are peeled at a neighbouring table, providing a reassuringly rustic experience.
*Make sure to ask to go up to the balcony, the view provides a first kiss flutter in your stomach.
Taking in Lille
A trip to the North of France wouldn’t be complete without nipping to Lille, France’s forth largest city. Those keen for a spot of masterpiece roulette, should head to Le Palais Des Beaux Arts de Lille, the largest collection of art outside of Paris. For an excellent overview of the city try:
The 2CV is a French institution. The first car of many a French teenager, it comes complete with hair dryer sized engine, soft-top (of sorts) and interesting suspension. The 2CV has taken on a new role as a vessel for city tours. Hope for bright, clear skies and with the help of your guide/ driver soak in Lille. Highlights include the Gothic Royal Opera House and Vielle Bourse, once the City’s Trading Exchange, now an intricately restored structure with grand Renaissance glory.
Lille’s Cathedral is an endearing mash of traditional and modern architecture. Despite it’s dwarfing size, step inside and you can’t help but be enveloped by safety and warmth. Savour the rare moment where you find yourself so immersed in splendour and so lost in thought, that time stands still. Laced light streams in through the stained glass mosaic arches and candles flames flicker dutifully, tokens of hope, love and prayer.
In Lille’s Cathedral we all stand equal, shielded from judgement. If you can tear yourself away, the true magic is revealed when you turn to leave. To the south the traditional stained glass is replaced with an illuminated, abstract and beguiling sun, which runs the height of the building.
Scoff Tea at Chez Meert
When visiting Lille, taking tea at Meert is a imperative. Don’t be put off by the hordes, they are there for good reason. Fight you way to the shop window and gaze in on row upon row of hand crafted patisserie royalty. Deciding just what to demolish is impossible, we suggest making a shortlist and heading inside.
Wash your cake down with Meert’s viscous hot chocolate, which deserves to have a poem written in honour of its unctuous artery blocking, sweet tooth satiating splendour. Afterwards, pop into the shop and snap up a cake or three for your betrothed- careful cake obliteration does occur when packed upside down in suitcases.
Dinner at Rouge Bar by Steven Ramon
In June, Steven Ramon, one of the finalists in France’s answer to Masterchef; Top Chef, opened Rouge Bar. Well on his way to Michelin stardom, Steven jam packs his dishes with fresh, unusual, and seasonal produce. Delicate scallops come served with earthy mushrooms and thinly sliced beetroot and amuse bouche lobster morsels, with just a touch of pickled cabbage. Make sure to book, the restaurant gets very busy.
With many thanks to My Ferry Link, The French Tourist Board + Sara.