Situated high above the flat plain of northern Picardy, is the medieval city of Laon, known as the ‘Montagne Couronnée’ (the Crowned City). It sits isolated atop a 100m high limestone rock, surrounded by the low, flat plains below. The high town, encircled by 8 kms of walls and formidable gates, is France’s largest protected historic centre. The town’s crowning glory is the early 12th century Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Laon, visible for kilometres in every direction. It’s one of the earliest and greatest Gothic monuments in France.
The City of Lille in the north of France is one of the loveliest in the country. Although largely unknown outside France, Lille has so much to captivate the visitor. From a beautiful historic quarter, much of which is pedestrianised, to great food, excellent shopping possibilities, and an enormous number of cultural attractions. Two of these are Art Deco gems, located outside the city in the suburbs of Roubaix and Croix, just a quick metro or tram ride from the city centre.
Capital of the Hautes-de-France region, Lille may be France’s most underrated city. Recent decades have seen the country’s 4th largest city transform from an industrial powerhouse into a vibrant and highly attractive cultural and commercial hub. Lille offers a beautiful old town with magnificent French and Flemish architecture, renowned art museums, a wide variety of great shops, outstanding cuisine, and a lively atmosphere thanks to a large population of university students and some 1600 designers in its environs. High speed direct trains from Paris and Brussels and 1½ hrs on Eurostar from London, makes Lille an easy choice for inclusion in a European itinerary.
Mention the town of Le Mans, and many of us would probably first think of the motor racing circuit famous for its gruelling 24 hr. endurance race held every year in June. The majority of visitors at that event watch the race, enjoy the local cuisine and the friendly bars and leave. Amazingly, most of them never realise that there is a beautiful old town so close by. The don’t see the Roman ruins, they miss the narrow cobble-stoned streets lined with half-timbered houses, and miss out entirely on the wonderful medieval architecture.
The town of Soissons in Picardy, designated a City of Art and History, has deep, obscure roots that date back to ancient Gaul. It occupied a strategic location, much fought over by Caesar and his Roman legions and the Gallic tribes, and later became an important city in the Frankish Empire, eventually becoming its capital—the first of France. If you enjoy discovering little-known destinations that offer important historic monuments, a magnificent Gothic cathedral, and dramatic experiences during both world wars of the 20th century, then you will find a visit to Soissons a very rewarding experience.