North of Paris and stretching toward the Belgian border and English Channel, you’ll find France’s newest region: Hauts-de-France. Encompassing incredible historic sights even pre-dating Roman times, plus important spots on the World War I and II Remembrance Trail, as well as fascinating cultural wonders and spectacular architecture, this is a region that punches way above its weight in terms of sightseeing.
Because of this, Australians are discovering ‘slow travel’ works best here: road-tripping, but with plenty of stays along the way so that there’s more than enough time to sit in the cafes, wander the historic halls, and experience the many hotels that, in a lot of cases, are sights to see in themselves. In that vein, here we have a guide to the very best accommodations this fabulous region has to offer.
Just a 50-minute ride on the TGV fast train from Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport, the capital of the Nord region is also 2020’s European Capital of Design. Fittingly, you have a wide range of accommodations to choose from here in this cool cultural hub, from grand historical residences to funky, modern pieds-à-terre.
Mama Shelter: An explosion of colour, pattern and sass, ‘Mama Lille’ is not the shy and retiring type. Think Europop, exposed concrete, unapologetic neon and the warm hug of plush, vibrant cushions. This hotel has hip to spare, its 118 rooms combining comfort with cool – don’t miss the restaurant and terrace, and a bar open till the wee hours on weekends.
Hôtel Clarance: As different from Mama Shelter as night from day, the Clarance is a luxury five-star boutique property in the old town. A mere 16 rooms and suites share this 18th-century mansion, dedicated to art, poetry and the good life. This is not so much a (Relais & Chateaux) hotel as a cultural institution, with an innovative on-site restaurant to match. If you really want to spoil yourself, choose the Clarance Suite up amongst the old timber roof beams.
The Baroque-era town square, Flemish flavour and UNESCO Heritage-listed Town Hall make this a charming stop – way too lovely to simply pass through. A stay overnight means you can make the most of the town’s Art and Abbey districts, and check out the Nemetacum Roman site. (Local tip: here, you do pronounce the ‘s’ in Arras.)
Najeti Hôtel de l’Univers: Right in the historical centre of the city, this former 17th-century Jesuit monastery has 81 rooms inside its stone walls, including 25 luxury rooms and a wonderfully spacious family suite. Make the most of the hotel’s history by booking a private wine-tasting down in the brick corridors and arches of the buildings underground cellars, or dine on local produce in the on-site restaurant, Le Clusius.
Thousands of Australian tourists travel the Remembrance Trail through northern France every year, and Villers-Bretonneux in the Somme region is at its very heart. This was the site of the first tank battle in history, as well as epic clashes during World War I, now memorialised by world-class museums such as the Australian National Memorial and the Sir John Monash Centre.
Villa Varentia: The ‘villa’ part of the name is absolutely true; here, visitors have the chance to stay in a true country mansion set upon 6,000 square metres of stunning parklands and orchards. There are only four rooms and one suite, each with a different look and feel, plus a swimming pool, spa and a velvet-furnished salon. This is elegant French hospitality at its warmest.
Gothic and medieval sights abound in this simply gorgeous city. Don’t miss a boat trip around Les Hortillonnages (floating gardens), a visit to the 800 year old Amiens Cathedral listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a wander through the boutique-lined alleyways of Quartier Saint-Leu. Linger longer, so you can take in the incredible archaeological finds at the Musée de Picardie and the wonderful eccentricities at Jules Verne’s old home.
Hotel Marotte: A mix of sumptuous old and cutting-edge new, the Marotte suits Amiens to a ‘T’. On one hand, the Belle-Epoque ‘Old House’ features soaring ceilings and windows, suitably wonderful tea room and eight traditionally appointed rooms. On the other, the sustainably built, green-roofed ‘Cube’ holds three rather enormous suites with private spas and/or saunas and a penthouse complete with a private terrace to make the most of the delightful, historic views.
Hotel Le Prieuré: Almost at the very foot of the Gothic cathedral in a beautifully preserved pedestrian street, this surprisingly reasonably priced hotel is not going to stay a secret forever. Our tips: choose Room 9 to sleep in a bed directly underneath the priory’s stunning domed ceilings, or ask for a room up the top under the eaves to enjoy knock-out views of the cathedral right outside your slanted roof window.
An absolute must-see for any history buff, Soissons has roots that delve back through time to the Celts, even living under the rule of Caesar. With a connection to the Roman Catholic church dating to around 300AD, Soissons also boasts a 12th-century cathedral which draws visitors from around the world.
Chateau de Courcelles: Your dreams of staying in an actual chateau in the countryside of France are here, waiting to become reality. This family-owned Relais & Chateaux property does everything it’s supposed to do, from its fairytale manicured gardens and avenues of trees alongside rippled streams, to its sand-coloured walls, slate-grey roofs and turrets, and curlicued accents. Inside, its 18 rooms and suites include panelled walls and high ceilings, while meals are served in its two history-filled dining rooms, the winter garden or the summer terrace.
Nestled within its own forest and featuring a breathtaking chateau and its surrounding domaine, the intimate enclave of Chantilly is close enough to Paris that it forms a part of the greater metropolis, but offers so much to see that it more than deserves a stay for a night or more.
Hôtel le Chantilly: Just a 10-minute walk from the famed chateau and the Great Stables (a very big drawcard in equestrian-obsessed Chantilly), this very lovely bed and breakfast-style accommodation sits in one of the town’s typically pretty sandstone villas. Its 20 rooms have been recently refurbished, while its common areas celebrate the property’s original stone, timber and fireplaces – combining to make a rather cosy stay indeed.
Feature image: Villa Varentia