The Hauts-de-France town of Arras and its surrounding territory of Pays d’Artois is relatively undiscovered by British tourists – and its excellent accessibility from both the ferry or Eurotunnel in Calais and the Eurostar hubs of Lille and Paris rates it highly in the sustainable travel stakes. More than just a stopover en route to other destinations, Arras-Pays d’Artois offers an enticing blend of military history and culture, outdoor activities and world-class craft beer.
Remembrance tourism: The renovated Carrière Wellington
Memorial to the Battle of Arras and gateway to Remembrance tourism in the Hauts-de-France region, the Wellington Tunnels reopened in November 2021 following major renovation and now offers an even more moving and immersive journey back in time. The Battle of Arras is a key yet forgotten chapter in history, when 24,000 British Empire troops were billeted underground in the chalk underground quarries for a week to await an attack of a kind never before seen in military history, launched on 9 April 1917.
The renovated site now tells the story in a different, more empathetic way, with compelling museography to better convey the historical context: the Great War, Arras in torment, the engagement of the British Empire, the underground war, the commitment of the New Zealand tunnellers. Below ground, new technologies enhance the sensory and emotional experience, with video mappings projected directly onto the chalk walls and 3D audio techniques. Visits continue to be guided and audio-guided, but they have now been made more fluid and powerful and end with a new historical film. At the end of the tour an interactive map with information and itineraries will invite the visitor to discover the WW1 sites all along the old front line. Over 10,000 visitors have already enjoyed the site since it reopened.
Other cultural highlights
Arras boasts one of the highest numbers of historic monuments for a single town in France, blending heritage and cultural dynamism with a slow pace of life. The Belfry of Arras is a symbol and landmark of the town – and was the first regional monument to be granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status, back in 2005. A 55-metre climb to the top takes in awesome panoramic views of Arras and the Pays d’Artois, while below, the grand pedestrianised Place des Héros is a locals’ meeting place with buzzing café terraces and a twice-weekly market, surrounded by 155 facades punctuated by 345 columns.
The 17th-century, Vauban-designed Citadel followed suit with its own UNESCO recognition. Today it is a mini ‘town within a town’, with a range of remarkable historical buildings, green footpaths, businesses and leisure activities. A new Italian-inspired restaurant opened its doors in the Citadel in January. A significant part of the history of Arras is written within the walls of the former Saint-Vaast Abbey, now a cultural centre and home to the Museum of Fine Arts, with its collection of 19th-century paintings by Breton, Corot and Delacroix. The museum has commissioned Musair, a regional start-up, to develop special audio narration guides for seven masterpieces in the collection. Ten minutes outside Arras, the Brewery of Foncquevilliers is a brewery-turned-contemporary art centre, with an annual exhibition from May to late September.
Slow tourism: Nature and outdoor activities
With picturesque ‘Village Patrimoine’ heritage-labelled villages, natural spaces and riverside leisure parks, golf courses, pick-your-own farms, hiking and cycling routes, the Pays d’Artois offers a real immersion in nature off the beaten track.
Riverside park Vallée de la Scarpe in Saint-Laurent-Blangy offers an array of water-based activities from classic rafting, canoeing and kayaking to the more unusual pirogueing, SUP yoga and hydrospeed swimming. People also come here to pedal along the tranquil water’s edge or try their hand at archery, blowpiping or disc golf, and to test their skills on exhilarating orienteering races. Cit’Loisirs is a family-friendly leisure park with a treetop adventure circuit situated in the Citadel, with rope bridges and giant ziplines – one of them 210 metres long – and a new outdoor escape game concept.
There are 85 hiking trails (totalling 990km) across Arras and the Pays d’Artois, including one GRP route and four GR routes which include the Via Francigena pilgrimage. Cyclists can enjoy 15 dedicated trails (totalling over 500km) as well as sections of two major cycle routes: the 362 and 32. The ’14-18 Hills and Plains of Artois’ initiative offers guided tours that combine WW1 Remembrance tourism with hiking and cycling. A dedicated page, ‘Les Randonnées du Pays d’Artois’, is available on the main tourist website, linked to the Cirkwi app.
New last summer, luxury nature-based accommodation Natureza offers eco cabins and wellbeing gîtes on a six-hectare park in Roeux, 15 minutes outside Arras. The cabins are either troglodytic, beside a lake, raised on stilts or perched in the trees – but include all hotel comforts.
Beer breweries and fine food
Arras and beer share a long history: the first mention of the local ‘March beer’, made in winter, dates back to 1394. A number of craft breweries have been set up in town in recent years – L’Arras’In is the only one in Arras itself, situated by the Belfry. Outside town, the organic Brasserie Paysanne de l’Artois produces craft beers from its own crops, something not found anywhere else north of Paris. It has created a new spring vintage beer for 2022 called ‘The 1394’. Sample local beers at beer bars including Chez Marcel and La Capsule – the latter a trailblazer voted 23rd best beer bar in the world by RateBeer.com in 2021 – and visit restaurants such as L’Oeuf ou la Poule where beers and food are expertly paired. At Home Bière in Athies, to the east of Arras, teaches visitors how to brew their own.
Arras is also home to world-champion cheesemaker Virginie Dubois-Dhorne, based at dairy La Finarde in the citadel – cheeses are sold at the local markets, as is Pascal Denis’ honey, which won the Concours Agricole prize last year. Another key product is endive (chicory), with 95% of France’s production grown in Hauts-de-France. The ‘Arras Pays d’Artois Original’ label has become a benchmark bestowed upon the best of local cuisine and artisan production, covering 30 specialities. Meanwhile, 10 restaurants in Arras and more widely in the Pays d’Artois have united to form the Du Pot’ager à la Table network. Together they showcase homemade, seasonal cuisine, enhance the region’s culinary heritage and reduce food waste.
The Arras-Pays d’Artois 2022 calendar is packed with exciting happenings. The summer season kicks off with Le Didouda Festival (17-21 June) and its range of intimate concerts in multiple genres. Later highlights include Main Square Festival (30June – 3 July) with 55 performers including Sting and the Black Eyed Peas, contrasting with Les Inouies Festival (late August – mid-September) celebrating ancient, Baroque, classical and contemporary music. Craft beer tastings, food pairing workshops and concerts combine at Beer Potes Festival (3-4 September), while GREN FEST (late October) unites music and comedy. Seeing in the festive season in style, Arras then comes alive with Christmas celebrations (month of December): expect Christmas market stalls, fairground attractions, an ice rink and beautiful decorations across town.
Press trips to Arras-Pays d’Artois
Individual press trips to Arras run throughout the year, highlighting its accessibility from the UK by ferry/car or train, and focusing on cultural, outdoor and/or gastronomic themes that cater to all age groups. Please contact us for further details.