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Iyna Bort Caruso

The North of France, an area made up of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Normandy and Picardy, is a region of historically-shifting borders. Flemish and Germanic influences are evident in how people speak, eat and live.

Nord-Pas-de-Calais is situated by the English Channel and the North Sea, a spot that was once a highway for invading Gauls and Vikings. Fortified towns are among the legacy. Crowds are far and few between here. The region’s inland capital of Lille has roots in Flemish culture--Belgium borders Pas-de-Calais. Lille, a city of pretty public squares, has many boasts including Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, built under Napoleon and the largest museum outside of Paris. Lille also houses Europe’s tallest belfry. In its center Euralille is a mixed-use business district with a design master planned by architect Rem Koolhaas. Urban homes include lofts, triplex flats and apartments carved from historic mansions.

Along the English Channel are the cliffs and dunes of the Côte d’Opale, or Opal Coast. The popular seaside resort of Le Touquet is sometimes called Paris by the Sea. After the First World War, Le Tourquet was the stomping grounds for British High Society. Le Tourquet experienced changing fortunes over the years but it’s once again a playground for sailors, equestrians and golfers.

By far, British are the largest group of international buyers in northern France, followed by Belgians, Dutch and Germans.

Adjacent to Nord-Pas-de-Calais is Picardy. It’s known for its walled cities, medieval settlements and battlefields, memorials and cemeteries from World War I, site of some of the fiercest fighting. Every year people by the thousands come to pay their respects. Picardy’s beaches stretch out for 60 kilometers with a quality of light the Impressionists favored. The area is crisscrossed with footpaths, part of a network of marked trails called Grande Randonnées. In Picardy, brick and stone farm houses and half-timbered homes are the prevailing architectural style.

Historic Normandy is known, of course, for the D-Day landings of the Second World War. Solemn museums and monuments fringe the coast while horse farms, chateaux and resort towns like Deauville, the jewel of the Côte Fleurie –Flowery Coast – are also part of Normandy’s identity. In Deauville, polo, horseracing, golf and a famous promenade have been drawing blue bloods here for generations. As in Picardy and other regions of northern France, half-timbered homes, a holdover from the Middle Ages, and rural properties built of granite, schist and brick are dominant.