Pas-de-Calais and Nord departments together formed an administrative region.
This region is now part of Hauts de France, the newly adopted name of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie.
It is also one of the 13 new regions created by the territorial reform that took effect on January 1, 2016.
The department of Nord (59) was created on March 4, 1790.
It replaced parts of the former counties of French Flanders and Hainaut, and the ecclesiastical principality of Cambresis.
The Nord department is delineated by the North Sea and Belgium.
It is the northernmost and most populated department of Metropolitan France.
Lille is its administrative centre or préfecture.
The other major cities are Douai, Dunkirk, Hazebrouck, Maubeuge, Tourcoing, Roubaix and Valenciennes.
The department of Pas-de-Calais (62) was created on March 4, 1790.
It replaced the historical provinces of Calaisis, Boulonnais, Artois and Ponthieu.
Pas-de-Calais has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and is one of the most populated French departments.
Most people live in Calais, Béthune, Liévin, Lens and Boulogne-sur-mer as well as in the mining area in the north.
Arras is its administrative centre or préfecture.
The rest of the department, although relatively populated, is essentially rural.
Nord-Pas-de-Calais – Historical facts
The Nord has a prime strategic situation that led it to become a highly militarized area in the previous centuries.
It therefore boasts a rich military architectural heritage, such as the fortifications of Maubeuge and the citadel of Lille.
Its border with Belgium turns it into an exceptional communication hub between Great Britain-Ireland and the Continent.
The Pas-de-Calais has also a unique place in French history.
It is there that the Battle of Agincourt (Azincourt in French!), which opposed French and English, took place in 1415.
The strategic position of the port of Calais, the ‘gate to England’, played an important role in the wars of the 20th century.
Indeed, both departments were at the heart of the deadly offensives that took place of the Western front during WWI.
However, the Pas-de-Calais was once more ravaged during WWII, as it was at the heart of the Operation Fortitude.
The purpose of this offensive was to fool the Germans into believing that the D-Day landings would occur on its shores.
Both departments have therefore retained and restored many War Remembrance Sites.
Finally countless battlefields preserved in their war-state, as well as English, French and German war cemeteries remind us of these tragic events of modern history.
These sites have triggered a very active memorial tourism, as people come from all over the world to visit them.
Agriculture and industry
The Nord-Pas-de-Calais is essentially an agricultural land with nearly 70% of the land devoted to farming.
Cereal crops represents 42% of the production.
However, the region is the first domestic producer of chicory (58%), small peas (33%), endives (95%), dried beans and finally potatoes (nearly 2million tons a year)!
It is also the 2nd domestic producer of cauliflower, celeriac, hops and onions, and the 3rd producer of leek, garlic and sugar beet (4.53 million tons per year)!
Market gardening is developed around Lille, Dunkerque and Saint-Omer.
The Nord-Pas-de-Calais is also trusted name for its cattle breeding (meat and dairy cows) as well as its extensive varieties of cheese.
It also provides 20% of the domestic fishing and seafood production.
All these contribute to a gastronomy of quality.
The Nord-Pas-de-Calais had a long tradition of industrial activity – textiles manufacturing, iron and steel production, heavy metallurgy and coal mining.
The region was the domestic leading coal producer until WWII, but there has been a neat industrial diversification since the mines’ closure.
The textile industry is sadly in full decline despite the fact that the region was highly renowned for the quality of its cloth and lace.
The Channel Tunnel was opened to traffic in 1994.
Today Eurostar connects London to Lille, Arras and Paris and Brussels and Amsterdam via Calais.
Tourism in Nord-Pas-de-Calais
The Nord-Pas-de-Calais enjoys a temperate oceanic climate.
Winters are therefore mild and summers moderately warm with a reduced number of sunshine hours because of the latitude.
Rainfalls are even throughout the year and therefore sustain a green countryside.
The Nord-Pas-de-Calais is renown for the beauty of its coastline.
The sandy and pebble beaches of the Côte d’Opale – Opal Coast contribute to a very active seaside tourism.
The Nord is renowned for the 15km long stretch of coastline between the port of Dunkirk and the Belgian border.
This section is locally known as Dunes de Flandre or Côtes des Dunes de Flandre.
It stretches another 11km farther along and ends in the mouth of the river Yser in Nieuwpoort (Belgium).
The Pas-de-Calais coastline of white chalk cliffs that stretches between Calais and Boulogne-sur-mer, has two exceptional sites, the Cap Gris-Nez and Cap Blanc-Nez.
Finally, the Côte d’Opale has also many trendy seaside resorts such as Le Touquet, known as Perle de la Côte d’Opale.
Area: 6,671,35 km2
Population: 1,465.000 (01/01/2013)