Le Nord-Est de France
In the Northeast, Haut-de-France is historically connected with Dutch Flanders and Wallonia of Southern Belgium; Grand Est has certain German ties, particularly in Alsace but also part of Lorraine.
Historic cultural distinctions still exist and can be identified in the 5 former regions of Northern France that were combined into 2 larger regions in 2016 for administrative, political, and fiscal purposes. Each region maintains smaller administrative départements, similar to counties in the US, with an appointed préfecture, or administrative main city, like a county seat.
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Northern Regions > City préfecture (Département)
- Lille, Haut-de-France region capital (Nord)
- Arras (Pas de Calais)
- Amiens (Somme)
- Laon (Aisne)
- Beauvais (Oise) + Chantilly, Senlis
- Strasbourg, Grand Est region capital (Bas Rhin)
- Colmar (Haut Rhin)
- Metz (Moselle)
- Nancy (Meurthe et Moselle)
- Épinal (Vosges)
- Bar le Duc (Meuse)
- Charleville Méziéres (Ardenne)
- Chalons en Champagne (Marne)
- Troyes (Aube)
- Chamont (Haute Marne)
Bordered by the North Sea and Belgium in the north of France, Hauts-de-France is a merger of two of its former regions: Nord-Pas de Calais (north) and Picardie (south) with five departments and the regional capital of Lille, the fourth-largest urban area in France. The region has a strong heritage of mulquineries in the art of linen weaving and trading.
Due to most of Nord-Pas de Calais belonging to the 15th- to 17th-century Netherlands, a strong Dutch-Flemish influence remains in the area of Nord-Pas de Calais. This low-lying area has long been heavy in industry, historically focused on coal mining and textiles, today leads automobile and food production. The most populated Nord department bordering Belgium has historic roots as Flanders and Hainaut (see Belgium) where the Flamand (Dutch) dialect is decreasingly spoken. Pas-de-Calais (English Strait of Dover) department along the English Channel (La Manche) is the entry point of the Eurostar highspeed train via the Channel Tunnel.
Forests, canals, and rivers comprise the remaining three departments (Somme, Oise, Aisne) of what was Picardie with its own strong cultural identity. Although the Picard (Romance) dialect is severely endangered and is known as the birthplace of Gothic architecture with six Gothic cathedrals in the communes of Amiens, Noyon, Soissons, Beauvais, Laon, and Senlis.
A bucket of mussels and a basket of fries, moules-frites, is a Belgian favorite that is popular, particularly in the Nord province of Haute-d-France. Abbaye de Belval is a traditional cow’s milk Trappist cheese. Particular to northern Nord-Pas de Calais is Maroilles, a soft cow’s milk cheese with an orange rind used in a regional tart, and sucre vergeoise, a brown sugar obtained from sugar beets. Flemish Waterzooï is a traditional fish stew with carrots, potatoes, herbs, leeks melted with butter, cream, and eggs; like a terrine, Potjevleesch is a Flemish meat dish of cold chicken, rabbit, and veal in jelly.
Products of the departments of Picardie include dairy, cheese, vegetables, and white beans from Soissons. Ficelle Picarde, rolled crèpes stuffed with ham, cheese, and mushrooms, topped with more cheese and baked, is a classic Picardy dish. Pâté de canard d’Amiens en croute is a duck paté in thick pastry from the early 1640s; Flamiche aux Poireaux is a pie with leeks, creme fraiche, a touch of butter from the late 18th century; Chantilly cream is whipped with a pod of vanilla; Gâteau Battu is a moist brioche-like cake, typical as an Easter dessert.
Nord-Pas de Calais is known for Flemish architecture, while Picardie has Renaissance and Baroque cathedrals, churches, and abbeys, such as Château de Chantilly and Château de Compiègne.
Hauts-de-France includes 2 major cities: the regional capital of Lille and the Picardie prefecture of Amiens. Amiens Cathedral, the Mining Basin, and several Flemish belfries are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Many battlefields from the World Wars are located in Haut-de-France.
Grand Est is a large, diverse region bordered to the north and east by Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and Switzerland, which combined the former regions of Alsace, Lorraine, and Champagne-Ardenne in 2016.
Although French is the official language of all of France, Alsacian is a regional language, similar to Swiss-German, spoken in Alsace and part of Lorraine. Francique is a Germanic dialect spoken by some in the Moselle department of Lorraine. In the rest of Lorraine, some speak the francophone Lorrain (langue d’oil) dialect; some in Champagne speak the francophone champenois.
This region is particularly known for white wine (Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Crémant, Muscat), along with crème fraîche, soft cow’s milk cheese such as Munster, fir tree honey, high-quality dry-cured ham, and rustic, slowly reared open-air poultry.
Traditional Alsacian restaurants serve Baeckeoffe, a casserole of mutton, beef, and pork marinated with white wine and juniper berries then baked with potatoes and onions; Coq au Riesling is stewed chicken, mushroom, onion, and lardons in dry white Riesling wine, served over spätzle or egg pasta. In a region known for cabbage, Choucroute Garnie is a winter sauerkraut brined with juniper berries and served with meat dishes. Tarte Flambée (aka Flammekueche in Alsatian) is a flatbread with cheese (fromage blanc, Munster, crème fraiche), bacon (lardons), and caramelized onion.
Lorraine is known for Madeleines, spongy butter cookies. Quiche Lorraine is a creamed egg tart with bacon (lardons) and a touch of nutmeg. Champagne-Ardenne is best known for Champagne, the famous premium sparkling wine from this namesake region.
Gothic architecture at the Notre Dame cathedrals of Strasbourg, Reims, and Metz. Alsace and parts of Lorraine are known for Gothic architecture and wide German half-timbering (pan de bois). Champagne-Ardenne is influenced both by the half-timbering to its east and the Dutch-styled brick of Hauts-de-France to its west.
The Grande-Île of Strasbourg and its Prussian-styled Neustadt (new town) quarter, built during the German control of the city between 1871 and 1918, are UNESCO World Heritage sites along with the Place Stanislas, Place Carrière and Place d’Alliance in Nancy, masterpieces in town planning with sensitivity to public spaces from the 18th-century Enlightenment period.