It’s time for my monthly travel blog and this week I’d like to tell you about the beautiful town of Arras in the North of France. A few months ago my frog prince and I headed to the town of Arras for the weekend. We wanted to make the most of the long weekend in November (Armistice day is a bank holiday in France) and fancied visiting somewhere fairly close by, not more than an hour and a half away. We actually settled on the idea of going to Arras when my dad discovered that I had a great uncle buried there who had died at the young age of 26 during the First World War. Armistice weekend seemed like the perfect time to go and pay our respects, as well as a good opportunity to visit another one of France’s spectacular towns.
We arrived right on schedule and headed straight to our maison d’hôtes to check in. We were supposed to check in at 3pm but as we had parking included in our stay we thought we would try to get in early, or at least drop off the car and go and explore the town. Laurence and Gerard, the husband and wife who run the Chambres d’hôtes La Cour des Grands gave us a warm welcome and let us check in to our room early. I say room, but it actually turned out to be a self-contained apartment! It was fantastic! We had our own kitchen, bathroom and bedroom, all very spacious and beautifully decorated.
After a quick freshen up we were out the door and following a little countryside footpath into the town itself. The town was a short walk from where we were staying and was absolutely stunning! I was like a fish in a goldfish bowl, staring around at the magnificent architecture…I never expected the town to look the way it did. We later learned the city had been almost totally destroyed during the First World War and only 5% of the houses in the city were habitable after three years of methodical German shelling. Amazingly, the town looks as it would have before the war as all the buildings, including the famous belfry, have been rebuilt in the same architectural style. It is simply breathtaking and we were lucky enough to have some sun, even if it was MUCH colder than in Paris.
So what is there to do in the city?
There are a lot of things to do in Arras and during our three day weekend we visited:
- the Belfry – climb to the top to get a beautiful view of the city! And the Boves underneath it (the quarry tunnels)
- the Wellington Quarry’s – sections of tunnels dug by the British army during the First World War, with the help of New Zealand diggers (hence the name), highly recommended! Fantastic tour and really interesting
- Vimy Ridge, the Canadian war memorial, a stunning and moving place to visit
- La Grand Place and La Place des Héros, try to go to the market which runs on Thursday’s and Saturday’s, it’s wonderful!
- L’anneau de la mémoire, a huge ring shaped memorial commemorating all the soldiers that lost their lives in France
- any number of the cemeteries in and around the city, just be warned, you should carry tissues…the cemetries are very moving
- see a movie during the film festival which takes place every year in November.
Where can you eat?
We bought food from the market and had a delicious lunch at home which I would highly recommend doing while you are visiting the city. There is nothing better than fresh local produce!
However, for dinner out, I would recommend the restaurant L’Assiette au Boeuf, a delicious and very reasonable restaurant in the main square with great service.
There are also a ton of pubs and bars where they serve delicious French and Belgian beer as well as a number of traditional Northern restaurants such as Le Petit Rat Porteur. The restaurant actually gets its name from the citizens of arras who used to work underground in the quarries during the day, earning them their nickname “les petits rats.”
Where to stay?
Of course I have to recommend where we stayed. We had a wonderful time at Chambres d’hôtes La Cour des Grands and I couldn’t recommend it more highly. The hosts are wonderful, the apartments are huge, modern and equipped with everything you need and the bed was just heavenly! Breakfast was included in our stay and the house is just a short 5-10 minute walk from the town. What more could you want?
Arras is an absolutely breathtaking city with an incredible amount of history, charm and architectural style. If you are looking for a weekend break from the city, Arras is THE place to visit and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we did!