It is inevitable that Northern France is redolent with memories of the two World Wars – but visiting memorials, graveyards and battle sites is not to everyone’s taste. For those who are interested then visits to memorials such as Thiepval, Beaumont Hamel and the Menin Gate in Ypres (just over the border in Belgium) are sobering and thought-provoking ocassions.
However, even if you are not interested, I would recommend a visit to the Canadian War Memorial at Vimy Ridge (62 Pas-de-Calais) – yes it is the site of another battle, but the Canadians have erected a stone memorial which is a thing of rare beauty. On a superb site on the ridge overlooking the rather industrial landscape of Lens and the Douai plain, the memorial is a stunning representation of hope and peace. Although designed in the 1920s to commemorate the 11,000 or so Canadians whose bodies were never recovered and the 50,000 others who died in the First World War it was finished in 1936, ironically just 3 years prior to another bout of bloody carnage,
The monument was refurbished in recent years and only re-opened in April 2007 and is well worth a visit. Several hundred metres away there is a visitor centre, trenches and tunnels to visit if you so wish, and the whole site is staffed by young Canadian student wardens who will answer any questions you may have.
Unfortunately the towns of Vimy and Lens are not particularly exciting for the visitor – but Arras offers an impressive Grand Place (Square) and is a lively place to stay.