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Why Hauts-de-France is having a foodie moment

Why Hauts-de-France is having a foodie moment

I stare at the Welsh. The Welsh stares back.

“Wow. I mean… you weren’t joking about the size!”, I say, with just the merest hint of panic in my voice. Benoit, our guide, nods solemnly.

He did, after all, try to warn me when I insisted on ordering this particular local speciality that it was going to be Serious Stuff. But with the arrogance of a woman who has signed up to eat her way around Hauts-de-France to test its credentials as the designated European Region of Gastronomy for 2023, I chose to ignore his well-meaning words of caution.

Now, I am faced with the prospect of eating an entire bowl of melted cheese, in which sits a sizeable hunk of bread. Oh, and a huge portion of fries on the side. Not dissimilar to a Welsh rarebit, this particular iteration, beloved all over Hauts-de-France, was thought to have been imported here by Welsh troops in 1544 when Henry VIII laid siege to Boulogne. It uses a deliciously thick, orange cheddar that’s been broiled in ale for a malty, savoury tang; alongside the frites and a glass of crisp local cider, its hue means every element of my lunch is now a satisfyingly unhealthy shade of amber-yellow.

The Welsh in all its cheesy glory

(Helen Coffey)

The whole gut-punching combination is glorious, but it’s only as I’m finishing up, slightly sweating and the buttons on my jeans straining, that I suddenly remember this is just meal one. There’ll be another full-on eating extravaganza this evening, followed by more tomorrow, and more the day after that…

I’m on a whistle-stop tour of this overlooked northernmost region of France, and looking to experience its best bits directly through my stomach. It’s perhaps strange that Brits often bypass Hauts-de-France considering that it’s our closest neighbour; it includes Calais, where the Channel Tunnel meets France. Just north of Paris, it borders Belgium and the North Sea, and includes the vibrant, attractive cities of Lille and Amiens.

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The former is where we arrive, catching a direct Eurostar from London that takes just 1hr 22m; another enticing reason to explore Hauts-de-France is its accessibility as a flight-free destination. Our first stop was the charming Montreuil-sur-Mer, a 1hr 45m drive away, where the cobbled streets are dotted with far more quality restaurants and speciality produce shops than you’d…

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