Near the house
If you don’t want to go far from basecamp, here are a few nearby things that will give you a feel for the area.
This spectacular church (a three-minute walk from the house) was built by the Dambricourt family who lived in the two chateaux of the village. Its construction was finished in 1870, and it is considered to be a great architectural jewel of the area. The church is usually open and they welcome visitors.
Saint Omer Aerodrome
This is an eight minute drive from the house. A visit here does not take long – there is not much to see – but bring a sense of history and your imagination and try to picture the place just over a century ago. This was the Royal Flying Corps’ busiest base during the First World War, and more than a hundred flights would have taken off from here every day. There is a memorial to commemorate these events. It is now a small aerodrome for flying enthusiasts.
Here is No. 85 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, photographed at the aerodrome in June 1918 (from the Imperial War Museum collection).
Many of those from the aerodrome were buried in this site next to the village graveyard in Longuenesse. If you have never visited one of the Commonwealth War Graves this is humbling and fascinating. The graves and grounds are maintained impeccably and this is a beautiful and serene place. There are also Second World War graves here of many nationalities.
The River Aa Paper Industry
A twenty-minute walk from the house, this area incorporates the industrial heritage of the village. You can see an old paper mill (there used to be nine of them on this stretch of the river) as well as the huge Arjowiggins paper factory that shut two years ago, bringing an end to five hundred years of history in this region of France.
The Longuenesse Wine Shop
Less than ten minutes away there is a fabulous wine shop called Le Chais. They sometimes have tastings on Saturdays. This could be the perfect place to check if you’ve retained a bit of your school French — although Pascal, the manager, does speak good English (but like all true Frenchmen he won’t volunteer this immediately!).
The War Museum
La Coupole is a fifteen-minute bike ride away, and less than ten minutes by car. It was an impenetrable, secret bunker complex built by the Nazis to build V2 rockets. It is now a fascinating museum that focuses on the region’s history during World War II. It is well worth a visit.
The Saturday morning market in the centre of Saint Omer is very colourful. You can buy virtually anything. There are hundreds of stalls and thousands of locals buying provisions. Gloriously French! There is a much smaller market in Wizernes on a Sunday morning. There is rather less to buy, but it is a fun place to get vegetables and a few treats. The longest queue is usually by the rotisserie chicken van – so popular that they issue customers with a loyalty card.
The Glass Factory at Arques
Less than fifteen minutes away, the Cristal d’Arques factory is one of the great industrial successes of the region and still employs over two thousand workers. The factory tour needs to be pre-booked and gets mixed reviews, but the factory shop is very popular!
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