“Wow. I’m talking about… You weren’t kidding over the amount!” I say with a tiny feeling of anxiety in my voice. Benoit, the guide, is silently nodding.
In the end, he tried to warn me to order this local dish that it could be something to consider. But, in the arrogance and confidence that comes from a lady who committed to eating her way through Hauts-de-France to check its reputation for being the awarded European Region of Gastronomy for 2023, I disregarded his well-meaning words of caution.
Then, I’m confronted by the prospect of eating a large bowl of melted cheese with a huge chunk of bread. Also, there is a massive portion of fries on the side. It’s not dissimilar to a Welsh rarebit. This particular variant, loved by all in the region, is believed to have been brought here through Welsh forces in 1544, when Henry VIII laid siege to Boulogne. It’s made with a deliciously rich orange cheddar, which has been braised in ale to create the malty, sweet tang together with fries and a glass refreshing local cider, its color implies that every part of my lunch has an incredibly unhealthy shade of amber-yellow.
The Welsh in all its delicious cheesy splendor
- How do you plan your journey to the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. Paris 2024 Summer Olympics
- How Calais became cool: France’s often-denigrated port city has seen an uplifting moment.
- Living life slow on a vacation in the summer in the Alps
The entire gut-punching experience is amazing however it’s not until I’m putting it all down, sweating, and my buttons of my pants tense when I realize it’s only one meal. The next full-on food celebration tonight to be followed by another tomorrow and another the day after this one…
I’m taking a whistle-stop tour of this largely unexplored Northernmost part of France as well as am eager to enjoy its best parts directly through my stomach. It’s perhaps odd that Brits frequently ignore Hauts-de-France since it is our closest neighbor; it is home to Calais which is in which it is where the Channel Tunnel meets France. Nearly to the North to Paris the region is bordered by Belgiumand it shares a border with Belgium and the North Sea, and includes the lively, beautiful towns in Lille as well as Amiens.
Find out more about France journeys :
- the ultimate France trip guide
- Glow Up The under-the-radar volcanoes of France
- A Paris local’s guide to the top places to see that aren’t on the radar
The first is where we’ll be arriving by taking the direct Eurostarfrom London which takes only 1hr and 22m. A further compelling reason to travel to Hauts-de-France is the fact that it’s an non-flight destination. The first stop we made was the charming Montreuil-sur-Mer which is a one-hour 45-minute drive away. The streets lined with cobblestones are filled with more high-quality restaurants and specialty food stores that you’d imagine to see in a town that’s the (small) dimension. The love for food is so high here that the residents have created their own label of quality “La Destination Gastronomique”.
Colorful and delicious canapes are served at Vinophilie
It’s in Montreuil where I am confronted with my own culinary limitations over the Welsh at the Grand’Place Cafe, an extremely cool place to hang out in the square’s main area which offers a simple menu of high-quality dishes is paired with an industrial-rustic style (think the raw bricks, copper taps and a plethora of plant-filled buckets spilling out with green tendrils that hang from the ceilings).
There’s a brief chance to step away from my cheese plate while we walk the town’s 3km of historical ramparts and citadel under the direction of the our local guide Jean-Marie and discover that the “sur-Mer” title has nothing to do with its proximity to the ocean and the fact that Victor Hugo wrote a chunk of his most famous work, Les Miserables located right in town. The town’s residents stage a massive recreation of the story every year and it is a show that attracts thousands of visitors from across the globe.
Food-related passion is so high that the locals even have the label for their quality La Destination Gastronomique
However, before you think about it you know it, we’re drinking and eating once more: first at the speciality wines shop Vinophilie in which we sip delightfully dry Devaux champagne, and enjoy rainbow-colored canapes of smoked cod topped with beetroot, buckwheat and the blue cheese-choux bun shrimp with leek and pea oil and finally, at the renowned eatery Anecdote. The restaurant is one of a number of local eateries that are run by two-Michelin-starred chef Alexandre Gauthier. The restaurant is a tribute to the old-fashioned cuisine with modern, achingly contemporary surroundings featuring the duck pork pie and beef tartare made with Calvados and a smoky alcohol-soaked rum baba that is available on the menu.
There’s no reason to continue following that, other than to hang in the Chateau of Montreuil which is the classic chateau of the 1930s constructed by English high-ranking aristocrat Elizabeth Wooster to house her guests, which has since been transformed into a elegant boutique hotel. The design of each room is unique The one I have is in the classic French style, with a mix of pastel blue and cream and a dash of fun courtesy of the monkey frieze that swings over the walls.
Rum Baba at Anecdote
The next stop we’ll make is Boulogne-sur-Mer about a half hour’s drive away. Here, the “sur-Mer” title is this time-accurate. The city on the coast is France’s largest fishing port, and that can only be a reference to that we’re going to have fresh-off-the-boat fish and lots of it. But it won’t be before we’ve put in the effort to get it. After a trip to the huge fish market we make our way to the beloved family-run restaurant and hotel La Matelote and are assigned to cook our own meal under the adroit guidance of the head chef Stellio Lestienne. His father Michelin-starred chef Tony was the chef at the famed restaurant for over 40 years before passing the helm the reins to son.