Arras (Dutch: Atrecht) is an attractive town in the Nord-Pas de Calais region of France. It was much fought-over in World War 1 and is mainly visited by tourists travelling from or to the nearby ports of Calais and Boulogne. It is also a recommend place to travel from to visit the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.
Arras is a very easy train ride from Lille, Ypres or Paris. Alternatively driving in these parts is straight forward.
Arras is a perfect town to walk. The squares are surrounded by bars and cafes.
Les places (Grand' Place et Place des Héros) - Like many town centers in France, Arras is made of cobblestone. Both main squares measure 17 000 sqm. The town's two great squares are quite splendid providing a collection of 155 unique facades of Flemish baroque architecture. In 1492 Arras had become part of the Spanish Netherlands and this helps explain the style of the architecture (Arras was only retaken by the French in 1640 at the time of Louis XIII). These large town squares were originally designed to accommodate large markets which in different periods contributed largely to the prosperity of the city.
L'Hôtel de Ville & Le Beffroi d'Arras - The Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) on the Place des Héros (and not the Grand' Place) was destroyed during the war but has been recreated in its original style. The dominating belfry (beffroi) is 77m high, or 326 steps and offers a great view of the city of Arras. Building had begun in 1463, but it was a century later in 1554 before the work was completed (by comparison the Hôtel de Ville took just four years to construct). The belfry was built in Gothic style. A 2m tall statue of the golden lion holding the sun can be found at the top of the bell tower. It was installed under Louis XIV (hence the sun found in its paws). The statue found at the top of the belfry is the reproduction of the original which sits in the Museum of Fine Arts in Arras (the original being damaged due to the bombings during WW1). During this period, the belfry was destroyed and it was rebuilt later, just as it had originally been with a concrete structure by the chief architect of historic monuments Pierre Paquet along the town hall of Arras. The belfry is a historical monument. Since 2005, the belfry of Arras is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in category: Belfrys of Belgium and France. The local Tourist Information Office is situated in an office on the left as you go in and it is open every day except Christmas and the New Year. Below, in the basement are the underground chambers - the Boves. These can be visited on tours, and give a glimpse of an area used by the British army as a field hospital. The Boves are still used today by the locals and some sections have even been turned into restaurants. During the war they were used for sheltering soldiers and afterwards the returning towns people took refuge there whilst they rebuilt their shattered town.
Les Boves - The Boves of Arras are a collection of underground chambers (galleries connecting individual cellars) that men have gradually dug since the tenth century. The existing network is of remarkable length and excellent condition. These quarries were dug when local builders used great blocks of chalk to build the town's most important buildings. These tunnels were also used as shelters by the Arrageois during times of war, invasions, bombings... These undergrounds were also used by the British during WW1 to install a small hospital. Columns of sandstone or limestone pillars support the vaulted halls and stairways that allow residents to store food in the cellars at constant temperature of 11 ° C, which, as some of you may know, is ideal for wine storage!
Les Carrières Wellington - The Wellington Quarry is an attraction in Arras relating to the Battle of Arras in 1917. This network of underground tunnels played a major role in taking the enemy lines and helped save the lives of many soldiers. Miles of tunnels were dug beneath the Arras countryside to create command posts, kitchens, sleeping quarters and even a hospital, protecting around 24,000 Allied troops. The Wellington Quarry is located about 700 meters behind the SNCF railway station of Arras, in the direction of Bapaume. The entrance is Delétoille Street, first left immediately after the Leclerc supermarket. Tel: +33 (0)3 21 51 26 95 | Admission Fees: 6.60 euros / Special Price 3.00 euros | Open Every day all year round: 10.00 am - 12.30 pm / 1.30 pm 6.00 pm | (Annual closure: January 1 and 3 weeks after the Christmas holidays, The 28, 29 and 30 June, and 25 December).
Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Arras - The Museum of Fine Arts in Arras is located in the ancient Abbey of Saint-Vaast. The original statue of the golden lion (le lion d'or) of Arras resides in this museum. In the museum's painting collection several works of art by the following artists can be seen: Pieter Brueghel le Jeune, Balthasar van der Ast, Paul Rubens, Gerard Seghers, Nicolas Maes, Jacob van Es, Jacopo Bassano, Giovanni Baglione, Claude Vignon, Philippe de Champaigne, Jean Jouvenet, Sébastien Bourdon, Laurent de La Hyre, Charles Le Brun, Nicolas de Largillière, Antoine Watteau, Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Carle Van Loo, Joseph-Marie Vien, Camille Corot, Théodore Rousseau, Théodore Chassériau, Eugène Delacroix...
Place Victor Hugo - The Victor-Hugo square is an octagonal square located in the basse ville, not too far from the Notre-Dame-des-Ardents church. In the middle of this square lies an obelisk with a fountain. Surrounding this square are many old stone houses.
Citadelle de Vauban - The Arras Citadel was constructed following Vauban's plans at the instigation of Louis XIV between 1668 and 1672. Her primary task was to protect the kingdom from attacks by the armies of the Spanish Netherlands but the decreasing importance of Arras as a strategic site soon made her purpose redundant and she became known as La Belle Inutile - Pretty (but) useless. One of the reasons that Vauban chose this particular position is the proximity of the Crinchon river which could serve both as a source of water for the garrison but also in times of trouble as a method of filling the moat. During the battle of Arras in 1917 the moat was at one point used as a parking lot for tanks. Up until July 2009 the citadel was still used as a military garrison and housed the Arrageois: 601e Régiment de Circulation Routière. Under the new military policies of President Sarkozy the regiment was disbanded in July 2009 and the citadel sold off. What Arras is going to be able to do with the complex has yet to be decided...
Cité Nature - 25, boulevard Schuman. Recently installed in the Art Deco buildings of an old miner's lamp factory (transformed by the famous architect Jean Nouvel), Cité Nature is a cultural and scientific center dedicated to food, agriculture, nature and health. 2500 sqm of permanent exhibitions are about the environment, food, technology, history, and 1500 sqm of are various gardens, there is also a hall for meetings and exchanges. At Cité Nature one can participate in wine tastings, discussions with artists, listen to music, and watch shows. Tel: +33 (0)3 21 21 59 59
Churches & Religious Monuments
L'abbaye Saint-Vaast - rue des Teinturiers. The Abbey of Saint-Vaast, subject to the Benedictine rule, was founded in 667 on the hill of La Madeleine near Arras. It was around the abbey that the village grew, on the banks of the Crinchon river. Since 1825, it home to the the Museum of Fine Arts in Arras.
La Cathédrale - rue des Teinturiers. The taste of the classical period imposed at the time gave the inside of the church the appearance of an ancient temple. Everything is grand, majestic and beautifully proportioned. It gives an impression of nobility, balance and majesty serene, and radiant light. The cathedral houses some wonders (series of eight sculptures of saints from the Pantheon, Tombs of the bishops ...) and some Art Deco pieces.
Saint-Jean-Baptiste - rue Wacquez-Glasson. Built in the sixteenth century, Saint-Nicolas-on-the-Fosse is one of the few religious buildings Arras to have crossed the revolutionary turmoil. Known as the Temple of Reason during the terror, the church is then returned to worship, and thus became known as Saint-Jean-Baptiste in 1833 after the consecration of the Cathedral. Destroyed during WW1, it was rebuilt in the Gothic Revival style.
Saint-Nicolas-en-Cité - place de la Préfecture. Built according to plans provided by architect Joseph Traxler in 1837, the church Saint-Nicolas-en-City is one of the finest examples of neoclassical architecture Arras.
Saint Gery - rue Neuve du Vivier. Designed by architect Alexander Grigny in the spirit of the Gothic thirteenth century, the church of Saint-Gery was built between 1860 and 1866. In a national context where the "Greeks" (followers of neoclassicism) compete with the "Goths" (followers of the neo-Gothic), Grigny has made a brilliant career at Arras. The hotel Deusy, rue Saint-Aubert, is another example of his work.
Notre-Dame-des-Ardents - rue Aristide-Briand. Built in 1876, this church of Romano-Byzantine style is the work of architect Norman hesdinois Clovis, a student of Grigny. It respects the style novel Flowery XIIth century, because it commemorates the "miracle of the burning" of 1105. In an apparition, the virgin gives a magical candle to Normand and Ithier. This magical candle will cure the sickness Ardent (a disease caused by ergot) with a few drops of wax.
Western Front Tours, . Peter Norton is a master story teller, deeply knowledgable and passionate about his business. He offers three full-day tours: battle of Arras; Battle of the Somme; or the Battle of Ypres. All excellent and deeply moving.
Sample the local culinary speciality - moules frites (mussels and chips).
On Grande Place you will find Assiette du Bouef'. They serve a range of set menu meals at reasonable prices, served with as many frites as you can eat.
Also on Grande Place is an excellent patisserie.
The Saturday market on Petit Place has an outstanding farmers market, ideal for strolling or to buy fresh Cassoulet or Paella. All you need for a picnic lunch. It is all done by 1pm.
La Corne d'Or, 1 Place Guy Mollet, Arras, ☎ +33 3 21 58 85 94. Hosts Rodney and Philipe run an excellent guest house with five beautiful rooms. The building is c.1750 and is mostly original so it is rustic but very charming. Breakfast is served at the time you request down in the front room. Ideal for couples for a romantic break.