Originally posted at 1:00 am, March 9th 2011.
We’ve lived and worked in the Pas De Calais region of France for almost 10 years now, and it’s perhaps because we feel so much at home here that we haven’t explored all the tourism possibilities as much as we should have. Or maybe we’ve just been too busy.
Well, today we decided all that’s going to change.
As it was my birthday today we decided to take a day off work. Well, not completely off, as we had to go to the post to send our business mail off, and then to the shops to pick up supplies for the great gardening offensive that’s going to kick-off any time now. Anyway, for this day of relaxation we thought we would investigate a place called St Joseph Village, a sort of open-air museum in the form of a 1930’s French country village. It’s at a place called Guines, not far from Calais, and very close to the site of the Field Of The Cloth Of Gold, where Henry VIII did a bit of tourism and showing off about 500 years ago.
It turned out to be an excellent choice. The village is full of interest – you can see the inner workings of a windmill, a water-wheel powered sawmill, a smithy and many other disappearing country sights and crafts. There are replica shops of the period, a garage, bicycle shop, printing works and a huge collection of old farm machinery. There’s also a decent gift shop and an authentic estaminet bar/restaurant where you can get a meal or some refreshment.
However, the star of the show for me was a modest display in a faraway corner of the agricultural machinery sheds. A glass display case contained some fascinating and uniquely personal souvenirs of the life and career of the great Bernard Hinault. Hinault is considered the greatest cycle racer of his generation, and arguably one of the 2 or 3 greatest of all time. He won the Tour De France no less than 5 times, which makes him a God in the eyes of most frenchmen. His other cycling victories, stage wins and podium placings are just too numerous to mention – look them up on Wikipaedia if you want to find out just how great he was.
Hinault retired from racing in 1986 and donated two of his bikes, several of his Tour jerseys and other memorabilia to his great friend M. Baclez, the founder of the St Joseph Village museum.
This little display of items so personal and important to the great champion was the big surprise of the day.
We rounded off the day out with lunch in Ardres, at the restaurant La Griotte which we can heartily recommend, and a leisurely drive home through the beautiful scenery of the Pas De Calais countryside, which is so varied it ranges from flat marshy fenland to roads of Alpine steepness with tortuous hairpins. I wouldn’t recommend a fast cycle ride on the back roads from, say, Desvres to St Omer – unless you happen to have the stamina and hill-climbing ability of Bernard Hinault, that is.
This won’t be the last of our tourism days out. We’re scheduling one day every couple of months to find out more about the local tourist opportunities in our part of Northern France