Béthune is a town in Normandy that is approximately 33kms from Lille and is also very close to the border with Belgium. The town is rich in heritage although much of it was flattened by German bombardments in 1918 and subsequently rebuilt. It was also a major centre for coal mining right up until the late 1980s.
Dunkirk and Calais are both around 80 kms from Béthune so you can be in the town within around 90 minutes from disembarking. It’s also only a couple of hours’ drive from Paris along the A1 autoroute.
WHY VISIT BÉTHUNE?
Béthune may not be top of many people’s “must-sees” in Normandy but that’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of reasons to visit the town. There’s lots of fine architecture to enjoy and much of it is in the art deco style thanks to the extensive rebuilding that had to be done after the First World War.
At the heart of the town is a huge paved square lined with many of the best Béthune restaurants, cafés and shops. On Monday mornings the square is the site of an enormous open-air market and there is also a large Christmas market there in early December.
In fact, for a relatively small town with a population of under 30,000, there is an impressively wide selection shopping opportunities to buy everything from designer fashions to local culinary specialities.
It’s also impossible to miss the grand town hall that was rebuilt in 1920. It is decorated with a façade showing just a few of the brave wartime deeds which earned the inhabitants and the town ‘Croix de Guerre’ and Légion d’Honneur’ medals in the First World War.
The surrounding area is also great for everyone from nature lovers and walkers as there are several wildlife reserves and parks to enjoy and explore.
WHAT TO SEE IN BÉTHUNE
The most notable of Béthune’s landmarks is the 47 metre high belfry that stands in the middle of the large town square. It’s said to be one of the finest examples in Northern France and houses no less than 36 bells that ring every hour on the hour. Visit and not only will you enjoy an interactive exhibition about the town, if you climb to the top you will even be able to see as far as Belgium.
Béthune’s finest church is the Eglise St Vaast. Builit in the Romano-Byzantine style between 1924 and 1927 it is light and airy inside with spectacular stained glass windows that depict key events in the life of St Vaast, patron saint of Arras.
The region’s coal mining history is explored at the Musée de la Mine which is around 10km outside of Béthune. It shows how the industry changed over the years and even includes a 200 metre long reconstruction of a mine shaft.
With so many wartime cemeteries in the area this is also an ideal base from which to visit many of them and the town’s own cemetery contains no less than 3,213 war graves in peaceful and very well kept surroundings.
To underline just how many nations were caught up in the 14-18 war, at nearby Neuve-Chapelle you will find an Indian Memorial which is an ornately decorated and atmospheric reminder of the many soldiers from the sub-continent who also gave up their lives.
WHERE TO STAY IN BÉTHUNE
There are a number of hotels in Béthune and the surrounding area. You’ll find many Béthune hotels, when you visit our partner, booking.com.
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