Beneath the modern skin of France's northernmost region, the sights and monuments bear witness to the triumphs and turbulences of its past: soaring Gothic cathedrals, stately châ,teaux along the river Oise, and the battlefields and memorials of World War I.
The channel ports of Dunkerque, Calais and Boulogne, and the refined resort of Le Touquet, are the focal points
along a busy coastline that stretches from the Somme estuary to the Belgian frontier.
Boulogne has a genuine maritime flavour, and the white cliffs running from here to Calais provide the most dramatic scenery along the Côte d'Opale.
Flemish culture holds sway along the border with Belgium: an unfamiliar France of windmills and canals where the local taste is for beer, hotpots and festivals with gallivanting giants.
Lille is the dominant city here, a sprawling modern metropolis with lively historic heart and an excellent art museum.
To the southwest, the grace of Flemish architecture is handsomely displayed in the central squares of Arras, the capital of Artois.
From here to the Somme valley the legacy of World War I, with its memorial cemeteries and poppy-strewn battlefields, makes for compelling viewing.
Cathedrals are the main appeal of Picardy.
In Amiens, its capital, Cathédrale Notre-Dame is a pinnacle of the Gothic style - its magnificence echoed by the dizzying
achievements at Beauvais further south.
Splendid cathedrals at Noyon, Senlis and the delightful hilltop town of Laon chart the evolution of the Gothic style.
Closer to Paris, two châteaux command attention.
Chantilly, the epicentre of French equestrianism, boasts gardens by Le Nôtre and a 19th-century château housing copious art treasures. Compiègne, bordered by a large and inviting forest, plays host to a lavish royal palace favoured by French rulers from Louis XIV to Napoleon III.