The Via Romea Francigena, EuroVelo route 5, follows the ancient pilgrimage route from Canterbury to Rome.
Its 220km course in northern France begins at the port of Calais and continues through the Hauts-de-France region. This largely flat country is perhaps best known for its role as a theatre of the First World War, its industrial history, and – for cyclists – its starring role in races such as Paris–Roubaix. But it does have an understated scenic charm, and this route does a good job of touring the countryside while avoiding the autoroutes and sheds of modern industry.
Several sections are along broad commercial waterways, while others follow narrow lanes through flat farmland. There’s a significant climb between Béthune and Lens, where the route pieces together gravel tracks so you can re-enact your own ‘Hell of the North’.
The prosperous merchants’ towns of the route each have their own interest: Saint Omer’s cathedral, Béthune’s prosperous town square, Lens’ outpost of the Loure, and the bustle of Lille, revived by its TGV and Eurostar connections.