Cassel in Nord Picardy is a charming hill-top town that overlooks French Flanders and is the home of the legendary giants Reuze-Papa and Reuze-Maman.
The highest point in Flanders, Cassel has views stretching across French Flanders and out to include the south coast of England, the North Sea, and the belfry of Bruges on a good day. Though the town dates back to Celtic times, it was the Romans who realised Cassel's strategic position and the military opportunities it afforded by building 7 roads to the hill, 6 of which you can still find here today. Cassel has seen much war and has had several important battles fought on its soil between the Flemish, French and Dutch. It saw more war during the 20th century as the headquarters of General Foch during the Battle of Ypres in WW1 and much of the town was destroyed during fighting in WW2 as British forces put up a defensive screen to protect the evacuation of Dunkirk. The town is known for its Flemish tradition of having local legendary giants Reuze-Papa and Reuze-Maman, along with their children, carried in procession at Easter and followed by dancers and celebration. Flanders is universally known for its windmills and in the 17th and 18th centuries there were over 3,000 mills in the region. Today, the wooden Moulin Cassel is still a working mill and is open for visits. You can even buy a bag of freshly milled flour when you leave!
Cassel has 2 museums that are worth a look during your visit here.The Musée de Flandres, housed inside the beautiful Hôtel de la Noble-Cour, contains works from the Flemish masters, as well as artworks by contemporary artists and extensive collections of rare and original religious, historical, geographical and ethnographic works. There is also a small museum looking at daily life in the town during the 19th and 20th centuries. Spend some time admiring the Gothic Collégiale Notre Dame de la Crypte, the town's main church and a listed historical monument. There are several festivals celebrated here with the giants' procession at Easter, the Cassel cornemuses, a bagpipes festival with traditional music and country dancing on the second weekend of June, and a medieval festival at the Moulin Cassel on the first weekend of July. A storytelling festival is hosted throughout July and August with hikes and meals with storytellers. Hiking, biking and horse riding are great outdoors pursuits in this hilly region or why not relax and enjoy the landscape from the sky in a hot air balloon ride? The best views on land are from the garden Mont des Récollets at the summit of the hill.
Pay a visit to the workshops of local craftsmen and artisans including a wood carver and buy some of their wonderful works. There are also bakeries and confectionists where you can pick up some treats such as bêtises de Cambrai sweets, mint flavoured boiled sweets with a strip of caramel. Dishes such as potjevleesch, a white meat terrine of chicken, veal and rabbit in aspic, and waterzoi, a fish or chicken stew in a creamy sauce are popular. Enjoy your meal with some locally brewed beer or cider.
Region: Nord Picardy
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