By Jasleen Kandhari

Venture on an art crawl in the ‘Land beyond the Port’ to northern France with its Flemish and Art Deco architectural settings, for Nord-Pas du Calais contains the highest concentration of museums in France. Discover artistic treasures and legacy in the cities of Lille, Roubaix, Lens and Arras.

As part of the French government’s plans to decentralise the art collections from important national museums to regenerate small cities as art hubs and increase access to important collections, like Paris’s National Museum of Modern Art, Centre Pompidou to Metz and the Palace of Versailles to Arras, the Louvre will present two hundered and fifty of its masterpieces from antiquity to the nineteenth century in a chronological manner in the Louvre-Lense museum, opening in December 2012, reflecting the history of the empires of the Middle East, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Islam and Europe. The city of Lens has a rich mining legacy, currently under consideration for UNESCO World Heritage listing, peppered with colleries and the highest slag heaps or mining mountains.

Enjoy the buzz of Lille where the successful transformation and reinvention of unwanted industrial buildings into art spaces has resulted in a culturally vibrant city. Take the metro to the outskirts of the city to Roubaix to visit the former Art Deco swimming pool, La Piscine, built on the plan of an abbey and transformed into Roubaix’s Art and Industry Museum. In 2012 La Piscine will be exhibiting Chagall whilst the current Picasso exhibition portrays a fascinating insight into this creative genius through initmate photographic portraits through the lens of the Amercian photographer, David Douglas Ducan.

Indulge further into the history of the French textile industry at the Manufacture des Flanders Museum where the history of textile-making is narrated on a guided tour, against the sound of the historical looms and textile producing machines through the nineteenth century to the present day which still do work.

Feel history come alive in Arras at the Wellington Quarry. Located between the battlefields of Ypres and Sommes, the environs of Arras is peppered with memorials to the fallen heroes of World War 1, inclduing the Battle of Arras Memorial. Discover the underground barracks twenty metres below in limestone quarries connected by tunnels where 20,000 Commonwealth soldiers prepared for the most surprising attack of WWI inthe Battle of Arras.

Underneath the paving stones of Arras’s town squares lie Les Boves chalk quarries, now converted into a subterranean exhibition space. Until July 2012 you can enjoy the interpretation of highlights of collections from the Palace of Versailles and its enchanted gardens through displays of reproduced portraits, rotating carousels or courtly celebrations and even the famous Hall of Mirrors with Baroque music tinkling in the background.

This is part of a ten year partnership with the Palace of Versailles for visiting exhibitions to be displayed in Arras’s Fine Arts Museum. Until November 2013, the glorious historic horse-drawn coaches from the Palace will be on display, a national first. The coronation coach of Charles X to the marriage coach of Napolean Bonaparte to the funeral coach of Louis XVII transform this museum into the first external Chateau de Versailles.

Culture comes alive during festivals and October 2012 shall see the three month arts extravaganza, Fantastic 2012 burst forth in the buzzing city of Lille where excess is everything. Vibrant parades and Futuro Textiles are just some of the seven hundred arts and cultural eents which include arts, design, concerts, dance and cinema along the theme of the fantastic. There will be something for everyone so watch this space!