Arras is the préfecture of the Pas-de-Calais department, in the north of France. This 42,000-inhabitant town is renowned for its stunning squares of Flemish Baroque style and belfry which is listed in the World Heritage of UNESCO. But Arras has many other assets such as a fascinating history, a great local gastronomy, welcoming locals, numerous hiking paths and sport facilities, street markets, many cultural events, etc.
Arras dates from the Roman period. Vestiges were found in the town and documents proved that the town was called ‘Nemetacum’. The town was later the capital of the French province of Artois, an important religious centre and thriving city with amongst others drape production famous in all the area for its quality. In the 13th century, Arras was known as the largest literary centre in Europe with many poets and writers living or visiting the town. Arras has also been famous for its tapestry (15th c.) and china production (18th c.).
Arras has an outstanding architectural heritage: the Grand’ Place and Place des Héros are definitely worth seeing. The baroque style of the 155 houses located around the two squares, to which we can add the wonderful belfry and cathedral built by Vauban are jewels of architecture. Arras has the French label ‘town of Art and History’.
Arras is the chief town of the communauté urbaine d’Arras, a very active community of 24 communes gathering more than 100,000 inhabitants. The town is located at the confluence of two rivers: the Scarpe and Crinchon Rivers. It is a flourished town as it was rewarded 4 flowers at the French competition of ‘villes fleuries’ and houses numerous parks and gardens. The administrative centre of the Pas-de-Calais department has beside a strategic location. Life in Arras is vibrant as plenty of events are held all year round. History lovers can’t help loving this town full of traditions and heritage from the past.
The property market in Arras is affordable. The average price for a property to buy in 2009 is €2,470 /square metre. It is pretty low in comparison with the department price: €3,723 /square metre. As regards rental prices, the town also offers lower prices than the department as a whole: the average price in Arras is €11.7 /sq m /month against €12.22 /sq m /month in Pas-de-Calais.
In May 2009, the average price for a property to buy in the administrative centre of Pas-de-Calais was €1,960 /sq m and €2,210/sq m for an apartment to buy. In 2008, prices for apartments were comprised between €1,58 0/sq m and €2,330 /sq m. A new apartment cost between €2,550/sq m and €2,940 /sq m. As far as houses are concerned, here are ranges of prices for 2008: €110,000/€155,000 for a 4-room house, respectively €125,000/€160,000 and €137,000/€189,000 for 5 and 6-room ones.
With 62.6% of the inhabitants being tenants and 57% of the properties being apartments, Arras is a good location if you want to invest in a property in northern France. Lifestyle is really pleasant in this town which has a great architectural, historical and cultural heritage and thus attracts more and more French and foreign holidaymakers (British, German, Dutch, etc.) every year.
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Historical heritage: Arras suffered a lot from WWI and kept an important heritage from this period. The 20km of tunnels under the town can testify this. Originally limestone quarries (9th-12th centuries), tunnels were dug in 1917 in order to prepare an important diversion battle called la bataille d’Arras. More than 24,000 soldiers of the Common Wealth lived in the undergrounds and fought in the area. The Canadian monument of Vimy was built in homage to Canadian soldiers who fought there and won the battle against the German soldiers. Wellingtion quarry was opened to visitors recently, giving the opportunity to people to go 20m down and discover life of soldiers in the undergrounds. A return in the past that you will not forget…
Good food: the town produces a fine cheese called le Coeur d’Arras. The taste of this cheese, which has a form of heart, is close to the one of maroille. You can also find delicious andouillettes, local beers (gingerbread l’Atrebate), chocolate rats (rats being the symbol of the town) and so on. Why not sit at a terrace of a pub on the main square and taste local food while admiring the wonderful belfry?
Monuments: Arras is home to many wonderful monuments. The major architectural jewels are the squares –Grand’ Place and Place des Héros– town hall and the belfry. The latter was built during the 15th-century, destroyed during WWI and identically rebuilt. It is listed by UNESCO. The 155 houses of the squares are fascinating. These stone houses have a Flemish Baroque style featured by gabled facades, arcades and length, they don’t have large front but are very long. The town also houses a stunning cathedral of neo-classical style, Saint Vaast abbey, Vauban citadel (listed by UNESCO), an octagonal square with an obelisk at its centre (place Victor Hugo), a wonderful 18th-century Italian theatre, a Fine Art Museum and many mansions such as the hotel de Guînes, hôtel Dubois de Fosseux or hôtel Deusy.
Events: Arras boasts a thriving cultural life all year round. Amongst others: a book festival (May), an international film festival (November), a music festival (June), a Christmas market on the Grand’Place in December, varied exhibitions in the Fine Arts Museum and Cité Nature (exhibition place with interactive games, video screens, etc), horse races in the racecourse. From mid-March to mi-June, the undergrounds welcome a special exhibition: le jardin des boves, Plants and flowers form an incredible garden underneath the cobbles of Arras’ historic centre which is organized according to a theme (different each year: theatre, musicals, etc). Summer is the liveliest time in Arras. Numerous visits of the places of interest are organized and allow both locals and visitors to discover all the jewels that the town has on offer. The ‘Main Square Festival’ is definitely not to be missed. Since 6 years, it welcomes every year in July very famous French and international artists: Radiohead, BB Brunes, Mika, Céline Dion and Metallica in 2008, Coldplay, Amy Mac Donald, Placebo, Moby. Katy Perry and Lenny Kravitz in 2009.
Location – transport links: as said before, the town has an ideal geographical location. Situated at the crossroad of the A1( Paris - Lille ) and A26 ( Reims - Calais ), it allows people to move easily in the area and also to reach other French regions. The train station has TGV high-speed train lines to the most important French cities: Paris (more than 10 a day), Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, Rennes, Nantes, Toulouse, Perpignan, Montpellier, Quimper, Brest, La Rochelle, Strasbourg… but also to other Europea countries like Brussels for instance. The airport Lille-Lesquin, which offers both national and international flights, is only 30 minutes by car from Arras.
Flemish houses: these properties can be found around the two main squares of Arras, Grand’Place and place des Héros. They are features by gables (curved or square ones) and archways on the ground floor. Sculptures on the fronts remain the long history of these properties which were already used by merchants during the Middle Ages. These sculptures are different from a house to another. These properties were originally built in wood but they were then rebuilt during the 17th century in stone and bricks to avoid fires which could destroy all the houses very easily. Flemish houses can be constructed of red bricks or white stone. They are very narrow but were built in length. These properties show how the north of France was influenced by the neighbour Belgium.
Town houses: depending on the location, you can find luxury town houses or more modest ones in housing estates. Luxury town houses are located close to the town centre. They are like the Flemish properties pretty narrow but spread in length and have numerous rooms of large dimensions. They also have a large entrance door and are generally made of bricks or white stone. They come with a garden. Other kind of town houses can be found further from the town centre. They have small dimensions but a practical layout. They all look almost the same: red bricks, a roof made of slates or tiles, a small courtyard and/or garden, a garage or car park in front of the house.
Farmhouses: such properties were formerly built as traditional farm dwellings and converted into normal homes later on. Farmhouses are located in the countryside. They are constructed of red bricks and cement or stone. They have large dimensions and come with a garden for modern farmhouses and a large piece of land and outbuildings for traditional ones. The particularity of farmhouses in the north of France is that they have a closed courtyard, so invisible from outside the houses.
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