A picturesque community with an impressive literary scene and a strong Flemish influence has been crowned France’s favourite village.
Esquelbecq, near Dunkerque and the Belgian border, won the France 3 television contest Le Village préféré des Français.
Although the results were not announced until almost 23:00 on Friday (June 30), villagers had huddled outside watching the show on a giant TV screen.
The win “will raise the profile of our village, which is very close to our hearts,” said one resident during the celebrations.
Its victory brought the crown back to the Hauts-de-France region for the first time since 2018 when nearby Cassel won.
‘Great, wonderful, extraordinary’
The village - with a population of 2,125 according to the latest census - is well-known for its cultural output.
It is one of only nine ‘book villages’ – small villages with a strong literary scene – in France and hosts a monthly book market.
It also hosts a number of festivals, including a literary fair, as well as a potato festival in August.
It is also known for the strong Flemish influence – common in villages close to the Belgian border – and its chateau, which dominates the village.
The village also has its own train station, on the Dunkerque-Arras line, and is only 60km from Lille, making travel relatively easy.
Après Cassel en 2018, Esquelbecq est le village préféré des Français : le Nord est fier de son patrimoine, de ses pépites et de ses habitants !— Christian POIRET (@christianpoiret) July 1, 2023
Vivez le #Nord ! #VillagePrefere #Esquelbecq pic.twitter.com/fOte40cHT9
Unlike some villages – which feel the burden of overtourism after their victory – Esquelbecq seems more than ready for the expected influx of visitors.
“This fantastic spotlight brings people to the area, lots of tourists and it also reflects a winning region," said mayor Didier Roussel.
“It's great, it's wonderful, it's extraordinary. We've worked for it, we've given it everything we've got,” said another resident.
Cassel, which won the competition five years ago, is only 12km away from the new winner.
Which other villages made it to the final?
Esquelbecq fought off competition from dozens of other villages on its route to the final.
The final saw it triumph over 13 other villages.
Each village in the final represented one of France’s regions, with L’Entre-Deux on Réunion island flying the flag for the overseas departments.
Below is a list of the final villages in the order they were ranked:
Lavoûte-Chilhac, Auvergne Rhône-Alpes
Lassay-les-Châteaux, Pays de la Loire
Druyes-les-Belles-Fontaines, Bourgogne Franche-Comté
Hattonchâtel, Grand Est
Beaulieu-Lès-Loches, Centre-Val de Loire
L’Entre-Deux (Réunion, representing the overseas departments)
Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
Belvès, Nouvelle Aquitaine