Barely 30km southeast of Dunkerque and just off the A25 autoroute towards Lille, is the tiny hilltop town of CASSEL. Hills are rare in Flanders, and consequently Cassel was much fought over from Roman times onwards. Marshal Foch spent "some of the most distressing hours" of his life here during World War I, and it was up to the top of Cassel's hill that the "Grand Old Duke of York" marched his 10,000 men in 1793, though, as hinted at in the nursery rhyme, he failed to take the town.
There's no public transport from Cassel's train station (a regular service on the Dunkerque-Lille line), a full 3km west of town, so your own transport would come in handy. Once there, however, your efforts will be rewarded with the very Flemish Grand' Place, lined with some magnificent mansions, from which narrow cobbled streets fan out to the ramparts. The town's useful tourist office is on the square (JuneAug MonFri 9amnoon & 1.306pm, Sat 9amnoon & 26pm, Sun 26pm; SeptJune MonFri 8.30amnoon & 1.305.30pm, Sat 9amnoon; tel 03.28.40.52.55, www.ot-cassel.fr); they have a list of bed-and-breakfast gîtes and other places to stay in or near Cassel. From the public gardens in the upper town, with the inevitable statue of hero Foch, you have an unrivalled view over Flanders, with Belgium just 10km away. Here among the trees is eighteenth-century Kasteel Meulen, Cassel's only remaining wooden windmill (AprilSept daily 10am12.30pm & 26pm; OctMarch Sat, Sun & school holidays; free) there used to be 29 pounding their linseed oil and flour mills day and night.
Of the several places to eat on the Grand' Place La Taverne Flamande, at no. 35 (closed Tues evening & Wed; from €14) specializes in Flemish cuisine, while Le Sauvage, no. 38, is more for classic French food at similar prices. Up near the windmill at 8 rue St Nicolas, 'T Kasteel Hof (tel 03.28.40.59.29; menu €15) oozes local ambience and has a variety of beers to go with the typical cuisine, including a delicious carbonade; its popularity makes bookings advisable at weekends.