It is a little-known fact to visitors to France that life indeed exists outside the wonders of Paris.
Indeed, in the few hundred kilometres wedged in between the French capital and the English Channel, there are smaller cities, curious towns and intriguing villages that provide a glimpse into the soul of regional France for those ingenious enough to go in search of it.
Some 90 years ago this year, the region around Amiens, the now frightfully peaceful Somme, was home to a tragic adventure which ended in blood and mud and death during the Great War. Amiens is perfectly placed to provide excellent access for war tourists visiting the region in search or remembrance. See www.somme-battlefields.co.uk.
Many cities have rivers running through them, others have canals carving up the bricks and mortar. Amiens falls into the latter category. Les Hortillonnages cover an area of over 300 hectares, having been reclaimed from the marshes to be used as market gardens. The canals, called ‘rieux’, come from 13 branches of the Somme and form a dense network almost 65km long between the Somme and its tributary. Almost 450 small islands here are home to an incredible array of manicured private gardens and perfectly tendered huts. Canoes are available for hire to explore this area of outstanding natural beauty; paddle from the outskirts of the city right into the heart of Amiens, and finish at the foot of the grand cathedral, arguably the city’s biggest and best attraction.
The largest cathedral in France is difficult to miss, such is its grandeur. Even those who have done the ABC of Europe (that’s Another Bloody Cathedral, for beginners) should find something wondrous here. Founded in 1220, Amiens Notre Dame is a flawless example of the purest Gothic art; the cathedral took less than 100 years to construct, meaning it demonstrates a rare homogeneity of style. The only thing more sobering than standing inside this incredible structure is the thought that, despite being twice the size of its Parisian counterpart, it survived the bombardment and bloodshed experienced not 20 miles away on the Somme.
Worth a look
The Museum of Picardy
This is one of the finest provincial museums in France, both for its collections and the quality of its architecture and gardens, which are typical of the Napoleon III era. Built between 1855 and 1867, its architecture was inspired by that of the Louvre.
The Amiens Belfry represents the freedoms the city won at its birth in 1117. Following its erection, towns and cities throughout northern France followed the lead of Amiens and erected their own belfries to symbolise their independence.