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Sifex France Guide to Somme

The Bay of the Somme is the largest estuary in Northern France and is an extraordinary place to observe bird life as well as its resident colony of seals. Wildlife features high on the agenda. Waterfowl hunting is keenly pursued but in stark contrast, the “Parc de Marquenterre” is a nature reserve of 250 hectares of dunes, forests and marshes. Thousands of birds pause whilst migrating including such rare species as sandpipers, barnacle geese, oystercatchers and spoonbills whilst 60 varieties of nesting birds inhabit the dunes.

On either side of the estuary are the towns of St Valery sur Somme with its bustling marina and Le Crotoy with its miles of south facing sandy beaches. A steam railways links the two in summer and the journey will take you past the grazing sheep on the salt marshes which are a regular feature on local menus, together with fresh shrimps, oysters and seafood in general. With an incredible microclimate and exceptionally subtle lighting, the area attracted artists including Sisley, Degas and Seurat and at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War the famous writer, Jules Verne was a coastguard there.

The Somme is rich in history and places of architectural interest. From the site of the Battle of Crecy and its forest which extends to 4,322 hectares, to the battlefields of the 1914-18 war, there are some sixteen chateaux, four abbeys and a cathedral to visit amongst many fascinating buildings. At the 18th Century Abbey of Valloires, originally founded in the 12th century by a Cistercian monk the gardens are almost as remarkable as the building, with 5,000 species of rare and unusual roses and shrubs. At St Riquier, the Abbey church is one of the finest examples of flamboyant gothic in the area with any ornamental façade featuring wonderful stone carving and sculpture rather than windows.

The gothic Cathedral of Amiens is listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site, its lead-covered wooden spire being the oldest in France. Jules Verne lived in the city and you can visit the Jules Verne International Centre. The Quartier St Leu is crossed by the canals of the Somme and 300 hectares of gardens are divided by 55 kilometres of small canals, emanating from the river. The area called the“Hortillonages” was once marshland. Abbeville, only 15 kilometres from the Bay, is known as the ‘little Camargue of the north’ as it opens out onto the coastline. Small wonder the Somme is beloved by British, Dutch, Belgian and Parisians who flock there to weekend and enjoy the many pleasures on offer.

© 2003-2006 Sarah Francis

Sifex France Guide to the Departments in Picardy


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