Picardy is a department in the Hauts-de-France region (formerly Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy) which borders Paris. It’s one of those places that visitors often leave off the radar, however it offers a huge variety of things to do from gorgeous beaches, captivating castles, historic cities, Champagne vineyards (yes Champagne vineyards that aren’t in Champagne!) and more…
Here’s what we think are 15 of the best things to do in Picardy…
Celebrating its 800th year in 2020, the great Gothic Cathedral of Amiens is awe-inspiring. By day the Cathedral attracts pilgrims and tourists eager to see its vast interior. Filled with statues and frescoes, soaring vaulted ceiling, it has a majestic presence, witness to eight centuries of history. At night though, it’s an altogether different place. The exterior of the cathedral is smothered in a technicolour light performance in a show that makes audiences gasp in wonder. This free 50 minute show runs throughout the summer. It’s also held in December during the Christmas market, and is an absolute must-see.
Watch a sunset in the Bay of Somme
The Somme Bay is ranked among the most beautiful bays in the world, It’s a sanctuary for seals and a stopover for migratory birds. With an ever-changing landscape as the tides ebb and flow, it’s an exceptional landscape on 4500 hectares. It’s a great place for walking or cycling and perfect for lovers of sunsets which are spectacular here.
At the mouth of the Baie de Somme, Saint-Valery-sur-Somme has grand seafront villas once rented out by luminaries including Victor Hugo, Edgar Degas and Alfred Sisley. There’s a colourful fishermen’s quarter, cobbled streets lined with boutiques bars and galleries, and a charming Sunday morning market. Don’t miss a ride on the vintage steam train which goes all the way round the bay. Read more about Saint-Valery-sur-Somme
The great chateau of Pierrefonds was built at the end of the 14th century by Duke Louis of Orleans. After being dismantled in the 17th century it was in ruins when Napoleon III decided to entrust the reconstruction to the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (Notre-Dame Paris). His restoration of this medieval castle is simply astonishing. The castle was used as the setting for Camelot in the BBC series Merlin – it really is magical.
A classified “plus beaux village de France”, officially one of the prettiest villages, Gerberoy has oodles of charm. Think cobbled streets, half-timbered buildings dripping with roses and wonderful views over the lush countryside. Discover more about gorgeous Gerberoy
Saint-Quentin is listed town of Art and History and famous for its art deco style. There are about 3,000 art deco facades in Saint-Quentin including the Post Office with its grand hall, Le Carillon Cinema, the lanterns of the Pont d’Isle and the Conservatoire de Musique et de Théâtre. On Wednesday and Saturday mornings, the city centre market adds a buzz to the day and a chance to shop for scrumptious French delicacies and local produce.
The hortillonnages of Amiens are floating market gardens. They’ve been cultivated since the Middle Ages (it’s thought as early as the 13th century) on a maze of canals, on the edge of the city. The best way to experience this historic heritage site is with a guided electric (environmentally friendly) boat tour (from April to October). It’s incredible to see the city’s Cathedral spire in the background while you spot dragon flies, wild birds and even herons on the tranquil waterways. The lush, flower filled island gardens reflect a close relationship between man and nature and make for a unique nature escape right in the heart of the metropolis. From spring to autumn a fabulous Arts and Garden festival is held in the Hortillonnages.
To the north of the Somme bay lie miles of sandy beaches and dunes. And here is where you will find the 200-hectare Marquenterre park. Some 300 species of migrating birds stop over or nest here. Nature lovers can rent binoculars and set off on a 7km hike, taking in 12 hides with a guide at each to talk about the birds.
Dedicated to the famous comic book characters Astérix and Obélix there are numerous attractions, entertainments and shows in the 50-hectare amusement park. It’s a brilliant day out for kids of all ages!
Yes you did read that right. There are Champagne vineyards in Picardy. There are around 40 villages in the south of the region which are part of the world famous Champagne growing area. The vineyards of Chateau Thierry in the Marne Valley have been included in the Champagne production zone since 1936. More about the Champagne vineyards of Picardy
Beaches and seaside towns
The wild coast road running south from the bay as far as Le Tréport passes some wonderfully quaint seaside towns. You can’t help but feel that little seems to have changed since the end of the 19th century. Cayeux has a long pebble beach lined with brightly painted beach huts. The faded opulence of Ault’s 19th-century villas is overshadowed by the natural beauty of its towering white cliffs. At Mers-les-Bains the grand villas have been wonderfully renovated.
Parts of Picardy’s landscape is scarred by the memories of two world wars. Visiting the memorials, cemeteries and museums of the Somme is an intensely emotional experience. The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, is sombre and reflective and profoundly poignant. The Thiepval Memorial Museum next door provides an excellent overview of the battles that took place in the Somme.
A short drive away, the Lochnagar Crater, near the village of La Boiselle, was created by a large mine placed beneath the German front lines on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. It created an enormous crater 21m deep, 100m wide. Today it is a brutal reminder of the scale and the horror of war, the largest crater ever made by man in anger.
The former capital of France (when Paris was still a village), Laon’s old town is set on a steep hill with ramparts and ancient gateways. It’s colourful cobbled streets are lined with shops, bars and bistros. Laon has a beautiful 12th century Cathedral. And, from the ramparts there are wonderful views over the surrounding countryside. On a clear day you can see into neighbouring Champagne.
Compiègne is perhaps best known for being the town where the armistice was signed. The historic act took place in a train carriage in the forest, ending World War I on November 11, 1918. A replica now resides in the Compiègne Armistice Museum. The city is dominated by an immense palace built for Louis X. It was one of three seats of royal government (Versailles and Fontainbleau were the other two). Now this vast building houses the National Car Museum, Museum of the Second Empire and historic royal apartments including Marie-Antoinette’s apartment. chateaudecompiegne.fr
Chateau de Chantilly
The stunning chateau of Chantilly is one of the most impressive royal homes in France. Today it houses an immense collection of artwork and has what surely must be some of the most beautiful stables in the world. Gorgeous gardens, restaurants serving, of course, Chantily cream with dessert and fabulously furnished rooms make this an absolute must-see.