Amiens, the capital city of Picardy in northern France, is one for your bucket list. It has an age-old history and an incredible UNESCO listed Gothic Cathedral. There is also a remarkable “Green Venice” of ancient canals which criss cross the city, an extraordinary network of watery arteries dotted with hundreds of floating gardens. This is a city that has everything from outstanding nature to museums, culture, fabulous restaurants and a thriving cafe culture.
At the foot of Amiens Cathedral, the weekly Saturday morning market takes place along the pretty Quai Belu in the old district of St Leu. With its higgledy piggledy colourful houses and multiple bars and restaurants, there is a festive atmosphere. The market on the water as it’s known, is where the market gardeners of Amiens ancient floating gardens known as hortillonnages sell their produce. It has been this way for centuries. Almost everything here comes from the hortillonnages or around the Somme area – from flowers and vegetables to wild herbs, cheese, honey, charcuterie and even beer.
Every third Saturday in June, the market gardeners arrive by traditional flat bottomed boat to sell their goods at the “Marche sur l’Eau” (water market). It’s a very colourful and merry event. The market traders dress in medieval costume in this homage to the days of old when market trade was conducted from boats. It’s a delicious day out and lots of fun.
Art with a heart
Each year a unique Art & Garden festival takes place in the hortillonnages. You’ll discover an outdoor art gallery which spills into the water and on islands and riverbanks. From Spring to autumn some 50 artworks are installed on the islands and in the water. Some of them are monumental, all of them are extraordinary. The only way to see them all is by electric boat and you can take a self-guided tour. Follow the circuit, all the islands featured in the festival have pontoons where you can tie up your boat and then wander freely.
Entry is not at the same place as the normal guided boat tours of the hortillonnages. Instead make your way to the Port à Fumier, Camon district where you can to rent an electric boat for this fabulous excursion. Expect to spend around two and a half hours seeing all 50 artworks. There are parking spaces available and a welcome desk.
The biggest Cathedral in France
The first stone of Amiens Cathedral was laid in the year 1220. It is a masterpiece of Gothic art. At 145metres long and 70 metres wide at the transept – it is truly monumental and utterly divine. In the summer and December, the Cathedral is lit up with an astounding, free sound and light show.
Read more about the Cathedral and sound and light show
Jules Verne’s house
You mustn’t miss a visit to the home of one of France’s great writers. Jules Verne has inspired generations for more than 100 years with his tales of adventure, science and daring do. He wrote many of his stories right here in Amiens where he lived for 18 years. His 19th century mansion has been restored to look just as it did in the late 1800s.
The rooms are filled with the reference books, geographical surveys and scientific reports which inspired his fantastic stories of journeys to the centre of the earth, the moon, under the sea and of course, around the world in 80 days. His study looks as if he’s just popped out. Wood panelled walls have the patina of history embedded in them. And there’s a fabulous collection of books, posters and even models – including a flying machine Verne imagined before aircraft were invented. It’s a fascinating visit with an audio guide.
I stayed at a B&B in a cabin called Ch’Canard, on one of the floating gardens. It really is a little corner of paradise. Accessible by a tiny bridge over a ribbon of water, as soon as I closed the gate, it was like being on a remote island. You feel far away from the buzz of normal daily life.
In my beautiful 120 year old, tastefully decorated cabin for two I felt cossetted and cocooned, the star of my own Robinson Crusoe story. In the gorgeous gardens I crossed little wooden footbridges to explore dozens of islands all around me. Lilies floated on the calm canals. Roses and willows dipped down to the water’s edge. And the air was filled with the song of frogs and birds. I slept like a baby and can honestly say, it’s one of the most unusual, memorable and wonderful B&B’s I’ve ever stayed in. Details: Ch’Canard, Rivery
Where to eat out
There are plenty of cafés, bistros and fine restaurants in the city…
Locals love: Le Quai restaurant is hugely popular with the locals. In its prime position in Quai Belu overlooking the canal, with the Cathedral in the background, it’s great for coffee, a glass of wine or a cocktail, and even better for lunch or dinner. The staff are friendly. The menu is terrific with an emphasis on fresh regional products, classic French brasserie dishes, delicious salads and excellent vegetarian options. restaurant-lequai.fr
Riverside lunch: Overlooking the river Somme, at the entrance to the hortillonnages, Au Fil de l’Eau restaurant is lovely inside. But head outside on a sunny day. Seated on a terrace that makes you feel as if you’re in a treehouse, or in a flower filled garden courtyard, you’ll feel like you’ve escaped to the country. The menu is typically French with fresh and seasonal products. Local classics such as Ficelle Picarde, a savoury pancake topped with a creamy sauce are utterly delicious. Find them on Facebook
Wine and dine: Brasserie Jules is an institution in the city and a family favourite for Sunday lunch. Paris brasserie style with gleaming brass and plush red banquettes, Jules Verne (in a photo) seems to look on approvingly while artworks depicting scenes from his tales decorate the walls. The seafood platters here are legendary. Piled high with the freshest of shellfish, and the most succulent oysters. brasserie-jules.fr
From Paris, Amiens is a little over an hour by train, and from Calais by car it’s around an hour and a half.
The tourist office is next to the Cathedral: amiens-tourisme.com