From the middle ages, Amiens in Picardy, northern France, has been famous for its hortillonnages. This is the name given to the market gardens which line the network of nine waterways which run through the city.
These watery arteries give Amiens a unique atmosphere. You really have a feeling that you are in the most beautiful countryside right in the centre of a busy metropolis. There’s a weekly market garden with produce from the famous market gardens, major annual festivals and you can take boat rides to discover this most beautiful area. Not to be missed is the summer Art & Garden Festival. It’s an extraordinary concept, you take a boat ride to discover artworks on the many islands of the hortillonnages and in the water…
Amiens Art & Gardens Festival
The hortillonnages are a major heritage site. Marshland gardens on man-made islands and on the land which lines the waterways and have been cultivated for centuries. In fact the gardens are so old that no one knows when they began. But, legend has it that when the Cathedral was built in the 13th century, it was on a field of artichokes managed by the gardeners of the hortillonnages.
These days there are few commercial producers left in the area but the gardens alongside the waterways and on hundreds of tiny islands are managed by private owners and the town.
Every year the international garden festival sees major artworks by young artists from around France and the world. They set up their installations in the water and on the islands. You can visit them with a guided tour or self-guided. Tours are by electric boats, designed to be gentle on the environment which is critical to the festival’s ethos. There are pontoons on the islands where you can tie your boat up and disembark. Wander the islands, see the artworks, simply sit and enjoy the tranquil ambiance, the wild birds and wildlife.
Art with a heart
You don’t feel as if you’re in a city at all in the hortillonages. And, the International Garden Festival is one of the most beautiful garden festivals I’ve ever been to. Unique, inspirational and quite magnificent but somehow intimate and personal as you’re able to walk right up to the installations and see them from every angle. Or sail round them.
The ethos is very much on the concept of recycling and sustainability. A wall made from recycled fizzy drink cans, a water collecting installation made from recycled wine bottles. There’s even a green house made from recycled plastic bottles. I loved the re-purposed phone box in which you can listen to aquatic wild life from beetles to plants making the sound of photosynthetisation. Quirky, fascinating and brilliantly done, and one of a kind. It’s an inspirational garden festival, thought provoking and witty. You’ll go home with loads of ideas for how to adapt your own garden to become more eco friendly.
The International Art & Gardens Festival of Amiens runs from June to 20 October each year. Don’t miss it, in a city with loads to see and do, it’s one of the best things to do in Amiens.
Head to the Port à Fumier, Camon, a district of Amiens, to rent boats 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.