The lovely town of Hesdin lies in the heart of the Seven Valleys at the confluence of the rivers Canche and Ternoise.
Hesdin was until the 16th Century under the jurisdiction of the Counts of Artois and subsequently the Dukes of Burgundy (Bourgogne). There are ancient tales that Hesdin once possessed a pleasure garden to rival that of Versailles in Louis XVI’s time – a garden that was visited by the most influential Kings and Queens of Europe who marvelled at its wonders. The gardens were created by Robert Le Pieux who had been at the Court of Palermo where he was introduced to some magnificent autaumatons. He chose to locate the garden between the rivers Canche and Ternoise, an area of outstanding beauty as it is now and his gardens were famous for more than 250 years and no wonder. Inside the vast walled area was a wooded garden with streams, an aviary, where birds and paintings which were automatons would spill water from their bills on unsuspecting admirers. Exotic animals in cages, stuffed beasts, a glass chapel, machines that sprayed guests or tipped flour or coloured powder over them. Wooden character automatons which clubbed those who drew near, a bridge which could give way and dunk careless visitors in the water – Robert Le Pieux and his team of creators certainly had a sense of humour.
Sadly, the gardens are lost – thanks to direct orders from Charles V of Spain who wanted to punish the people of Hesdin for their fidelity to the King of France. The Spanish regent ordered the complete destruction of the old town of Hesdin in 1533 and then rebuilt a new town just 6 kms away. Just over a century later the French laid siege to the town of new Hesdin and under the reign of Louis XIII it was recaptured.
The signs of occupation are still in evidence amongst the cobbled streets of the town. The impressive Town Hall built in the style of the Renaissance bears the Spanish coat of Arms and Flemish style architecture predominates, it also boasts a carillon, which marks the hours. The town is known for its wonderful 16th Century Church of Nôtre Dame with fantastic stained glass windows
These days though the town is a magnet for British, Dutch and Belgian expats and holiday makers who have discovered its charms and whose locals have made them welcome.
There’s a great market on a Thursday morning, plenty of very good restaurants, festivities throughout the year and lots to see and do in and around the town.
Things to do in Hesdin
Carnaval de Hesdin, March
The town boasts a fine central square and an ancient Flemish style town hall with a carillon, which marks the hours
Thursday morning market
Musical concerts in the summer in the main square
Visit the remains of the castle in old Hesdin (Vieile Hesdin)
Useful website for what’s on is the 7 Valleys Tourist site
Tourist office is in the main square (they speak English!)