Just a short drive (around 30 mins) from the port towns of Dunkirk and Calais, Saint-Omer offers a tantalising and rural taste of historic France.
Although northern France may arguably not be able to compete in the glamour stakes with its southern neighbour it is an amazingly culturally diverse area and in St Omer you’ll find great scenery and sites, historic buildings, regional food and beer and fabulous local produce.
St Omer is an ancient town taking its name from a monk named Audomar (Latin: Omer) who was sent in the mid 6th Century by the then King of the Gauls to convert the locals of nearby Therouanne to christianity. St Omer came to prominence in the Middle Ages thanks to its prime location on the edge of a vast wetland reclaimed for cultivation. In the first part of the 12th century, the River Aa – the two-lettered river known to crossword enthusiasts – was channelled out. This made it possible for sea-going ships to bring their cargo right into the city. The waterways around the town have led to the development of various activities from the extraction of peat to breweries, mills and paper mills, cloth industry, and in the 18th century pipe and faience (porcelain and pottery) manufacture. Vestiges of the ancient docks remain as does evidence of the town’s prosperity.
Many of the homes in St Omer were created in the 18th and 19th centuries, the nobility of St Omer copied the style of Vauban and the classical facades exist alongside a more Flemish style around the town.
The marshland, the Audomarois, surrounding St Omer covers around 3730 hectares. Originally dug out by the monks in the 7th century, part of the area is farmed to this day. The farmers use a ‘bacôve’ or flat bottomed boat to transport their tractors and farming equipment and produce fifty types of vegetable in the marshy ground. On the last Sunday of each July there is a nautical procession (which starts at 16.00) of decorated ‘bacôves’ which can be viewed from Haut-Pont, a suburb of St Omer, and attracts thousands of visitors. Every October a huge vegetable fair is held at St Omer to celebrate the abundant produce of the marshes.
A large proportion of the area however is left to nature with a variety of plants including beautiful water lilies and iris and a profusion of birds, wildlife and fish.
When most people think of taking a trip to France, they think about enjoying the magnificent French cuisine that is famous throughout the world and the food served up in this area of Northern France is no exception with a delightful mix of Flemish, English and French flavours combined to create fantastic dishes. Whether you have a sweet or savoury tooth, local specialities will tempt you no matter where you choose to eat, visit a roadside café, an inn in the countryside or an a la carte restaurant in the centre of the town, every establishment will have something to please you.
St Omer has many restaurants and these are some of our favourites with their lovely fresh produce, speciality dishes and great flavour:
Recommended Restaurants in St Omer
De Drie Kalders, 18 Place Mar Foch – The unusual setting of the restaurant in a brick lined cave is charming and eclectic with things such as items of clothing hanging from the walls and ceiling to keep you entertained. The menu is Flemish and the wholesome food is served on wooden platters and is very popular with the locals.
Le Cygne, 8 rue Caventou – A very popular restaurant in the centre of St Omer and for a good reason, the food is great, the staff are lovely, the atmosphere relaxed – check the blackboard for specials too – they’re usually excellent.
Le P’tit Montmatre, 11 Pierre Bonhomme Place – Serving regional dishes with a range of menus in a relaxed atmosphere but very smart.
Chez Tante Fauvette, 10 rue Ste Croix – Not a big place but really inviting, colourful and friendly, local dishes, many of them based on menus of yesteryear – very tasty and inexpensive.