Often identified by the spire of France’s largest cathedral from the autoroute, Amiens deserves a detour. A day out offers history, shopping, good food and literary links.
For some, Amiens is a name on the map midway between the Channel ports and Paris. For others, it’s the first stop in ‘real’ France away from the day-tripper reputation of the far northern towns. For those in the know, it’s a gem of a town with a distinctive character and a history worth exploring.
Once the capital of Picardy and with a population of more than 130,000, Amiens suffered serious damage in both world wars and is the nearest city to the site of the first Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest engagements of WW1.
Cathédrale Notre Dame and its spire offer the most obvious landmark but the 300 hectares of waterways just north-west of the centre also help define the city. The Saint Leu quarter, also to the north, gives a glimpse into medieval life and the city’s origins.
Our pick of ten things to do in Amiens:
- Don’t miss the 13th century Cathedral of Our Lady of Amiens. It’s the tallest complete cathedral in France and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cathedral contains the alleged head of John the Baptist, a relic brought from Constantinople following the Fourth Crusade. During the process of laser cleaning in the 1990s, it was discovered that the western façade of the cathedral was originally painted. Elaborate lighting techniques now project these colors directly on the façade, recreating the appearance of the 13th century original. You can see this stunning display at the Son et lumière on summer evenings
- Stroll through the medieval Saint Leu quarter north of the cathedral, Place du Don is great in the evenings with a lively atmosphere.
- Eat! There are lots of good restaurants in the Saint Leu area and along the Somme quayside. For those needing an ethnic fix, there are Indian and Chinese restaurants opposite Amiens station.
- Take a boat trip through Les Hortillonnages. This cluster of market gardens set among waterways has supplied the city with vegetables since the Middle Ages.
- Shop til’ you drop. Amiens has a good selection of both chain and specialist shops in a pedestrian area south of the cathedral.
- Visit the Centre de Documentation Jules Vernes. The science fiction author wrote some of his most famous works at 2 rue Charles Dubois. (Amiens was also the birthplace of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, the author of Les Liaisons Dangerereuses.)
- The Musée de Picardie has exhibits of local pre-history, art and ceramics.
- If you have children to occupy, 250 different animals are waiting to meet you at Amiens Zoo on the Esplanade de la Hotoie and visit the puppet theatre, Chès Cabotans d’Amiens, 31 rue Edouard David, The most famous puppets are Lafleur, whose motto is “eat well, drink well and do nothing” and his long suffering fiancee Sandrine
- Go in December for the fabulous Christmas fair, held throughout the month.
More information at www.visit-amiens.com