Thursday, 11 April 2013

Tourist attractions in Picardy

A guide to Picardy and its tourist attractions

Map of Picardy      Picardy - or Picardie as it is written in French - consists of three departments, the Oise (60), capital Beauvais; the Aisne (02) capital Laon, and the Somme (60), whose capital Amiens, is also the regional capital. In historic terms, the southern part of this modern region, including virtually all of the Oise department, was not part of the Province of Picardy, but was added to the region when it was created in the twentieth century. 
    Lying in the historic centre of action of western Europe, in the triangle between Paris, Amsterdam and London, Picardy is an area with a very rich history. It was in this part of France that were fought some of the most famous battles of French and European history, notably  the battle of Crécy, and the battle of the Somme. And in the course of the last thousand years, areas that are now part of modern region of Picardy have been ruled over at different times by the English, the Habsburgs, the Spanish and the French. 
Laon cathedralLaon cathedral (12th century) , and city ramparts      
In past centuries, the region was relatively prosperous; its productive farmlands, including a large expanse of flat or relatively flat land, created wealth in local towns and cities, a wealth now reflected in the many fine gothic churches and cathedrals of the region.
     In modern economic terms, Picardy is a region that is divided quite distinctly into two areas. The department of the Oise and the southern tip of the Aisne, in the south of the region, are economically attached to the Paris region; towns like Beauvais, Chantilly and Compiègne, though towns in their own right, form part of the outer circle of suburban Paris, with many people commuting from here into Paris. Even Amiens, the regional capital, is sufficiently close by commuter train to be home to many people working in Paris; though in the case of Amiens, which is an industrial and commercial city, people commute both ways.
    As for the northern part of the region, including the departments of the Somme and most of the Aisne, these areas are largely agricultural. Agriculture in the region is particularly centered on cereals and crops. And while cereal production is the the principal agricultural activity of the region, Picardy is also the leading French region for the production of sugar beet (37% of total  national production), France being the world's largest producer of sugar beet.

Reaching Picardy :

By train from Paris Gare du Nord , or from Lille, Calais or Boulogne
By car from the UK: the easiest way is to cross to Calais, then drive down either of the motorways in the direction of Paris or Reims. Whether taking the A16, the A26 or the A1 motorway, drivers driving south from Calais will find themselves in Picardy within an hour. 
By plane
: Beauvais has an airport with direct low-cost flights from the UK. Otherwise, Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport is just a few kilometres from the southern limits of the Picardy region.

ain tourist attractions and sites in Picardy

Le Crotoy, on Somme estuary
Le Crotoy, at the mouth of the Somme
Photo Mikeones -

Amiens cathedral - etchingAmiens cathedral.  Nineteenth century etching by Alphege Brewer   -  Private collection.
Mediaeval stained glass Laon
Detail from the 14th century stained-glass windows of Laon cathedral

Fortified church ThieracheFortified church at La Bouteille,  Thierache, Aisne.  
  • Albert, Thiepval (80): Sites and monuments to the victims of the Great War, notably the Battle of the Somme.
  • Amiens (80): One of the finest of the main mediaeval gothic cathedrals of France.
  • Baie de Somme (80): important wetland area at the mouth of the river somme, famous for its wildlife (bird sanctuary). there is also a small steam railway popular with tourists.
  • Beauvais (80): the tallest of the great gothic cathedrals that were built in mediaeval France. Planned as the greatest cathedral in France, Beauvais cathedral was never completed; but the part that was built (the choir and the transept) is extremely impressive.
  • Chantilly (60): Magnificent chateau, rebuilt in the 19th century; the chateau houses a museum, and is set in fine gardens and parkland that includes a famous racecourse.
  • Compiègne (60). The Clairière de l'Armistice; the site of the signing of the 1918 Armistice, that put an end to the first world war. Reproduction of the railway carriage in which the Armistice was signed.
  • Compiègne (60). Chateau de Compiègne, fine 18th century royal residence.
  • Ermenonville (60): Mer de Sable. Wild-west theme park, with plenty of rides and attractions.
  • Guise (02): Le Familistère Godin. Like Titus Salt's Saltaire or Owen's New Lanark, Godin's cooperative Familistère is a major example of a social housing project set up by an enlightened manufacturer for his workers, during the Industrial Revolution.
  • Laon (02): Attractive old walled city perched on a hilltop overlooking the surrounding plains. Fine early gothic cathedral (1150-1180) with remarkable stained-glass windows; there is a funicular railway from the train station up to the town hall.
  • Plailly (60): Parc Astérix. One of France's most visited theme parks, bringing to life the world of Asterix the Gaul and his friends.
  • Soissons (02) Small town with gothic cathedral containing fine mediaeval stained-glass windows. Remains of the St jean des vignes Abbey.
  • St. Quentin (02): small town famous for its gothic basilica, largely rebuilt after the first world war. Also famed for its ensemble of art-nouveau buildings, also put up during the post WW1 rebuilding. The Musée Lécuyer has a major collection of works by the 18th century portraitist Quentin Latour.
  • Thiérache (02): A large number of 16th century fortified churches grace small towns and villages in this rural area. Several signposted tourist trails.