Somme, Land of Nature and History
The Baie de Somme is a Grand Site de France.
It means it aims to protect diversity, provides facilities ensuring the apirit of the place is unchanged, ensures a proper cater of visitors, upholds traditions and preserves the living conditions of its inhabitants and promote eco-friendly activities.
Officially listed as one of the most beautiful bays in the world, it is a exceptional natural site with anoramic landscapes, cliffs, beaches, dunes, pebbles and marshes.
Thanks to this, it has been an endless source of inspiration for painters and writers, including Degas, Corot, Jules Verne, Victor Hugo and Colette, to name a few.
There are quite a few exhibitions, celebrations and festivals held there during spring and summer: Medieval Festival, Steam Festival, Sea Festivals (every costal villages/cities organise their own), Birds Festival, Bathers Festival, music festivals, fireworks on the 14th of July and the 15th of August, Transbaie (race through the bay)...
Beware of jellyfish when in the sea.
PS) For Ault, Bois de Cise and Mers-les-Bains => post about La Belle Epoque, link at the end of this post.
Not much to see in Cayeux, but the pebble beach, its cute huts and the longuest wood path on a beach in Europe are worth a look.
Once a very bourgeois beach resort, Cayeux is now a family seaside town. The beach is suited for kids but beware that it follows the French school holidays calendar. Also there is a bit of sand at low tide.
This place is interesting for the seals you can see at low tide. There are also many birds and a fun bunker, perfect spot for photos.
The chapel has an interesting architecture. It does not look like a religious monument at all.
Also, the coastal path can be reached from there. It links Ault to Le Crotoy.
Along with Le Crotoy and Le Hourdel, Saint-Valery is one of the three ports on the Somme Bay.
The town has various historical sites to discover. It has a beautiful fishermen district and a well-preserved medieval architecture. As such, it is a member of the Most Beautiful Detours in France network.
It is where William the Conqueror assembled his fleet before sailing over to England in 1066. Joan of Arc was imprisoned here on her way to Rouen to be burnt. St. Valery was taken by Richard Lionheart.
Wars between English, French, and Burgundians; the Hundred Years' War; wars between Protestants and Catholics; Vikings, including Normans, who also sacked the place in their time. All destroyed Saint-Valery but it rose again everytime.
Victor Hugo, Degas, Anatole France and many more inhabit and visited the area, as the place was very popular with artists and writers.
The Tourism Information Centre has a very good walking map of the area.
Marina, train stations and Sailors/fishermen's neighbourhood
The two trains stations are aong the harbour. One is for the diesel train coming from Cayeux-sur-Mer during week-ends and Wednesday. The other is the main station where you take the steam train through the Bay, to Noyelles and Le Crotoy.
Sailors and fishermen traditionally had their homes in small colourful cottages. Known as the Courtgain quarter, the narrow streets are full of colours and flowers. Courtgain refers to the small salary the fishermen lived on.
Do not miss the Chapel Saint Pierre and the old Salt Warehouse (although they are in refection at the moment - July 2018). It is the only example of this size still existing in France.
The only free parking of the village is above the Courtgain ( Corderies).
Markets can be very busy. Saint-Valery is a touristy place.
There are many things to see in the medieval part of Saint-Valery, between the remains of the city walls, the Guillaume (= William) towers, the little cobblestone streets decked with flowers, Saint Martin's church, the view over the bay, the old houses, the botanical garden...
Porte de Nevers (lower gate)
One of the old city gates, named after Louis Gonzaga, Duke of Nevers. The old jail is now an exhibition centre.
Before being handed over to the English, Joan of Arc was held captive nearby by the Burgundians in 1431.
According to the story, when Harold, Earl of Wessex, later King of England, was an emissary of the English court, he was captured by Duke Guy de Ponthieu in 1053 and held there.
Herbarium Fruticetum and Floral Streets (rues fleuries)
Charming little garden, reconstitution of a place where medieval plants were grown by nuns from the hospital to make tincture and other medicine. Thanks to volunteers who take care of it, it is now more a botanical garden than an ornamental one, although it matches the authentic and ancient atmosphere of the old flowery streets of the medieval town. The “rues fleuries” are actually a sample of the garden.
Church Saint Martin
This small village church has an unusual two-naved conception and beautiful chequered flint and sandstone walls. Many gargoyles adorn the exterior. As it is a fisherman's church, there are many models of boats inside, reminiscent of St Valery's former importance as a fishing port. The stained glass windows are beautiful. The church also houses a copy of a section of the Bayeux Tapestry.
The original tapestry is a long embroidered cloth which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England and culminating in the Battle of Hastings. It is thought to date to the 11th century, within a few years after the battle. It tells the story from the point of view of the conquering Normans.
There is a viewpoint over the bay right next to the church.
Guillaume (William) Towers (higher gate).
It is also called "Porte Jeanne d'Arc" in memory of her passage in December 1430. One of the oldest vestiges of the city, the towers date from the 11th century. The gate is now composed of two massive round towers and two buildings with one floor and undergrounds that served as guardhouses and prisons.
Known to be the oldest monastery of the Amiens diocese, there are not many vestiges left as it was destroyed several times. You can only see some ruins and the abbot's residence, now a private property.
Château du Romerel
Now a guesthouse, this building is surrounded by a beautiful park. There is a beautiful Lebanon cedar in front of it. Historical treasure of the Baie de Somme and remarkable tree, it was planted in front of the Chateau in 1803 to celebrate the victories of Napoleon Bonaparte.
There are some cute fishermen's houses in the area.
When strolling along the waterfront, keep an eye on the bay for seals at low tide and admire beautiful villas on the other side. Do not miss Rue de la Ferté and Quai du Romerel with some beautiful houses.
You will also cross path with the Musée Picarvie and the old trade court.
There is a wonderful view from over the Baie de Somme from up here.
Chapel Saint Valery - Seafarers' Chapel
This chapel with beautiful walls made with alternating flint and limestone blocks in a checkerboard pattern has one of the best locations in the town.
Viewpoint at the foot of the Chapel Saint Valery. Be careful with the tides, it is a flood area. Bathing is prohibited..
There is a small square of sand below the citadel. Bathing is prohibited though.
Baie de Somme
Be extra careful when visiting the bay. Take the warning signs very seriously. The sea does come back at the speed of a galloping horse.
You have to be on firm ground 3.30 hours before the sea is at its highest and at least wait an hour after before going back in the bay. Always check the tide schedule beforehands.
Every year, people get strand there.
Train de la Baie de Somme
There is no point, unless you really want to do it, to take the complete train trip. From Cayeux to St Valery and from Noyelles to Le Crotoy, there is nothing to see but a few cows and a lot of crops. The best part, the bay, is between St Valery and Noyelles. There you will see the bay from St Valery to Le Crotoy, sheep, Henson horses, lots of birds... and hunters, lots of hunters. It can be surprising but they are allowed to hunt invasive species.
Go early, half an hour ago at the latest, to get your ticket and take a seat. It can get very busy during summer.
Useful tip: the train changes way in Noyelles but only the locomotive moves around. So if you want to make the most of your trip, change side there so you are able to see both sides of the bay.
Seals can be seen from Le Hourdel to Saint Valery and Le Crotoy, sunbathing on the sand at low tide or swimming during high tide.
Stay 300 m away. They are very shy and you frightened them, they will abandoned babies too young to survive on their own.
There are two species in Baie de Somme: harbour seals (more than 400 specimen) and grey seals (more than a 100 specimen). It is the largest French seal colony.
The bay is one of France's important stopover sites for migratory birds. There are thousands of them with a total of some 300 different species.
The Henson horse is the latest horse breed created in France. They were looking for a light but strong horse to be used in the wetlands area so they crossed Norvegian stallions with mares of various races (Thoroughbreds, Anglo-Arabian and French Saddlebreds.)
These horses are rustic and you will often see them in the wetlands, with Scottish cows.
They are not feral at all and are used for treks around the bay.
You will see sheep in the bay. Like in the Mont Saint-Michel bay, they fed on salty lands, the "Mollières" or "pré-salé", the highest parts of the bay which are covered by the sea during high tides. It gives a very specific taste to their meat.
Sheep of Boulogne and Suffolk are bred using the methods of the past. While in sheepfold during the winter period, sheep and lambs pasture at the bottom of the bay from April to November.
They receive an AOC appellation (Controlled Designation of Origin) "Agneau de pré-salé" and the brand "Estran" in which the Agneaux de pré-salé are sold is registred since 1991. The lamb salt meadows meat is available from late June to mid-January.
Once one of the biggest fishing ports along the Channel coast, it is now a charming resort composed of fishermen's houses and holiday homes. It still houses typical fishing boats.
No pebbles here. Interesting fact, the long sandy beach is the only one facing south in the north of France.
The monument in the above photo is dedicated to the Caudron Brothers, pioneers of aviation in Picardy.
From Guerlain, the famous perfumer, to Manessier, Jules Verne, Colette, Sisley, Seurat, Toulouse-Lautrec... many came to Le Crotoy for its landscape and its light. Guerlain actually created his well-known perfume "L'Heure Bleue", inspired by the shades of blue, purple, violet settling down in the bay.
Because doctors recommended the seaside to his fragile son, Jules Verne rent the house La Solitude, in Le Crotoy. There, he wrote 20 000 Leagues under the Seas.
Beautiful view over the Somme Bay.
A very minimalist one.
Fête de la Mer (Festival of the Sea)
Fête de la Salicorne, des végétaux de la Baie de Somme et de ses produits maritimes
(roughly translated into Festival of Salicornia, Somme Bay plants and its marine products)
Church of Saint Peter
Beautiful little church full of ship models.
Flemish style, with a typical fronton.
The eco-sensitive approach of the hotel-restaurant Les Tourelles allowed it to make a carbon balance and to obtain the European Eco-label. It also has a splendid location.
This property has nothing to do with Pierre Guerlain's projects.
This beautiful residence was built on the ruins of the castle. It was inhabited by the French poet Charles Hubert Millevoye. His descendants still live there.
Born in nearby Abbeville, Guerlain did a lot for Le Crotoy. Thanks to his work, the place was a busy sea resort. Contrary to a recurrent mistake, Les Tourelles is NOT the hotel built by Guerlain in Le Crotoy. On all the buildings he owned there, only the Villa l'Heure Bleue still exists. The ancien établissement de bains chauds Guerlain which became the Grand Hôtel du Crotoy after his death was destroyed during WWII.
Toulouse-Lautrec often came to Le Crotoy to rest but did only one painting there, his friend and "manager", the French author Maurice Joyant hunting in the bay.
The house in actually an old school housing a small library that Joyant and Toulouse-Lautrec used to take care of.
Villas Suzanne and Madeleine
The French operatic baritone (Opéra-Comique) Emile-Alexandre Taskinlived in a group of 3 houses named after his children Félix, Suzanne et Madeleine. The Villa Felix was destroyed and is now replaced by the Belvedere.
As always in the bay, be extra careful of tide schedules. And do not paddle, swim, walk or else near the harbour. The bay is constantly filled with sand due to the tides. To keep the port accessible for boats, a big basin was created, that fills with water at high tide. At low tide, the gates of the lock are open to let the water out . It is quite violent because it is the speed and the power of the water that flushes the sand outside the area.
Maison dite Irene
Small sand area during high tide but at low tide it could be difficult to swim as the water can be quite far away.
Joan of Arc
Le Crotoy was one of the places where the Maid of Orleans was held captive. There is a bronze statue of her in chains.
Water towers in Somme Bay are beautifully decorated with murals
Go through time while visiting this little train station.
This is where Joan of Arc was imprisoned. There is not much left of the place.
There are 2 wonderful chapels in this little settlement. The Chapel of the Hospice is open to guided visits only. The Chapel of the Holy Spirit is open to all and a beautiful example of Flamboyant Gothic, with amazing ceiling and facade. The decoration is in Flemish style.
The church of Saint Wulphy was rebuilt during the 19th century predominantly in neoclassical style
Between the chapel and the church, there are some old houses worth a look.
The beautiful belfry is also open only to guided tours. It is a UNESCO heritage site.
Underground City of Naours
These immense underground galleries are former quarries that were used from the Middle Ages as shelter during times of war. It has been recognised as one of the largest network of tunnels in Northern France.
Consisting of 300 rooms and 28 galleries, the Cité souterraine de Naours could hosted up to 3 000 people, along with livestock. There were three chapels, multiple town squares, and a bakery with working ovens. The chimneys from these ovens and from any other fires underground were carefully routed through the existing structures aboveground to hide the existence of the daily life taking place 22 meters below ground. They were also used to communicate with the people who stayed outside.
The tour, self-guided with mandatory audioguides, goes through a dozen of rooms and ends with a little museum about the history of the region and the craftsmanship of the Picardy people.
There is also a 24 acre woodland park, attractions for children, a little pet farm and windmills.
The Underground City of Naours is also supposed to house the highest concentration of WW1 graffiti as yet uncovered. Forgotten until it was rediscovered in 1887, this hidden network of chambers was a popular sightseeing attraction among World War I soldiers on the Western front.
Parc du Marquenterre
Well known worldwide for the important biodiversity you can find there, this park is a must-see if you go to the Baie de Somme. From storks to indigenous swans, reptiles, batracians, fish, local flora... there is a lot to see there. 3 paths are available, from 2 kms to 9. Beware that paths are not suited for prawn or fauteuils roulants.
Gâteau Battu Picard
The gâteau battu is a Picardy speciality from Ponthieu (Abbeville's region). It's a brioche cake, very rich and with a cylindric form. As it is a bit tasteless, this cake must be served with rhubarb jam or custard.
It is quite expensive: 7.50€ the piece.