A guide to Picardy and its tourist attractions
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From its short coastline on the Channel, at the mouth of the river Somme, to a brief border with southern Belgium, Picardy is a region that has been at the heart of European history for well over a thousand years. Its importance is reflected in its historic heritage - including some of the finest medieval cathedrals in France, some impressive chateaux, and many sites and memories of the Great WarPicardy Accommodation
Since 2016, Picardy has been combined with the larger area to the north, Nord– Pas-de-Calais, to make up a larger region which has curiously been given the name Hauts de France, though it is probably the most low-lying of all the regions in France.
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 cathedral (12th century) , and city rampartsIn 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.
Le Crotoy, at the mouth of the Somme
Photo Mikeones -
Amiens cathedral. Nineteenth century etching by Alphege Brewer - Private collection.
Detail from the 14th century stained-glass windows of Laon cathedral
Fortified church at La Bouteille, Thierache, Aisne.
Going further: Official Picardy tourism site
- Albert, Thiepval (80): Sites and monuments to the victims of the Great War, notably the Battle of the Somme. (see WW1 sites and map). There are many more First World War sites and monuments in Picardy
- Amiens (80): One of the finest of the main medieval 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.
- Péronne (80) : Historial de la Grande Guerre - Museum of the Great War. Trilingual displays,
- Samara (80) Between Abbeville and Amiens. Prehistoric living history museum on the site of a prehistoric settlement and Roman oppidum. Reconstructed prehistoric dwellings, animations
- Corbeny, near Laon (02): Caverne du Dragon - system of underground caves and workings used by troops on both sides in the First World War
- 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 was until recently a funicular railway from the train station up to the town hall - now closed.
- Soissons (02) Small town with gothic cathedral containing fine medieval 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.
- Beauvais (60): the tallest of the great gothic cathedrals that were built in medieval France. Planned to be 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 (the Musée Condé), and is set in fine gardens and parkland that includes a famous racecourse. The Musée Condé includes one of the most important collections of Renaissance art in France, with works by Raphaël and Fra Angelico among the highlights.
- 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.
- Plailly (60): Parc Astérix. One of France's most visited theme parks, bringing to life the world of Asterix the Gaul and his friends.