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Etretat

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Unloved north-western France has it's gems

13 Aug 2012  I lived there
0.0 of 5 stars based on 0 votes

Natural and cultural highlights of north-western France. This list contains a mix of the well known and the obscure. Not everything on it will appeal to everyone, but they are all places I have really enjoyed visiting and they might help you fill in the gaps for a really satisfying little holiday. Places are listed in rough geographical order, not order of preference.

  • 1. Etretat
    Etretat, Seine-Maritime, Haute-Normandie

    The caves and arches of the white cliffs of Etretat are famous, and none-the-less beautiful. The walk I like the most follows the cliffs to the south (going through arches and even a hand cut tunnel) to a small cove (which can be reached by road alternatively/or for a car shuffle). From there you climb up to the top of the cliffs through a small wood full of bluebells in springtime. Then back to Etretat along the cliff tops. Allow a few hours for this walk. You can also do a shorter walk along the cliff tops to the north, or just play with the bouncing stones on the pebbly beach.

  • 2. Mers Les Bains
    Mers Les Bains, Somme

    A pretty, low-key 19th century seaside town.

  • 3. Bois de Cise
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ault,_Somme

    This is a magical little wood on the edge of the Channel, nestled between white cliffs. In springtime it is full of bluebells, daffodils and anemones. Nestled in the wood is a pretty little hamlet of mainly 19th century houses and a church. It has a very Victorian feel.

  • 4. Saint-Valery-sur-Somme
    Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, Somme

    A pretty seaside fishing town on the Baie de Somme with the remains of a medieval citadel at the top of town. Joan of Arc was brought through here on her way back to France for trial and execution.

  • 5. Parc du Marquenterre
    http://www.visit-somme.com/somme_tourisme/decouvrez/cote_picarde/le_pa...

    A great place for birdwatchers with Avocets, Spoonbills, Terns and plenty of other species to be seen. For non-birdos, a lovely place just to wander among the sandhills. It is also possible to get a boat tour on the Baie de Somme from St Valery and maybe spot a seal or two.

  • 6. Les Jardins de Valloires - Valloires Abbey Gardens
    http://www.gardenvisit.com/garden/valloires_jardins

    A very beautiful garden recreated recently based on the original design. Itncludes a lovely water garden and magnificent roses. A romantic place for a picnic. The Abbey sometimes hosts concerts and other events.

  • 7. Parc Samara
    Parc Samara, Amiens, Somme

    Samara was the ancient name for the Somme River, which flows through Amiens. The Parc is a reconstruction of a prehistoric village of the region and sometimes has people plying ancient crafts. For those interested in this sort of thing, it is an excellent site. Maybe something for young Asterix-fiends?

  • 8. Amiens
    Amiens, Somme

    Although Amiens was mired deep in the heart of the Somme battlefield, the UNESCO listed gothic cathedral still stands and is spectacular. If you can, go on a summer or Christmas-time evening to see the light projection on the facade that shows the original colors of all the statues, and you will never see gothic cathedrals the same way again. But the cathedral is not all;- Amiens is a city that is skillfully blending its ancient roots with the modern world and its a very livable city with lovely parks, old-town streets along the canals and beautiful water gardens, 'les hortillionnages' where you can walk or take a punt tour. And then it is also a perfect base for exploring the landmarks of the Battle of the Somme - see my other list specifically focusing on this.

  • 9. Frechencourt

    This obscure little place is 10 or 15 km north east of Amiens, to the north of the main road to Albert. It is worth poking your nose in to see the beautiful clear blue springs hiding on the edge of the town (a short walk). There are plenty of legends involving devils and coaches disappearing forever into their depth

  • 10. Ribemont-sur-Ancre
    http://www.culture.gouv.fr/fr/arcnat/aerien/en/decou3-pg9.htm

    Northeast of Amiens, this important archaeological site was only discovered by aerial surveying in the 1960s. The site includes Gallic and Gallo-Roman remains. You won't see a lot on the ground but the interpretation is excellent. A good place for young Asterix-enthusiasts and older people who are interested in obscure prehistoric sites.

  • 11. Grottes de Naours
    Grottes de Naours, Flesselles, Somme

    If you have troglodyte tenancies, this could be for you. The chalk tunnels go back to the 3rd century and were used as a refuge during war-times. There is a whole village in this underground labyrinth of tunnels and chambers - chapel, inn, workshops and dwellings. The presentation may verge on tacky but children will love it and, above ground there is a fun playground, animals and also a windmill. North of Amiens.

  • 12. Lille
    Lille, Nord

    The city of Lille is like a taste of Belgium just at the edge of France. It town centre is lively, stylish and beautiful, and quite magical at Christmas time when the markets and decorations are all in full swing. If it gets too chilly in the streets, you can warm up in one of the cosy brewery cafes: taste the local brews and filling flammekuche (the northern answer to pizza). This close to Belgium - of course there's chocolate too!

  • 13. Rocroi
    Rocroi, Ardennes

    The tiny town of Rocroi cowers within a quite extraordinarily well preserved star-shaped Vauban fort. Do a search for images on Google and you'll soon see what I mean! It is also the gateway to a lovely forested region on the Meuse River, traversing the Franco-Belge border where you can find some pretty walks.

  • 14. Reims
    Reims, Marne

    Need I say more? Well known as the place where French kings were crowned and for the smiling angel on the Cathedral and Chagal stained-glass windows inside.

  • 15. Faux de Verzy
    http://www.champagne-ardenne-tourism.co.uk/faun/the-essentials/the-pla...

    A strange place where the elm trees grow in hunched and tortured forms. Perhaps the work of the Devil? Probably of monks experimenting, before Mendel, with plant breeding. The site is 10 or 15 m south east of Reims, at the edge of the Mountains of Reims regional park. From there its only another few hops to plenty of champagne cellars. If you visit them first you will probably think its your eyes playing tricks on the trees, not devils or monks.

  • 16. Chateau de la Ferte-Milon
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Fert%C3%A9-Milon

    Quite unusual - the ruins of an unfinished castle - a long facade above a mote, standing in the grass on a hill-top. Makes a lovely romantic picnic location and place for children to play imaginative games. South east of Pierrefonds.

  • 17. Chateau de Pierrefonds
    Chateau de Pierrefonds, Pierrefonds, Oise

    A fairytale castle. Little girls and romantics will love it. History purists will detect the touch of the infamous Viollet le Duc.

  • 18. Champlieu Gallo-Romain site
    http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM3K5W_Ensemble_dEdifices_Gallo_Rom...

    Don't expect flabergasting ruins here but this is a nice little site which was excavated first under Napoleon III. You can see clearly the remains of a theatre, thermes and temple. The site is located south of the Foret de Compiegne, west of Pierrefonds.

  • 19. Chateau de Chantilly
    Chateau de Chantilly, Chantilly, Oise

    A well known Chateau, seat of the powerful Bourbon Conde dynasty (one of whom who built an extraordinary stables at Chantilly, believing he would be reborn as a horse). The art collection is very fine and the library not only beautiful, but it holds the sublimely lovely 'Tres Riches Heures de Duc du Berry'.