Perfect Picardy

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), April 16, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Perfect Picardy


Byline: By Hannah Stephenson

The fishing nets were draped over pretty whitewashed terraced houses, adorned with gladioli, baskets of vibrant geraniums and cascading petunias, in a stunning sea festival which would have put other flower displays to shame.

The town was bustling, as people flocked to the outdoor religious mass held in memory of fishermen lost at sea over the years.

It all happened in the pretty town of St Valery-sur-Somme, a beautiful medieval port on the Somme estuary in Picardy, Northern France. We came across this wonderful summer festival by accident, cycling into town to explore, leaving our bikes nearby and then going on foot through the fishermen's district of narrow streets made up of old sailors's houses, which lead down to the waterfront.

It's difficult to believe you are only an hour from Calais in this pretty French haven, and there are other unexpected delights to St Valery. Venture further and you come across the medieval part of the town, its ancient ramparts housing a mass of cobbled streets, old buildings and an abbey. It's worth reaching the top of the town for the stunning view across the bay.

It was from St Valery that Guillaume le Batard finally set out to invade us, so becoming William the Conqueror. St Valery is also one of numerous places in this part of France where Joan of Arc is reputed to have been imprisoned.

There are surprises around every corner of the old town, including a beautiful walled herb garden. Formerly a nuns's medicinal and vegetable garden, it was saved by a group of volunteers in 1996 to preserve a local botanical and regional heritage.

While the port's importance as a fishing resort has diminished with the silting up of the Somme estuary, it still supports a small fishing fleet and is also a popular yachting centre.

A battleground during the Great War, the Upper Somme Valley today offers peace and tranquillity. The Somme Bay itself is now a world famous ecological area and nature reserve, and a favourite stopping place for thousands of migratory birds.

Those who want to find out more about the bay can cross on foot accompanied by a guide who will fill you in on this unique area. It's safer than going unaccompanied because of the tides.

The region is also a delight for children. Catch a steam train at the edge of town and travel around the bay and across the marshland to Le Crotoy, or take a boat trip to the heart of the Somme estuary, where you are likely to see a wide variety of birds on the sand banks and also a seal or two, as the region houses the largest colony of harbour seals on the French coastline.

Back on shore you can browse the Sunday market and pick up some local delicacies such as duck pate (terrine de canard), ficelle picarde, a savoury stuffed pancake with mushrooms and ham, topped with cheese sauce, plus an abundance of fresh seafood.

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