Places to visit in Hauts de France: Somme
Hauts de France is the northernmost region in France and is made up of five departments, Aisne, Nord, Oise, Pas-de-Calais and Somme. This post is about the department of Somme, the area, what to see and do and why I love coming to this part of the world. This department is probably the smallest out of the five in Hauts de France with the major city being Amiens. The other town in the region is Abbeville but otherwise it’s full of fields, small towns and quaint villages. However don’t let that disappoint you, there is a lot of history here. This blog post is about places which are worth hitting up in the area (and I will be updating this post every time I have something new to write about) and here is my guide to Somme.
History: this is what the Somme is known for, for all the bad reasons. War and battles between armies from other countries took place in this area, The first major battle (which was a major defeat to the locals) is the Battle of Crécy which took place in August 1346 between the French (led by King Philip VI) and King Edward III. This happened during the Hundred Years War (a lot of battles going on in Europe around this time when Royal Families were fighting for more land in other people’s backyards), and to be frank, the English kicked ass that day. Before and after the battle, the English were going through France destroying and sacking many towns on the way. They nearly got to Paris (after traveling from the west in Normandy) but thought bugger it, there are more problems to deal with in Northern France, turned northwards, had a battle and sacked more towns before claiming Calais and holding it for a number of years.
However one of the worst ever battles took place here and claimed thousands and thousands of lives from both armies. The Battle of the Somme. This is also a personal matter for me as I lost two Great Great Uncles in the battle and a long distance cousin. This took place in the First World War and lasted from 1914 and 1918 (basically most of the First World War). Both armies (the Allied Forces and the Germans) were trying to push each other back but it didn’t work. It was just a mess. Eventually (somehow) the Germans lost the war however the land was badly bruised and the clean up operation was huge. There were 420,000 people killed in the Allied Forces and around 600,000 for the Germans. For the British however the 1st July 1916 saw the worst ever day in the armies history where there were 57,420 casualties and 19,240 dead.
I have written a personal blog post about the Battle of the Somme and other First World War sites here. Please check it out, it was an amazing experience and remembered my family members by laying wreaths on behalf of my family back home.
Amiens is the only city in the Somme department and lies 120km north of Paris and 100km southwest of Lille. The main landmark of the city which can be seen for miles on the approach from the autoroutes (from all directions) is the cathedral, which is the tallest Gothic church to be built in the 13th century and is also one of the largest in France. The cathedral is also classed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site but my top tip is to see the cathedral at night where the facade on the main entrance is all lit up and has a pretty colourful display.
One of my favourite areas of the city (just north of the cathedral) is the Saint Leu quartier. There are houses as well as restaurants located next to the River Somme. Here is one of my favourite eating places in Northern France however, as well as the cathedral, all the buildings here are also lit up and makes the area even more beautiful, especially when doing an evening stroll alongside the river. Don’t forget to check the belfry tower here and also come in December as the city hosts the largest Christmas market in Northern France.
The other thing I love to do is try and spot as many Belfries as possible. This part of France and also Belgium, there are fifty-six belfrys and they are all on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Six of them are located in the Somme department and can be found in Abbeville, Amiens, Doullens, Lucheux, Rue and Saint Riquier. Most of the belfries are projecting from larger buildings but there are a few standalone ones. For those who are not quite sure what a belfry is, it is a structure enclosing bells for ringing as part of a building, usually as part of a bell tower or steeple. A belfry encloses the bell chamber, which houses the bells. The walls are pierced by openings which allow the sound to escape. Underneath the chamber there is usually a room below to house the ringers (the guys who pull the rope to make the bells chime).
How to get to Somme: This part of France is easy to reach. If arriving by car, there is the main autoroute from Paris to Dunkerque via Boulogne and Calais (with connections to the UK via the ferry ports and Channel Tunnel – Le tunnel sous la manche), whilst the other autoroutes go from Rouen to Saint Quentin and Paris to Lille and Brussels. There are regional trains in the region however the main TGV station is located between Amiens and Saint Quentin (in the middle of nowhere basically) on the Paris to Lille line.
Final thoughts: I pass the department of Somme quite often when I drive to Paris from London and I hope to be stopping off at more places soon and when I do, I will update this blog post. The beautiful landscapes of rolling fields and forests make Somme a wonderful area to explore but as mentioned, is full of history, mostly bad. Somme will also be close to my heart, my family’s heart and thoughts as we lost relatives during the First World War and when I can, will always stop off at the two cemeteries in Thiepval and Corbie to remember them. That they are not forgotten.
Enjoy my blog post on the Nord department of Hauts-de-France? Then check out my other blog posts on the other departments in the region.
Pas-de-Calais department – Click here.
Nord department – Click here.
Somme department – Click here.
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