It’s 2022 and a new year is upon us! Unfortunately, the new year has arrived alongside soaring cases of COVID, a new variant tearing its way across Europe, and new closures and restrictions. Not the best time to be travelling. However, even pre-COVID, January was typically a slow month for visitors to Paris. That’s why this year, I decided that January would be the perfect time to go on a little road trip. Virtually speaking, of course. Instead of talking about Paris, I’m going to spend the next several weeks talking about other places to visit in France. Starting with a city that was easily the biggest surprise of 2021: Amiens.
A Surprise in Every Way
I knew next to nothing about Amiens before visiting for a weekend last fall. I knew it was just over an hour away from Paris by train and that it had the largest cathedral in France. Other than that, everything about the weekend was a discovery. And it was all good discoveries, because Amiens is probably one of the most surprising cities I’ve been to in a long time.
First up, there was the neighbourhood of Saint-Leu, pictured at the top. This charming part of the city is known as the Venice of the north, with shops and restaurants lining the Somme River and the city’s network of canals. Right next door is the Hortillonnages, or the floating gardens, a major landmark of the city. The Hortillonnages consist of over 300 hectares of parks that are criss-crossed by 65km of canals. You can walk through the parks or rent boats to fully explore the area. Unfortunately, it was a bit too cold for either when I visited, so I opted for the tourist train instead. Which turned out to be a fantastic choice. Our driver, Michel, was an absolute delight. Half driver half stand up comedian, he kept us all mightily entertained as the train took us to every little nook and cranny of the city.
Amiens is also home to surprisingly good food. To be fair, it is not hard to eat well in France. But Amiens somehow managed to surpass every expectation I had. On the first night, at a random restaurant in the centre of the city, I had a dish that included the best asparagus I’ve ever eaten in my life. Period. The second night managed to top that with the best magret de canard I’ve ever had. So much so, I think I may be ruined for magret de canard from now on. Which is unfortunate, because I love magret de canard. There was also a baked potato lunch that I will remember forever, and a walk by a restaurant advertising Canadian Fast Food. Which, not going to lie, made me giggle.
The Musée de Picardie
And then there was the Musée de Picardie. I know it shouldn’t be a surprise by now that I loved going to a museum, but the Musée de Picardie was absolutely a highlight of the weekend. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s one of my favourite museums in France outside of Paris. Everything about it is beautiful. The building itself, both outside and in, is gorgeous, especially the Grand Salon. It is truly breathtaking. And the artwork on display is incredible. One painting in particular, Les Voix du tocsin by Albert Maignan, just might be my favourite painting I’ve ever seen. I may or may not have stood in front of it for over 10 minutes just staring.
If You’re Heading North, Head to Amiens
By the time I left Amiens, I had come to think of the city as a mass of contradictions. Amiens has a history that goes back to the time of Gaul. And yet it is very modern in appearance due to the damage it suffered during both world wars. I wouldn’t say that it’s the most picturesque city I’ve ever visited, but at the same time, there were parts of it that reminded me so much of home it warmed my heart. Combine that with the stellar food and incredible museums, Amiens quickly went from the city I knew nothing about to the city I was sad to leave.
And what about the cathedral? you may be thinking. Well, as it turns out, the cathedral, specifically the towers of the cathedral, are part of the Centre for National Monuments. Which means I was able to check off another visit in my challenge to experience as many of the national monuments as possible. I’ll be writing about that visit next week, so be sure to come back next Tuesday for that story. In the meantime, Happy New Year everyone!
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.