A short hop from the Channel ports and within easy reach of the UK, Picardy in northern France is a perfect foodie destination. Whether you want to try hearty local specialities or sample refined gourmet dining – or some of both – this region is second to none when it comes to culinary discoveries. Terroir or ‘land’ is the watchword: Picardy’s rolling landscapes of lush green fields dotted with market gardens are ideal for crops including wheat, carrots, endives, watercress, rhubarb and apples, as well as for feeding contented cows whose rich milk goes into iconic dairy products including Chantilly cream and Maroilles cheese.
Visit a saffron farm in a surprising spot
Visitors to the gorgeous Baie de Somme, on the Picardy coast in Northern France, have a foodie treat in store – a rare spice, saffron, thought have its origins in Crete, is grown just near one of the world's most beautiful bays and widely used by local chefs.
Follow the signs for Safran de la Baie de Somme in Ponthoile to meet innovative producer Anne Poupart, active in the region’s ‘zero carbon’ association of restaurants and producers. Here, on her family’s vegetable farm, Anne decided to become one of Europe’s very few cultivators of a spice today most readily associated with Iran. And local chefs needed no prompting in putting her high-quality product to excellent use in their dishes.
Discover a different Normandy
Picardy has many attractions which we would normally associate with Normandy (but without the crowds !). Cheese, green rolling hills and cute villages…
At La Fontaine Orion, local producer Claire Halleux welcomes visitors to her farm-shop to stock up on cheese and cream, as well as tarte aux Maroilles fresh from the on-site kitchen, apple juice and cider. Maroilles is star of the show of the Thiérache region (near Belgium) with its rolling countryside, woods and empty tree-lined roads. It’s a place to embrace authenticity as well as the great outdoors, visiting typical farms, farm shops, fortified churches and sleepy villages.
A Gourmet Escapade
Enjoy French art de vivre courtesy of a new Michelin-starred chef at the at-mospheric Château de Fère on the threshold of the Champagne Trail, near A 26 and Reims – the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion.
Asumptuous, wood-panelled restaurant with murals by local fable writer Jean de Fontaine is the setting for gourmet French cuisine by Michelin-starred chef Pierre Caillet, working with Catherine Dalle and her team. The eight-course tasting menu is a gastronomic experience you’ll never forget. With its backdrop of a ruined 13th-century castle, the Château de Fère and its restaurant couldn’t be more romantic. This five-star property also
Extending from the fairytale châteaux of Chantilly and Pierrefonds north of Paris to the forests and pastures of the Thiérache near the border with Belgium, and from the vineyards of the Champagne picarde wine region in the east to the beaches of the Somme estuary on the Channel coast, Picardy has a a rich history and cultural identity.
There’s something for everyone, whatever your interests. The battles of northern Picardy in World War I have left their mark in the form of compelling museums as well cemeteries and memorials. But this is also the birthplace of Gothic architecture, with no less than six of the world's greatest Gothic cathedrals: art critic John Ruskin described Amiens Cathedral as ‘the Pantheon of Gothic architecture’. Amiens is also home to the Musée de Picardie with its collections including local art and archaeology.
Royalty were here too: the Château de Compiègne was among three seats of royal government and later the place where Napoléon expressed his love for Marie-Louise in a grand landscaping gesture.
Other cultural treasures include the ruined Abbaye de Chaalis in Ermenonville forest, where a surprise awaits in the form of an intact chapel with Italian Renaissance frescoes by Francesco Primaticcio, plus an art museum.
Meanwhile, the Château de Chantilly houses France’s large collection of antique paintings after the Louvre, though the town is best known for its horses – its 17th-century stables are home to the fascinating Living Museum of the Horse, while the stunning 19th-century racecourse is hosting, as a one-off in 2016, the world’s greatest horse race, the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Chantilly is the perfect place to watch this prestigious event. This delightful town became the capital of the art of equestrianism thanks to the passion of Henri d’Orléans, Duke of Aumale, for horses.
A Secret in a Secluded Chapel
A masterpiece of Italian Renaissance art can be found at peaceful Chaalis on the very doorstep of Paris, within an unimposing chapel concealing atmospheric frescoes by Primaticcio.
Nestled in Ermenonville Forest just north of Paris, the tranquil ruins of the Abbaye de Chaalis seem like an unlikely place to discover an Italian Renaissance masterpiece. But here, within an intact chapel in the grounds, lie frescoes that form the greatest body of religious-themed work by Francesco Primaticcio, a painter
who spent most of his career in France and whose most famous legacy can be found at the Palace of Fontainebleau.
Commissioned by Ippolito d’Este, a son of Lucrezia Borgia who was appointed Abbot of Chaalis by his friend King François, the delicate frescoes, which are atmospherically softened by the light from the chapel's high windows, depict the Annunciation and the Church Fathers.
The chapel also bears the coats of arms of the abbots on its pillars, as well as the tomb of Nélie Jac-quemart-André, a painter and art collector who inherited this estate and for whom the on-site Musée Jacquemart-André art museum is named.
The Abbaye de Chaalis is a wonderful place to get a breath of fresh air while discovering new things, with a rose garden perfect for romantic strolls. Remarkably, all of this is just a few minutes’ away from large hotels and gourmet restaurants, among them the Château de Montvillargenne in Gouvieux – a stately castle built in 1900 by the Rothschild family, with a spa, an indoor pool and a sumptuous restaurant. For something more intimate, quirky Les Rêveries dans la Théière in Ermenonville has cosy B&B rooms and a charming tea-room specialising in inventive quiches.
Napoleon's Romantic Side
Undiscovered opulence in Compiègne
Compelling layers of history to uncover at the Château de Compiègne, a former royal residence, include the love story between Napoleon and Marie Louise – and a unique gift made to the Empress.
Built for Louis XV, a devotee of hunting in the surrounding forest, Compiègne’s castle was a seat of royal government. Restored by Napoleon I after the Revolution, it was the scene for extravagant week-long parties hosted by the Emperor for his guests, as well as the setting for his love story with Marie-Louise.
Visiting a French Christmas market is a wonderful opportunity to sample some of the region’s specialities, as well to feast on festive favourites such as mulled wine, waffles, roast chestnuts.
Lille, home to one of France’s largest art museums, the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Hauts de France capital offers culture, heritage and gastronomy just 75 minutes from the Channel.
Book a flight over the Somme battlefields with the Aéroclub de Picardie Amiens Metropole and, with the help of your English-speaking pilot-guide, you’ll grasp the strange and poetic beauty of a landscape indelibly marked by the traces of its violent history. You’ll also gain new insights into the strategies of some of the key battles that took place in this region during the Somme Offensive of 1916. During the 40-minute flight from Amiens, your pilot will point out sites such as the Château de Querrieu, stately seat of the British High Command during the Battle of the Somme, and Sainte-Colette hill, the site where notorious German fighter pilot, Manfred von Richthofen, nicknamed the Red Baron, met his end in a crash.
Near the Hindenburg LineOasis of Peace with a Turbulent Past
Discover the location of the famous German defensive position built in 1916–17, staying at a charming country castle with convivial hosts and its own lake, just minutes from the motorways.
Stretching from Arras to Laffaux in the Aisne region of Picardy (two hours north-east of Paris), the Hindenburg Line – the German Army’s last and strongest defence on the Western Front – embraced tiny Maissemy. And as well as housing both British and German cemeteries, this hamlet is home to a château with its own war-ravaged history.
A Strategic Secret
Paying HomageCompiègne: at the Crossroads of History
Born in Harrogate in 1890, Donald Simpson Bell was the first professional footballer to enlist in the British Army when he joined the West Yorkshire Regiment in 1915.
Picardy’s Channel coastline is not just a paradise for nature-lovers, who flock here for the fresh air, deserted beaches and spectacular wildlife (including birds and seal colonies). It’s also the perfect place for a relaxing foodie break, offering all kinds of delicious home-grown produce, some of which you might not expect to find in this region.
Make every moment countOvernight Stays Handy for Motorways
Stop over near one of Northern France’s motorways and get your holiday off to to a great start – or memorable finale – with a taste of art de vivre à la française and a blissful night’s sleep.
Break your journey south, or home to the UK, with a gourmet stopover close to the A1, A16 or A26, a short hop from the Channel ports. In just one region, Picardy has a fantastic array of peaceful stopover options and possibilities for things to do handy for major motorways. Relax in your stylish room to the sound of Saint-Jean-aux-Bois’ church bells at the Auberge à La Bonne Idée, and dine by the fireside courtesy of its Michelin-starred chef.
Vive La Différence
A Quirky Couple’s Stopover
Among a number of unusual places to stay handy for the motorways of northern France and within easy reach of the Channel ports, Le Nid dans les Bruyères oozes character and rural charm.
“This quirky site was born of my love of trees and the forest”