Visit the Parc Astérix, a theme park based on the world-famous, much-loved books by Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny. Just over 20 miles north of Paris, it offers rollercoasters and rides for all ages, based on different civilisations including Ancient Gauls, Romans, ancient Greeks, Vikings and Egyptians. The park is open from April to October, daily from 10am to 6pm, and there’s a family-friendly on-site hotel, the forest-set Hôtel des Trois Hiboux.
A Relaxing Romantic Break in Picardy’s Champagne Region
Extending into the Aisne in Picardy, Champagne is a place to savour slowly and at your own pace – just as you would a coupe of the most romantic and life-affirming of drinks.
One of the most atmospheric of the guided tours and tastings is to be had in Château-Thierry, where you can wander through two kilometres of medieval stone quarries that now serve as the cellars of Champagne Pannier. You’ll also find small producers around lovely surrounding countryside, offering a more intimate experience.
Your leisurely strolls through the vines will help work up an appetite that you can satisfy by sampling some of the excellent local cuisine. Specialities include salmon or snails poached in champagne, and Maroilles, a pungent, earthy cow’s milk cheese that local monks used to distribute to those harvesting the champagne grapes –you’ll often find it in quiches and tarts.
The Somme Bay
A spectacular and quite wild area of open water, dunes, marshes and saltwater meadows sprinkled with charming villages and small-scale coastal resorts, the estuary of the Somme River is a prime spot for a weekend in Northern France, within just a 90-minute drive of Calais. It’s also a foodie paradise, especially for lovers of seafood.
For those looking for a relaxing weekend in France and a change of scenery, the Somme Bay with its powerful tides offers amazing ever-changing vistas, fantastic light that has influenced painters including Delacroix, Degas and Corot, and a landscape where sea, sky and land often seem to merge. Renowned for its ecological diversity, it is part nature reserve (the Parc du Marquenterre) and one of the best birdwatching sites in all France.
The area’s most well-known village is delightful Saint-Valéry-sur-Somme, where along with cobbled lanes, medieval ramparts, a Gothic church and a riverside boardwalk you’ll find the starting point for the Chemin de Fer de la Baie de Somme, a Belle Epoque narrow-gauge railway that takes in the length of the bay.
UNESCO listed Amiens Cathedral
Rich in history and culture but also in green oases and gourmet experiences, Amiens is the perfect destination for a relaxing weekend in France. Strolling its quaint cobbled streets or enjoying a leisurely meal in one of its welcoming restaurants, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped away from the strains of modern life into a simpler, more laid-back time.
The first stop for most people who visit Amiens is its vast cathedral (phone: 33 (0)3 22 80 03 41), a UNESCO World Heritage listed Classic Gothic masterpiece that is best known for the fine sculptures on its main facade and in the south transept. It’s open April–Sept 8.30am–6.15pm, rest of year 8.30am–5.15pm.
Maison de Jules Verne
Smaller in scale but just as interesting is the Maison de Jules Verne (00 33 3 22 45 45 75), occupying the 19th-century townhouse that was once home to the novelist, poet and playwright famed around the world for his science fiction. It’s open April 15th–October 14th Monday and Wednesday–Friday 10am–12.30pm and 2–6.30pm, Tuesdays 11am–6.30pm, and Saturdays and Sundays 11am–6.30pm; rest of year Monday and Wednesday–Friday 10am–12.30pm and 2–6pm, Saturdays and Sundays 2–6pm.
Amiens is also home to the Cirque Jules Verne, inaugurated by the writer. A listed historical monument, this rare permanent circus constructed in 1889 hosts both traditional and contemporary street and circus acts.
The Hortillonnages floating gardens
Also unique to this compact city are the hortillonnages – floating market gardens that have been cultivated since the Middle Ages. Wandering along the towpaths of this network of minuscule canals, or exploring them by traditional boat, is one of the highlights of a weekend in Amiens.
If you can tear yourself away from one of the cosy hotels or B&Bs that characterise Amiens, early Saturday mornings see the city’s water market on the canals of the hortillonnages – a great opportunity to sample regional specialties including ficelles picardes (oven-baked savoury pancakes) and macaroons. In April (and October), foodies will also delight in the réderie or fleamarket, with local produce stalls alongside stands selling retro furnishings, vintage records and more.