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Picardie (Picardy)

Picardie

The region of Picardie is situated in the north east of France just to the south-west of Nord- Pas- de -Calais. The region has a strong cultural identity with its name deriving from the Picard language which is still spoken by some inhabitants.

During its long history, Picardie has frequently found itself at the centre of disputes and many famous battles have been fought on its territory: Crecy in 1346; the Somme during WW1.

Although located in close proximity to the English Channel, Picardie only has a relatively short coastline which consists of the long sandy beaches of the Somme Estuary. It is a land largely composed of attractive rural areas, historic towns and chateaux and medieval cathedrals.

The climate of the region is, naturally, similar to that of southern England. The winter months are cool and windy while summers are mild with regular rainfall. These conditions provide the lush meadows needed for the raising of livestock.

Access to Picardie from the UK is made easy by convenient road, rail and air connections. By car it is only about an hour’s drive from Calais or 30 minutes from Paris. There is also an extensive road system within the region. Picardy is close to rail links via TGV or Eurostar which takes three hours from London. There is an airport at Beauvais-Tille which handles low-cost flights from the UK in addition to Europe-wide destinations. The airports of Paris are not too far distant.

Economically the region divides into two distinct areas. The southern part is very much attached to Paris. Towns including Beauvais, Compiegne and Chantily are located round the suburbs of Paris with many locals commuting to the capital.

The northern half of Picardie is more rural and agricultural in character mostly devoted to the cultivation of cereals and crops especially sugar beet. There is also a small area of vineyards along the border with Champagne.

The region may be relatively unknown as a centre for tourism but is, nevertheless, an interesting as well as an easily accessible part of France, which make it particularly suitable as a short stay destination.

The regional capital, Amiens, is an important industrial and commercial centre in its own right despite its proximity to Paris. The city also boasts one of the best medieval gothic cathedrals in France.

The Picardie region in general is famous for its great cathedrals. In the town of Beauvais you can see what was intended to be the highest medieval gothic cathedral in the country. Although the building was never completed, the choir and transept are very impressive. Gothic cathedrals can also be found in both Calin and Soissons.

In Chantilly you will find a fine chateau with magnificent gardens. The surrounding parkland contains a well-known race course while the chateau also houses a museum.

For nature lovers, the area around the Baie de Somme provides wetlands which are famous as a habitat for birds. The total length of the Picardie coast-line is around 60 kilometres and includes the resorts of Saint-Valery-sur-Somme and le Crotoy. Visitors of all ages will enjoy the Somme Bay railway with its vintage steam train and authentic carriages. Also for families is Mer de Sable, a Wild West theme park with a variety of rides and amusements.

Of special interest to tourists are the sites and exhibits associated with the Battle of the Somme which was fought between July and November of 1916 on both sides of the river. Following the Circuit of Remembrance will enable you to explore the history of the battle and view the key sites.

In the town of Albert you will find the Somme 1916 Museum which is situated in what was once the crypt beneath the town’s basilica. It contains scenes of trench life along with displays of uniforms, equipment and weapons – relics of the battle found in the surrounding fields and what remains of the trenches. The information is presented in four languages including English.

Also to be found in this area is the Petit Train de la Haute Somme which runs on what remains of military network built during WW1. It has now been restored by a group of railway enthusiasts for public use.

One of the principal delights of the Picardie region is the variety and nature of its traditional gastronomy. In some respects it resembles that of neighbouring Normandy with features such as cider, pancakes and fresh sea food like moules de bouchot. However, there are other specialities which more specifically belong to Picardie. These come in both sweet and savoury form.

The region is renowned for the wide range of fresh vegetables produced locally in the numerous market gardens. Vegetables are frequently introduced into soup and stew recipes. They can also be used in quiches as are leeks in leek flamiche.

From the coastal salt marshes comes pre-sale lamb from animals reared on the salty pasture. Also from this area is samphire, commonly known locally as haricot des mers. This is pickled and served as an accompaniment to meat and fish. Amiens is the source of a duck and andouillette pate.

For those with sweet teeth treats of the region include gateau battu which is brioche made with a load of butter and eggs and Amiens Macarons flavoured with honey and almond. Not to forget, of course, the famous Chantilly cream!

It is possible to buy all this produce in the region’s numerous local markets which can be found in most towns and villages on any day of the week. The one in Rivery, for example, specialises in organic vegetables.

Picardie may not be the obvious choice of destination for tourists but that should not deter anyone from exploring this certainly low-key, yet undeniably appealing and interesting, region of France.

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