Amiens makes for an ideal weekend getaway if you’re after a bit of culture, some leisurely walks, a little light shopping and a generous helping of great food. All in all, it’s Picardie at its most perfect.
This northern French city is about 90 minutes from Calais, so it’s ideal for Brits in need of a French fix. It’s also about the same distance from Lille, which makes it very accessible for us.
We spent last weekend there and it was delightful.
Where to have lunch
We arrived around midday on Saturday, just early enough to get our bearings before lunch. The sun was out and the pavement tables in front of the cafés and restaurants started to fill up quickly.
We stopped at a place by Place Gambetta, where the local speciality, ficelles picardes – a savoury crêpe stuffed with ham and mushrooms, topped with melted cheese – was in high demand.
“To our delight, Amiens proved itself a very satisfying and enjoyable weekend destination”
Where to shop
Amiens’ history means that the city centre is a mixture of pre- and post-war architecture.
The main shopping street is a 1950s pedestrianised thoroughfare and is great if you’re after all the French high street brands. Highlights for us were the Galeries Lafayette department store and Alice Délice cookware shop, where we treated ourselves to a few things for the kitchen.
Where to stay
Of course, there are plenty of places to stay, from corporate hotels to chambres d’hôtes, and to suit all pockets. We stayed at the gorgeous hotel Le Prieuré in the city centre, and our room gave onto the cathedral.
Where to dine
Finding somewhere to eat is not a struggle in Amiens – in fact, you’re spoilt for choice.
Quai Bélu, which runs along the river Somme in the Saint-Leu district, was particularly popular. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch by the water’s edge there on the Sunday at a delightful restaurant called L’Envie.
However, for the Saturday night, in honour of my partner Damon’s birthday, we dined at Les Orfèvres. The restaurant is recommended by the Michelin Guide, and it clearly aspires to a Michelin star.
We took the four-course dinner, which came with several amuse-bouches and inter-course palate-cleansers. We also opted for the wine pairing, which I thought really enhanced the meal.
Although I am educated in wine, I like having someone else choose a different wine to go with each course for me. That way, I end up trying wines that I may not have chosen to accompany a whole meal but which suit each dish.
Examples include the Alsatian Gewurztraminer which accompanied the starter, a pissaladière served with a taramasalata and oyster sauce. It was a surprising – but rather good – match.
Where to go after dinner
It’s hard to miss the cathedral in Amiens – it dominates the skyline and its city centre. Of a Saturday, there is a light show at about 10pm.
The display was superb and we were intrigued to learn that the final set of lights showed the cathedral in the colours it would originally have been painted. Apparently, the vibrant reds, blues, yellows, greens and whites had been discovered during recent renovation work to its façade.
Where to go walking
If you’re anything like us, by the Sunday morning you might need a stroll to work off Saturday’s excesses. Les hortillonages are just the answer.
These ‘floating gardens’ as they are known, are 300 hectares of little islands dissected by canals. We spent a captivating couple of hours wandering along them – we needed the exercise, but you can take a boat if you prefer.
Where to find some culture
To finish off, there is the Maison de Jules Verne. Although born in Nantes, he married une Amiénoise and settled in the city. Their home is now a museum.
We opted for the Théâtre des Marionettes instead – which will come as no surprise to anyone who knows Damon. The theatre didn’t have a show on but we were able to have a look round its displays, a sort of museum in miniature.
Then, we headed home. To our delight, Amiens had proved itself a very satisfying and enjoyable weekend destination.