Sunday, 27 April 2014

Vacances en Baie de Somme

Out of all the regions of France, La Picardie is perhaps not one of the most obvious holiday destinations, but that was where Understanding Frenchman and I spent Easter weekend, along with a big group of friends. We rented a gite on the coast which I won't recommned because it wasn't very good, but yes, Picardie has a coast. (Lots of the French people we were with didn't know this, but I did, having spent a day in Le Treport back in 2003 My abiding memory of that day is of one of the French girls being carried on the back of her boyfriend along the clifftop path because she had chosen to wear high-heeled sandals for her trip to the seaside. Up until that point, living in small-town Picardie, the people I had encountered hadn't particularly lived up to the French reputation for style and I had become convinced that it was something of a myth, so the combination of her footwear choices and his chivalry made a lasting impression. But I digress.)

In fact, the Picardie coast is really quite impressive. At Le Treport, you have the continuation of the chalk cliffs that stretch the length of the Normandy coast as far as Etretat and drop off dramatically at Ault to give way to flat marshland and the famous Baie de Somme. This part of the coast is famous for its birds and there are several nature reserves ... where ironically the wildlife seems to be "reserved" for hunters to shoot at. These areas are promoted to tourists as nature reserves and you can certainly spend hours gazing through your binoculars at the vast number of birds, including many migrating species, but are also dotted with hunting hideouts and fake ducks which are positioned on the lakes to attract the real ones. I have to say, this aspect of the reserves did not sit comfortably with me: I understand that hunting can play an important role in maintaining an ecological balance in areas where one species may be at risk of becoming too dominant, but in the places we visited, the balance seemed to be tipped far too far in the direction of the hunting lobby. As one friend put it, when a rare bird has flown thousands of kilometres on a journey from the Arctic to Africa and stops to rest on a lake where people have positioned fake ducks to make it feel safe, then the hunters shoot it at a range of a few metres from a specially-installed hide, is that really sport? Is that really fair? And is it really in the interest of the local ecology?

Nevertheless, there is a lot of natural beauty to be found around the coastline. On the first day, we went for a beautiful clifftop hike from Ault to Mers-les-Bains and watched the ever-changing light from the height of the chalky falaises.

On the second day, we went on a guided walk across the Baie de Somme, the wide river estuary where the River Somme meets the Channel. The guide explained how the build up of sand in the estuary, which is a natural phenomenon but exacerbated by human activity, is changing the nature of the estuary, with important consequences for the local economy. One important activity in the towns on either side of estuary is collecting plants like salicorne and oreilles de cochon which grow only in tidal areas which are sometimes exposed to the air and sometimes covered in salt water. As the sand builds up, the tide covers these places less often and the plant and animal life changes. When I'm on holiday, I'm usually too stubbornly independent to sign up for this kind of thing, but in fact it was really interesting, as well as very muddy!

So, if you've never thought of Picardie as a place to go on holiday, maybe it's worth considering. Like me, you might be pleasantly surprised!


  1. Your pictures are awesome.

    I think France has a lot of hidden gems out of the beaten path. Everyone want to see Paris but there are many other cities and régions worth visiting.

  2. It looks gorgeous, I have to agree with you re: the hunting aspect of it. It would be sad to observe the fauna and know that it could be at risk from the very people who help to maintain it.

  3. It looks nice. I've been to the "Côte d'Opale" north of there (because I was living in the area), which is quite pretty in parts, but it would never have occurred to me to go to the Picardie coast either.

  4. I've been to Picardie but not to the coast, looks like a great place to check out!