Only 90 minutes from Calais, this city in Picardy has much to offer winter visitors
Take the A16 autoroute from Calais and within an hour and a half you will arrive at Amiens, capital of the Somme département.
The city is dominated by the intricately carved Notre-Dame Cathedral, one of the largest Gothic buildings in France. It is twice the size of Notre-Dame in Paris and was granted Unesco World Heritage status in 1981.
The medieval facade was originally covered in colourful decorations; a fact that emerged only during recent laser cleaning work. Now, every summer evening and during December, the cathedral is brought to technicolour life once more through computer-generated light projections.
From 25 November to 31 December visitors to the cathedral will find themselves surrounded by one of northern France’s largest Christmas markets, which was launched in 1998. With more than 130 chalet-style stalls from all over France and beyond, the market provides the perfect opportunity to shop for gifts including traditional wooden crafts and Le Creuset cookware, and to enjoy a bounty of local produce. Try the golden-crusted macarons d’Amiens, very different from the pastel-coloured Parisian confections, or the Picardy gâteau battu, a brioche-like cake in the shape of a chef’s hat. Those with a more savoury palate should seek out one of the stalls selling smoked and potted eel, or the region’s Maroilles cheeses.
To the north of the cathedral lies the historic quarter of Saint-Leu, with its Flemish-style houses, cobbled streets and criss-crossing waterways. It was once the centre of the city’s textile industry, but now, after a period of regeneration, has become a trendy district of boutiques, galleries and restaurants.
The town has a lively entertainment scene at this time of year, with music, merry-go-rounds and an ice rink. A big attraction is the Cirque Jules-Verne, built by Émile Ricquier – a student of Gustave Eiffel – and opened in 1889. The impressive building, inspired by the Cirque d’Hiver in Paris, still stages circus performances, as well as theatre shows, concerts and dance events.
The Cirque Jules-Verne was named after the celebrated 19th-century science-fiction writer, who spent the latter part of his life in Amiens and served on the city council. The author’s home on Rue Charles Dubois is open to the public and offers a glimpse of his life and works.