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Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Picardy

Cathedral of Notre-Dame in AmiensCathedral of Notre-Dame in Amiens View slideshow

Northern France, between the Ile de France and the Belgian frontier, consists of the old provinces of Picardy, Artois and Flanders, now included within the two administrative regions of Picardy and Nord-Pas-de-Calais. In the center of the area there are some of the finest French cathedrals, in the north there is France's largest industrial region, and in the west, along the shores of the Channel and the North Sea, there are stretches of beautiful coastal scenery and many attractive bathing resorts.

Amiens, France

Chantilly, France

Soissons, France

Soissons (pop. 29,439), situated on the Aisne to the northeast of Paris, has been the see of a bishop since the third century. In antiquity it was the capital of a Celtic tribe, the Suessiones. In 486 Clovis defeated the Roman general Syagrius here, and in 752 Pépin the Short was elected king of the Franks in Soissons.

Cathedral

In the Place Centrale in Soissons is the Gothic Cathedral of St-Gervais-et-St-Protais (12th-13th C; facade altered in 18th C). Its most notable features are the beautiful rose window with 15th C stained glass in the north transept, the fine south transept and an "Adoration of the Shepherds" by Rubens.

Abbeys

Soissons has the remains of three abbeys. St Jean des Vignes (13th-14th C), to the south of the town, has preserved the magnificent Gothic facade of its church (15th C), flanked by two towers. St Léger has a 13th century church with a 14th C doorway; it now houses the Musée d'Archéologie et d'Art, with Gallo-Roman and medieval antiquities and a collection of pictures. St Médard has a pre-Romanesque crypt.

Laon, France

Laon (pop. 26,241), northeast of Soissons, the Roman Laudunum, is the chief town of the département of Aisne. In the Middle Ages it was the see of a bishop and the residence of the last Carolingian kings. It is attractively situated on a narrow hill ridge enclosing a deep depression, the Cuve de St-Vincent, to the west. The upper and lower towns are linked by a fully automatic monorail service (Poma).

Cathédrale Notre Dame de Laon

In the center of the upper town of Laon is the Place de l'Hôtel-de-Ville, with the Town Hall (1838-1854). The Cathedral of Notre-Dame with its seven towers, built in the 12th-13th C on the site of an earlier church, is one of the finest Early Gothic churches in France and provided the model for other large cathedrals. The west front with its three deeply recessed and richly decorated doorways and its beautiful rose window is flanked by twin towers.
The interior is notable for its old stained glass, its 18th century choir screen and its valuable treasury. There is a beautiful 13th century cloister, accessible from the chapterhouse. Beyond the choir is the former Bishop's Palace, now the Palais de Justice (Law Courts), with the remains of a Gothic cloister. North of the cathedral is the Maison des Arts et Loisirs, a cultural center with a reading room, theater, exhibition room and conference hall.
Address: Place du Parvis, F-02000 Laon, France

Municipal Museum

A little way south of the cathedral is the Municipal Museum (art and archaeology), with a Templar chapel (Romanesque, with a Gothic dome) in the garden. Near the former abbey church of St-Martin (12th-13th C) is the ruined Porte de Soissons (13th C), with a leaning tower.

Pierrefonds - Château de Pierrefonds

The twin towers of Chateau de Pierrefonds in Pierrefonds.
Northeast of Paris is the Château of Pierrefonds, with its picturesque battlements and massive round towers. Originally a fortified castle begun in 1390, it was slighted by Richelieu in the 17th C. but restored in its present form by Napoleon III employing architect Viollet-le-Duc in 1858-1867.
It is on the southern fringe of the Forest of Compiègne. 8km/5mi southwest is the former abbey church of Morienval.
The Emperor made further additions when he decided to make it his Imperial residence.
The new construction of the Salle des Preuses saw the arrival of the Emperor's antique collection of arms and armor.
Address: Rue Viollet-le-Duc, F-60350 Pierrefonds, France

Parc Astérix

38km/24mi north of Paris on the A 1 motorway, in the département of Oise, is the access road to Parc Astérix, which was opened in 1989. Here, within an area of 18 hectares/45 acres, are five different magical worlds. The busy Via Antiqua leads to the village of Astérix, home of the comic-strip hero of that name and his friend Obélix. Beyond this are the Roman City, with the "Ave Caesar" roundabout, the Delphinarium and the Route de Paris, which, in a distance of 200m/220yds, covers a thousand years of history down to the age of the cinema.
Address: BP 8, F-60128 Plailly, France

Senlis, France

The old-world little town of Senlis (pop. 16,314), northeast of Paris, was the see of a bishop from the third century until 1790. On the northeast side of the old town is the imposing former cathedral of Notre-Dame (1153-1184), with a richly carved main doorway and a beautiful interior. Near the church are remains of the town's Gallo-Roman walls and of a medieval castle (hunting museum). On the western outskirts of the town are the remains of a Roman amphitheater.

Musée de la Vénerie

The Hunting Museum, established in 1934, is housed in a former priory. The majority of the displays celebrate hunting through paintings. Other exhibits at the Hunting Museum include weapons, costumes, hunting horns and trophies.
Address: Château Royal, Place du Parvis Notre-Dame, F-60300 Senlis, France

Compiegne, France

Compiègne (pop. 41,228), north of Paris on the left bank of the Oise, was a favorite residence of the rulers of France from Merovingian times onwards, and with its great château and extensive forest is still a popular holiday destination. Here Joan of Arc was captured by the Burgundians in 1430 and handed over to the English.

National Museum of Antiquities (Carriage Museum)

The armistice which ended World War I was signed on November 11, 1918 in a railroad carriage in the Forest of Compiègne, and a reproduction of the original carriage can still be seen there. The château, a plain classical-style building erected by Jacques-Ange Gabriel in 1751-1788 for Louis XV, now houses the National Museum of Antiquities and a Carriage Museum.
Address: Clairère de l'Armistice, F-60200 Compiègne, France

Hôtel de Ville

In the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall, 1505-1511) is the Musée de la Figurine Historique. To the west of the Place de l'Hôtel-de-Ville is the 18th C. Hôtel de Songeons, now housing the Musée Vivenel (sculpture, pictures and drawings, ceramics, enamels, etc.). Also worth seeing are the church of St-Antoine (13th and 16th C.) and the Early Gothic church of St-Jacques (altered in 15th C.), with a 49m/160ft high tower.

Address: Place l'Hôtel de Ville, F-60200 Compiègne, France

Joan of Arc Festival

This two-day festival takes place in mid-May.

Cape White Nose

These two capes, the "White Nose" and the "Gray Nose", between Calais and Boulogne, afford wide views, extending in clear weather as far as the English coast, 35km/22mi away.

Noyon, France

Noyon (pop. 14,426), northeast of Paris, was the birthplace of the Reformer Jean Calvin (1509-1564). The house in which he was born is now a Calvin Museum. Noyon, a town of brick-built houses, has been the see of a bishop since the sixth C.

Cathedral of Notre-Dame (Municipal Museum)

The former cathedral of Notre-Dame (12th-13th C.) is a good example of the transition between Romanesque and Gothic. It was completely restored for the 1,000th anniversary of the establishment of the French kingdom. Features of particular interest are the beautiful 13th C. cloister, the chapterhouse, the library and the former Bishop's Palace, now the Municipal Museum.

Peronne, France

Péronne (pop. 8,387), once a strongly fortified town, lies on the Somme, which here forms picturesque pools. In the 12th C. castle (destroyed during the war) Louis XI of France was held prisoner by Charles the Bold of Burgundy in 1468. The castle with its four round towers and the remains of the old town walls are still impressive. The Porte de Bretagne dates from 1602. In the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) is the Musée Danicourt, with a collection of coins and Greco-Roman and Merovingian jewellery. The Historial de la Grande Guerre illustrates the horrors of World War I.
The Historial de la Grande Guerre museum contains modern multimedia displays which emphasize the role of the French army in World War I.

Battle of the Somme

The battle of the Somme, beginning on July 1 of 1916 and running for a long five months, was designed to relieve the pressure being placed on the French army at Verdun while continuing in the plan of winning the war through German attrition.
This particular battle, which saw over one million casualties, was marked by the appearance of a new tool of war that would shape the tactics and strategies of warfare for all later military engagements: the tank.
At Longueval are the South African Memorial and a small museum.

The Somme - The Ulster Tower

An audio-visual presentation has been set up here to tell the tale of the Somme and the Ulster Division that fought here. Like its linked site of Newtonwards in Northern Ireland, this memorial is sponsored by the Northern Ireland Tourism and Industry Department.

Abbeville, France

Abbeville (pop. 24,568), the old capital of the district of Ponthieu, lies on the Somme, not far from the sea. It suffered heavy damage during World War II, and after the war was rebuilt in modern style. In the center of the town is the unfinished and severely damaged church of St-Vulfran (15th-16th C.), with a magnificent Late Gothic facade. Outside the town is the Château of Bagatelle (1752-1754), with period decoration and furniture. North of St Vulfran is the Musée Boucher de Perthes (pictures, sculpture, prehistoric finds).

Boucher de Perthes Museum

The Boucher de Perthes Museum, named after the archeologist who first discovered pieces of prehistoric history through digging in the ground rather than through books, contains an art gallery and an excellent collection of prehistoric artifacts and items related to geology and natural history.
Address: 24 rue Gontier Patin, F-80100 Abbeville, France

Beauvais, France

Beauvais (pop. 55,371), situated on the left bank of the Thérain in the northern part of the Ile de France, was once an important episcopal city with a famous tapestry manufactory (closed down during World War II). In the center of the town is the spacious Place Jeanne-Hachette, named after the victorious defender of the city against Charles the Bold of Burgundy in 1472. On the south side of the square is the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), with an 18th C. facade.

St Etienne

A little to the south of the city center, is the church of St-Etienne (12th, 13th and 18th C.; rebuilt 1945), which has fine Renaissance stained glass (including a Tree of Jesse) and a Romanesque rose window in the north transept with an allegory of human life (the Wheel of Fortune).

Cathedral

Northwest of Place Jeanne-Hachette is the magnificent Gothic Cathedral of St-Pierre, the building of which began in 1227 and continued, with interruptions, until 1578, though only the choir and transept were completed. Faulty design led to the collapse of the vaulting in 1247 and again in 1284, but after rebuilding it is still the highest vaulted roof in the world. The crossing-tower, which was 153 m/502ft high, collapsed in 1573 and was never rebuilt. The facades of the transepts (16th C.), in Flamboyant style, were the work of Jean le Pot. The 19th C. astronomical clock, which has over 90,000 individual parts, is a copy of the one in Strasbourg Cathedral. Other notable features are the stained glass (14th-16th C.), the rich treasury and the National Tapestry Museum behind the apse. The Gothic Bishop's Palace now houses an interesting museum (archeology, painting and sculpture).

National Gallery of the Tapestry of Beauvais

The National Gallery of Tapestry presents a collection of 15th C tapestries.
Address: 22 rue Saint-Pierre, F-60000 Beauvais, France

Château Thierry

The little town of Château Thierry to the east of Paris was the birthplace of La Fontaine (1621-1695), author of the famous "Fables". There is a small La Fontaine Museum. Other features of interest are the remains of a castle, old houses, an old town gate, a bell-tower of the 15th-16th C. and a hospital founded in 1304.

Ermenonville, France

In the village of Ermenonville northeast of Paris on the edge of the forest Jean-Jacques Rousseau died in 1778. 1.5km/1mi north is a zoo, and beyond this the Mer de Sable, a "sea of sand", with dunes, which is an unexpected sight in this forest region.

Château d'Ermenonville

The castle of Ermenonville is located in a picturesque setting, much of the grounds at this chateau were inspired by the natural styles of English gardens. The marquis de Girardin is credited with commissioning Scottish gardeners in its design.
Upon its grounds can be found a memorial to the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who was laid to rest on the island of poplars. Although his remains have been moved the memorial islands stands in his honor.
Address: Rue René-Girardin, F-60950 Ermenonville, France

St Riquier, France

The little town of St Riquier (pop. 1,200) grew up around a Benedictine abbey. The abbey church is a fine building in pure Flamboyant style with a richly decorated doorway, an unfinished tower and a beautiful interior.

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