As you may already know, Thomas is French. He comes from a small town next to Amiens, a city located just an hour north from Paris. This region was previously known as Picardie and is squeezed between Île-de-France (the region around Paris) and the English Channel. Due to its proximity with England and the sea, the region had a very turbulent history with many invasions and battles (including during WWI and WWII). However, some lovely villages can still be found and are definitely worth a visit. This is the case of Saint-Valéry-sur-Somme, which is one not to be missed!
Located at the estuary of the Somme river and facing the Baie de Somme, Saint-Valéry is a splendid combination of medieval history, an incomparable nature wonder and a cute fishermen village.
But first, let's talk about the Baie de Somme. I'm sure you've already heard of the Along Bay, the Mont Saint-Michel Bay or even the Bay of San Francisco. But have you ever heard of the Baie de Somme? Probably not, and yet, the Baie de Somme is, like the other bays, enlisted in the "Club of The Most Beautiful Bays in the World". The site is also classified as "Grand Site de France" and combines many other labels. Needless to say that Thomas is very proud of this!
At both ends of the Baie de Somme lie the two small towns of Le Crotoy and Saint-Valéry-sur-Somme. Of the two, the latter is definitely our favorite! And for a good reason, Saint-Valéry is a member of the "Most Beautiful Detours" network in France and has been nominated as one of France's favorite towns. To sum it up, Saint-Valéry is a charming and colorful medieval town in which it is pleasant to stroll around. It also makes for a great base when visiting the Baie de Somme as it is located at its heart.
Saint-Valéry has always had a strategic position: a limestone peninsula facing the Baie de Somme. This explains why the village had been occupied or invaded by different civilizations: from Gauls and Romans to Franks and Vikings. Its name came from the monk Walaric (also known as Valery) who settled as a hermit in an abbey nearby in the 7th century. His miracles and virtue started attracting disciples. Even after his death, pilgrims came to the monastery to see the relics of the saint who gave his name to the village that grew around it.
However, the significance of this tiny village only grew during the 10th and 11th centuries, when William the Conqueror chose Saint-Valéry as the port to assemble his fleet before sailing over to England on his quest to claim the English throne. Later on, during the many conflicts between France and England - especially during the Hundred Years' War - the village's control changed often between them and, as such, it had to always be protected, hence the abundance of medieval constructions in town. During this time, Joan of Arc was held captive as an English prisoner in the local prison before being sent to Rouen and burnt at the stake.
After this turbulent period, the village became a prosperous port thanks to the export of wines and the herring industry. Once more, its location helped since it is not far from Paris. This made it possible to rebuild some important buildings of the city like the abbey and we can still see the grandeur and charm of some properties.
For such a small village, Saint-Valéry surely holds a crucial role in many important historical moments. And this can be seen around the commune from the nature encircling it to the different architecture styles of the buildings.
HOW TO GET TO SAINT-VALÉRY?
Saint-Valéry-sur-Somme is easily accessible by car. This medieval town is about 2 hours from Paris (via A16), 2 hours from Lille (via A1), 1h20 from Rouen (via A28) and only 50 minutes from Amiens (via A16).
If you want to come by train, we advise you to stop at the Noyelle-sur-Mer train station and then take the Chemin de fer de la Baie de Somme (Baie de Somme Railway) which links Noyelle-sur-Mer to Saint-Valéry (see section below for more information about this tourist train). You'll love this scenic train ride where the magnificent landscapes of the bay parade before your eyes.
PERFECT DAY ITINERARY IN SAINT-VALÉRY
1. CHEMIN DE FER DE LA BAIE DE SOMME
Built in 1887, the Chemin de fer de la Baie de Somme (Baie de Somme Railway) was intended to develop tourism on the Picardie coastline. Thanks to its 27 kilometers of railway line, tourists could (and still can) go to the seaside towns of Le Crotoy, Saint-Valéry-sur-Somme and Cayeux-sur-Mer. Step back in time aboard one of the most beautiful vintage trains in the country! At its own pace, the train crosses the many fields and marshes of the bay and is one of the best way to discover the Baie de Somme.
The Baie de Somme Railway, made up of wooden cars from the Belle Époque and pulled by an impressive steam locomotive, has been preserved thanks to an association that put the train back on track since the 1970s. With its 200,000 annual visitors, it is the leading tourist site in the region. It is definitely a must-see when visiting the Baie de Somme! For more information about the Baie de Somme Railway, check their website here.
| Timetable - from 11 a.m. - 6.30 p.m. from mid-June to October |
| Admission - 12 EUR (one way), 15 EUR (roundtrip) |
2. SAINT-VALÉRY HARBOR
One of the peculiarity of Saint-Valéry harbor is that it is both a maritime and a river harbor since it is the link between the Baie de Somme and the entrance to the Somme Canal. The maritime history of Saint-Valery is rich and ancient: in Roman times, Saint-Valery was a Roman military port and during the 19th century, it became a flourishing commercial port. For the anecdote, it is also in Saint-Valéry that William of Normandy took refuge before leaving for the kingdom of England to become a Conqueror.
3. SAILORS' DISTRICT (QUARTIER DES MARINS)
Also known as Le Quartier du Courtgain (word that comes from small salary), this is definitely the best point for pictures in Saint-Valéry. This picturesque neighbourhood is intrinsically connected to the maritime heritage of this port village and is the only one of this region that survived the World Wars.
You can go up the Rue des Moulins and lose yourself in this kingdom of tightly-packed-together colourful houses dating back to the 19th century. Built in the typically Picard style, the colors are part of a sailors' tradition: every year they repainted their boats and used the paint leftovers to brighten up the facade of their houses. Combined with the flowerbeds and the marine decoration, the recipe for a unique and unforgettable scenery is complete.
Go down through the parallel Rue des Pilotes which offers a stunning perspective to the Somme Bay framed by the charming houses. If you still have the energy and want a better panoramic view of the bay and the city, before going down you can climb up to the Calvaire des Marins and its oratory, where the fishermen's wives and children came to watch and pray for the safe return of the boats.
4. PORTE DE NEVERS
Built in the 16th century, this gate is the entrance of the medieval part of the city. This tall, pointed construction is made from sandstone, flint and brick and has its foundation on an older building which has been replaced by the gate. Its name comes from the coat of arms of the Duke of Gonzague-Nevers which is displayed above the entrance. On the facade, it is still possible to see the tracks which used to allow the movement of the chains of the drawbridge and the windows of the former guards' apartment.
5. MEDIEVAL TOWN
Once crossing the Porte de Nevers, we have the impression we've traveled in time. Saint-Valery has one of the most preserved medieval old towns in the region and this gets clearer once you stroll around the narrow cobbled streets. It is a succession of ramparts, gates, towers and half-timbered houses (some dating from the 15th and 16th centuries) that allow us to witness the history of this town.
6. SAINT MARTIN CHURCH
Though there are reports of the existence of a church in Saint-Valéry since the 12th century, the first building was destroyed by a fire on the French King's order during the Hundred Years' War so that the town would not be handed over to the English. Finally the version we know today was built at the end of the 15th century with the two identical naves, the massive tower and the checkerboard walls, alternating cut flint and stone typical from the region.
7. PORTE GUILLAUME
Also known as Porte du Haut (High Gate), this gate dates back to the 11th century and the grandiosity of this defensive building illustrates the strategic importance the town used to have. The complex consists of two massive round towers and two one-storey buildings (with an underground passage connecting them) which served as guard houses and prisons. After being captured by the English, Joan of Arc passed trough this gate on her way to Rouen to be judged and later on burnt alive for fighting against England. This explains the third name by which this gate is also knows: Porte Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc's Gate).
8. sailors' chapel
Also known as Saint-Valery Chapel, this graceful church stands on one of the best viewpoints overlooking the bay and the villages around it. Built in romanesque style by one of Saint-Valery's disciples to shelter his remains, this site brought many pilgrims to the village in search of miracles and blessings. In the end of the 19th century, a new chapel in Neo-Gothic style was built to replace the old one which was in a bad state. The traditional "checkerboard wall" and the nautical decoration inside is definitely work checking!
Ok, maybe this isn't exactly what you picture in your head when thinking of beaches (I know it wasn't to me). No transparent warm blue waters to dive in but a nice sand strip with a stunning view to the bay (sometimes you can even spot seals visiting as well). There is a beach bar (La Buvette de la Plage) if you're looking for refreshments and the highlight for us: a series of wooden beach cabins where locals store their belongings to just relax and enjoy the nature around.
10. PROMENADE Quai Jeanne d'Arc
Now you can walk back to the village centre strolling down this deck flanked by the Somme river on one side and astounding mansions from the 19th century on the other. However, before doing so, you can make a break to admire the small lighthouse at the end of the deck with the bay as background which is especially stunning during the sunset. Whenever you decide to go ahead on the promenade, don't forget to observe the medieval village behind the houses from another perspective - since it is located on the high part of the city - and imagine how imposing it must have looked centuries ago.
11. DINNER AT LE RELAIS GUILLAUME DE NORMANDY
To finish the day, why not eating in one of the beautiful mansions located on the Promenade Jeanne d'Arc?! Le Relais Guillaume de Normandy is the place to go! This hotel-restaurant offers a wide range of specialties from the region: cassolette de moules (mussels casserole), ficelle picarde (a savory pancake filled with ham, mushroom and béchamel sauce), seafood platter, etc. We opted for the 22 EUR menu which did not disappoint us! The mussels casserole we had as entries was delicious and very generous (we were already full after the starter), then we chose different kinds of fishes, and for dessert, we tried the amazing lemon panna cotta. We highly recommend this place and will definitely go back!
Opening hours - daily from 11.45 a.m. - 9.30 p.m. | Prices - Menus from 22 EUR to 52 EUR |
The coast in the North of France is definitely not for those looking for paradisiac beaches where you can sunbath and dive to see different fish species. It doesn't mean it does not have its beauties! And Saint-Valéry-sur-Somme is definitely one of these jewels worth visiting for its architectural, historical, natural and cultural importance on the region.
And now it's your turn to share your experience, thoughts and tips to visit this cute village of the Baie de Somme. Have you already visited Saint-Valéry? What other cities you think are worth visiting in this area? We look forward to reading your comments in the section below.