The Paris Skyline
This large new region takes in Picardy - including the Somme, Amiens, and the beautiful Bay of the Somme - and the former Nord / Pas-de-Calais region, with the Channel cliffs, the big city of Lille (left), and Arras and the Canadian World War I memorial at Vimy Ridge.
It includes the striking cathedral at Amiens (the largest in volume in France), the Louvre-Lens offshoot of the Louvre in Paris, some of the major World War I sites, beautiful open, rolling countryside, and two interesting inter-war sites in Roubaix: the ‘La Piscine’ art gallery in the former municipal swimming pool, and the Villa Cavrois, the modernist home of a textile magnate.
Here, for illustration, are two 3-day / 2-night itineraries - do get in touch to discuss a tailor-made programme for your group:
Walk the streets of the Vieux Quartier in Lille. Visit the Louvre’s first museum outside Paris. See two top World War I sites, and enjoy the country air in the marshlands Regional Park near St Omer.
Start in Lille at a hotel, or at the station at 9.18 a.m. (meeting the 8.16 a.m. TGV out of Paris Gare du Nord) - or 10.26 a.m. if coming from London on Eurostar (leaves London St Pancras 8.04 a.m. British time, Monday-Friday; 1 hr 22 minutes journey).
Drop our bags at our hotel, then out for a walking tour of the city centre, with stops for coffee and time for a light lunch. Take in the bustling Place Charles de Gaulle, the fine early-20th-century Opera House & belfried Chamber of Commerce building; and the Vieux Quartier with beautifully restored brick-and-stone 17th century houses.
Mid-afternoon drive 25 minutes out to the suburb of Roubaix to take in either La Piscine - the 1930’s municipal baths restored to become a first-class museum of Arts & Crafts - or the Villa Cavrois - a 1930’s modernist home of a local textile magnate: beautiful mix of curves, sharp straight lines, exquisite colours, and up-to-the-minute features from the Thirties. Overnight in Lille.
La Piscine, Roubaix
The Ring of Memory near Arras
The Audomarois marshes
Drive 40 minutes to Lens in the former mining district. Visit Louvre-Lens, the first-ever offshoot of the Louvre, opened in 2012. The museum’s Gallery of Time has around 200 items from the collections in Paris illustrating art from Mesopotamia & Ancient Egypt right up to the mid-19th-century. Displayed chronologically rather than by region, is a refreshing new perspective (in a beautiful modern building). One-fifth of the objects are changed annually - in five years the whole selection has changed.
Into Lens itself for time for a snack lunch and a look at the Art Deco buildings from the rebuilding of the town after complete destruction in World War I. After lunch we drive 20 minutes to the Ring of Memory on the hilltop of Notre Dame de Lorette - an enclosed ring where one walks alongside panels listing all the names, of all nationalities, of those who lost their lives during World War I in the Nord / Pas-de-Calais region. 580,000 names in alphabetical order, with no segregation by nation - an amazing and original memorial, opened in 2014 for the World War I Centenary.
From here it’s 20 minutes into Arras for check-in to our hotel and a short introductory walking tour: Arras has two fine 17th-century squares lined with Flemish-style gabled houses, overlooked by the huge Renaissance belfry.
Drive 20 minutes out to Vimy Ridge to see the Canadian national World War I Memorial - a stunning double-tower carved out of white limestone. We’ll take in the new (2017) Visitors Centre telling the story of the 1917 battle and Canada’s role in the war.
Drive 1 hour north to St Omer for free time for lunch in the main square. Then we’ll drive 10 minutes outside to the Clairmarais visitor centre for a visit to the Audomarois marshes - choice of boat ride or a walk amongst the quiet reeds and lakes.
From here we’ll drive 20 minutes to the hilltop town of Cassel in French Flanders: views towards the North Sea coast, time for a coffee in the main square, and/or time in the Museum of Flanders. Cassel is said to be the town in the nursery rhyme where the Duke of York “marched his men to the top of the hill, and marched them down again”!
From here it’s 45 minutes back to Lille Europe for your train - 5.36 p.m. Eurostar back to London (London St Pancras 6.03 p.m. British time); or to Lille Flandres for the 6.11 p.m. train to Paris (arriving there 7.14 p.m.).
This tour could be adapted to start/finish at a Paris hotel if the tour involves a minibus/coach - it is an approximately 2 hr 45 minute drive to/from our first & last sites. It could be also delivered by minibus from Kent - Lille is only an hour from the Channel Tunnel.
The streets of St Valéry-sur-Somme
Enjoy the fresh air and openness of the Bay of the Somme, one of the top sites in France for birdwatching and seeing seals. Walk the beautiful Abbey Gardens of Valloires, sites from the Hundred Years War (Crecy & Agincourt), and the banks of the Somme by Amiens cathedral. Explore the landscape of the 1916 Battle of the Somme, a century on.
Start in Amiens at a hotel - or at the station at 9.38 a.m. (meeting the 8.31 a.m. train out of Paris Gare du Nord). One hour drive (+ coffee stop) to the small seaside resort of Le Crotoy on the northern side of the Bay of the Somme. Beach walk and orientation of the Bay and its features before time for a light lunch. Then a choice in the afternoon between a visit to the Marquenterre Bird Reserve, famed for its storks and its enclosed lakes, or a 90-minute boat trip out into the Bay from St Valéry-sur-Somme. Meet up afterwards to drop our bags at our hotel in St Valéry before a short guided walk of this pretty town on the south side of the Bay. William the Conqueror sailed to England from here in 1066. Overnight St Valéry.
45 minute drive to the Gardens of Valloires Abbey - via a 20-minute stop at Crécy overlooking the site of a 1346 battle from the Hundred Years War (hear just what that was all about). Choice between a visit to the beautiful gardens (with further option of whether to add a guided visit, in French, to the adjacent 17th-century abbey buildings) - or go on a further 35 minutes to Agincourt to walk the battlefield of 1415.
Back to Valloires for lunch stop, the a 1 hour ride to Amiens. Drop our bags at our hotel then head out on a guided walk of the city, the highlight being the massive 13th-century Cathedral, the largest by volume in all of France: unique Labyrinth stone pavement, 20th-century stained glass, World War I memorials, and the highest roof-supporting columns of any French cathedral nave. Ice cream / coffee by the river Somme.
Free time, or option of a canalboat ride on the Hortillonages - the marshy market-gardens that fill a neighbourhood north of the river.
It’s a 35-minute drive from Amiens to the 1916 Somme battlefield. Tour taking in a viewpoint over the River (hear about the French part of the battle), preserved trenches at the Newfoundland Memorial Park, the Australian Windmill Memorial, a walk in Delville Wood, and a visit to the Thiepval memorial to the Missing. 35 minutes back to Amiens for your train at 5.38 p.m. - into Paris at 6.56.
This tour could be adapted to start/finish at a Paris hotel if the tour involves a minibus/coach - it is an approximately 2 hr 45 minute drive to/from our first & last sites. It could be also delivered by minibus from Kent - the Bay of the Somme is just over an hour from the Channel Tunnel.
Marquenterre Reserve, Bay of the Somme
A Commonwealth cemetery on the Somme
All text, maps & photos © Dr Thomson’s Tours Ltd.
Website design by Joseph Thomson
Last updated October 2017
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