Northern France’s Amiens resembles a pint-sized Paris.
It has its own Notre Dame cathedral — bigger than the one in the capital — as well as its own macarons.
They were invented nearly 150 years ago by the Trogneux family, of which France’s First Lady is a descendant. Brigitte (née Trogneux) and husband Emmanuel Macron hail from this city.
Its criss-cross of cobbled streets, grand squares and canals have been tastefully restored (following destruction in World War II) and are a joy to explore.
Set off on a budget trip to Northern France’s Amiens (above) and you can expect to discover a criss-cross of canals and cobbled streets
WHERE TO STAY
Art is big in this uber-stylish hotel close to the station. Bedrooms have murals of French author Jules Verne (another famous Amienois) and soap dispensers are captioned ‘Press to impress’.
You’ll find lots of included extras (hot drinks, bonbons and table football) in the funky downstairs restaurant/bar. Double rooms cost from £86 B&B (accor.com).
Check into a bargain room at Le Prieure, a former 17th-century priory that oozes rustic charm
Prices at Le Prieure start from £66, and breakfast is £10.50pp
For rustic French charm, this former 17th-century priory can’t be beaten. Set on a narrow cobbled street near the cathedral, the hotel’s restaurant and several of its 23 rooms (spread across two buildings) have a spire view.
There are no lifts, so ask for a ground-floor room if you don’t fancy climbing stairs. Prices start from £66, and breakfast is £10.50pp (hotel-prieure-amiens.com).
With giant teddy bears, board games and books dotted around the cosy, sofa-strewn ground floor, this largest of Amiens’ central hotels is all about fun.
Its 109 softly lit, newly renovated rooms cost from £72 (marriott.co.uk) and its luxury beds are covered with scatter cushions. There are no cupboards, just hangers on wall-mounted hooks, so pack light.
Breakfast is £10.50pp and freshly squeezed orange juice is served.
What this 88-room hotel lacks in style and centrality (it’s a 15-minute walk to the cathedral) it makes up for in price. Doubles start at £52, while triples are priced the same as a twin (accor.com). Rooms are bright, clean and basic, with fun bendy reading lights. Breakfast costs £6pp.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
This 13th-century gothic cathedral is the largest in France. Entrance is free, or opt for a £3 pp self-guided audio-tour. The lofty arches, marble baroque pulpit and stained-glass rose windows are awesome.
One of the ‘Les Hortillonnages’ floating garden islands, which can be explored by foot from Ile aux Fagots or in a boat
Taste one of the city’s award-winning macarons (above) at the Jean Trogneux cafe. Picture courtesy of Creative Commons
Imagine a Chelsea Flower Show on water. That’s what you’ll find on the canals of Amiens, home to floating garden islands called Les Hortillonnages. They can be explored by foot from Ile aux Fagots or in a boat. You can hire a wooden electric craft at 35, Rue Roger Allou (artetjardins-hdf.com) for £18 an hour. Great fun.
Try an Amiens Macaron
You can’t leave without tasting one of the city’s award-winning macarons, less than £1 a pop. They’re served at the Jean Trogneux café by the cathedral run by the fifth generation of the family. They are best enjoyed with a cup of 70 per cent cocoa ‘caraque chocolat’ — a thick, hot molten chocolate drink so divine you won’t want it to end.
Visit the markets
The Saturday market contours the canal beneath the cathedral. Stalls sell everything from saucissons to fruit and veg grown on Les Hortillonnages. Head to the covered Belfry market if you’re a cheese lover (closed Mondays) and check out the Planchon stand. with its Northern French fromages.
Embark on a Jules Verne-themed city walk, stopping by the Around The World In 80 Days author’s home (pictured) en route
The Around The World In 80 Days author Jules Verne is to Amiens what Gaudi is to Barcelona. Verne lived and wrote here for 30 years and a new, free 1.5-mile self-guided Verne-themed city walk (map from the Tourist Office) will take you to the places he knew. You’ll find an information board at each of the 16 landmarks. A couple of the stops (Verne’s house and the Picardy Museum) are worth visiting in their own right.
WHERE TO EAT
Dine on £9 stuffed pancakes at Le Quai in the city’s trendy Saint-Leu district (above)
This bustling waterside restaurant (restaurant-lequai.fr) is in the city’s trendy Saint-Leu district and famed for its regional Picardy cuisine.
Favourites include ficelle Picarde (savoury stuffed pancakes in cream sauce) for £9 and pork cheek carbonnade slow-cooked in beer for £16. Neither are light dishes, and it’s best not to think about the calories.
A chequered floor and fairy lights add character to this popular, largely vegetarian and vegan eatery (robinroomamiens.com) close to the city’s belfry.
It’s the perfect pit-stop for lunch, and £11 buys a huge plate of salad, homemade soup and a tart. If you’ve room left, the dessert menu is tempting.
Ail des Ours
Enjoy the theatre of the open kitchen at this restaurant (aildesours-restaurant.fr) recommended by the Michelin Guide, which serves two set dinner menus — £38 for four courses; £48 for six.
Produce is seasonal, local and creative (think mussels with marigolds and hake with coco vanilla sauce).
La Table Saint Firmin
A ‘pichet’ of house red is just £6 at La Table Saint Firmin, which is a short stroll from the Notre-Dame d’Amiens cathedral (above)
For a budget, slap-up French meal a stone’s throw from the cathedral, look no further than this (la-table-saint-firmin-amiens.eatbu.com). Starters and desserts cost about £6, mains £12, and portions are generous.
Wash the goat’s cheese salad and entrecote (premium cut of steak) down with a £6 ‘pichet’ of house red and then pay at the till. It is open daily for lunch and on Fridays and Saturdays for dinner.
Amiens is less than 100 miles from both Paris and Lille and is accessible from either. Eurostar (eurostar.com) has returns from London to Paris or Lille costing from £78.
Trains to Amiens from Paris or Lille cost from £28 return (sncf-connect.com), and the journey time is around an hour.