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Saint Valery-sur-Somme is a commune in the Somme department of Picardy, northern France. It is on the coast next to the picturesque Baie de la Somme and at the mouth of the River Somme. 30 km north west of Abbeville, it lies to the west of the Somme battlefields and is a popular tourist destination because of its medieval character and attractive waterfront overlooking the bay. Saint Valery is less than an hour’s drive from Dieppe, an hour from Boulogne and 75 minutes from Calais. The Baie de la Somme stretches for 14 km and the port of Saint-Valery-sur-Somme is a very jolly place with fishing and sailing boats bobbing about in the harbour, medieval architecture throughout the town and plenty of good places to stay. There are roughly 3,000 residents in the town who are known locally as Valéricains.
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Once part of Normandy, Saint Valery-sur-Somme has been inhabited since prehistoric times and relics of this period have been found in the area. History relates a settlement in the region which was inhabited by the Gauls before an invasion by the Romans. The Romans further developed the land into a small village which later came under the power of the Franks.
In 611, a monk called Valery lived as a hermit on the headland and his virtue and spiritual way of life quickly attracted followers who built a primitive abbey. With his death, his relics brought many pilgrims to the abbey which became known as Saint Valery. However, during the 8th and 9th centuries the abbey and the village were attacked and plundered by the Vikings.
During the 10th and 11th centuries the village grew and was historically important as the place where William the Conqueror assembled his fleet before sailing to England in 1066. There ensued many battles between the French and the English and the abbey and its cloister were destroyed by the English to strengthen the nearby St. Valery castle. Joan of Arc rested here on her way to Rouen where she was burnt at the stake. Peace was restored during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries and the abbey was rebuilt. Many of the traditional French houses and Gothic architecture was constructed around this time and the town prospered. The fishing industry flourished and the export of wine became increasingly important. As with many areas throughout France, Picardy saw its share of religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants and later during the French Revolution.
By the 19th century St. Valery became the residence of artists and writers including Victor Hugo, Jules Verne, Sisley and Dégas who all had villas here.
Saint Valery-sur-Somme has been voted one of the most delightful holiday destinations in Northern France. It is a charming, seaside resort with an interesting historic Old Town with cobbled streets and attractive, brightly painted fishermens’ cottages. The town has mediaeval ramparts which overlook the town and the bay, and close by are lovely sandy beaches, golf courses and several bird sanctuaries.
Le Marquenterre, a conservation area spanning 640 acres, is a haven of wildlife with a unique landscape which includes sand dunes, forests and marshes. Over 360 species of birds have been recorded and at certain times of the year migratory birds from Russia, Africa and Scandinavia fly in to rest here en route to their destinations. Knowledgeable guides will take you through the vast swampy lands explaining the flora and fauna typical of this wild place – and you can even travel in a horse and cart! Kayaks can be hired to explore the marshy wetlands and life goes at a very slow pace in this environmentally friendly sanctuary. The Maison des Oiseaux is a favourite spot for birdwatching and ornithologists flock here to see specific birds and to study their patterns of migration.
The Musée Picarvie is like stepping back into the 19th century. The Museum is a faithfully recreated exhibition of how rural life was in a Picardy village during this period, complete with a blacksmith, a locksmith, a basket maker, a local school with its wooden desks, and a bar playing music on the gramophone. Tools from 40 different arts and crafts, including farming activities and artisanal trades, are on display which makes for a fascinating visit.
There is a narrow gauge steam railway, the Chemin de Fer de la Baie de Somme, which runs the entire length of the bay stopping at Saint Valery along the way. Mainly a tourist attraction now, it connects Noyelles-sur-Mer, Le Crotoy and Cayeux-sur-Mer and is great fun, especially for children.
The calm waters of the Bay welcome scores of little boats and you can take trips along the coast and, when the tide is up, sail across to nearby Le Crotoy. When the tide is out it is possible to walk across to Le Crotoy but this takes about 3 hours and is quite a hike ! However, there is a seal colony just off the coast and an afternoon seal spotting is a popular and gentle pastime for the less adventurous.
The Jardins de Valloires are delightful gardens to visit with 5000 species of plants and shrubs cultured in five different atmospheres. This special place of tranquillity, with the historical Cistercian abbey in the background, has been brought together by landscape gardener, Gilles Clément.
The Battle of the Somme in World War I is marked by a Circuit of Remembrance around the main historic sites. There is a vast bomb crater near La Boiselle which was created by a massive explosion during the opening moments of the Battle of the Somme on 1st July 1916.
Guides are available to show visitors round the medieval ramparts and to explain the history of this fascinating fortified town including The Guillaume Towers, the Nevers Gate and the Holy Valery Chapel as well as the shoreline. There are also hiking and cycling trips that can be arranged so that you can explore the area at your own speed.
St Valery-sur-Somme has a local market every Wednesday and Sunday morning which has stalls full of local produce, foods, flowers and other essentials which is a colourful place to browse close to the lively waterfront.
Accommodation & Restaurants
There are many good hotels in Saint Valery-sur-Somme, particularly in the Old Town. Between the ramparts and the sea in the Courtgain district, the narrow streets wind up the hill behind the harbour where there are several small hotels and restaurants. Les Corderies is well known for its hospitality and offers comfort and tranquillity located in the heart of the Baie de Somme with a spa overlooking the bay. Au Vélocipède is an unusual B & B with its own art gallery featuring local artists and L’Usage du Monde is a chambre d’hôtes set in a sumptuous mansion run by antiques enthusiasts who have elegantly decorated rooms which are full of objet d’arts. Le Fiacre in Hameau de Routhiauville near Fort Mahon is a 3 star hotel with a gastronomic restaurant set in a calm and relaxing old style country farmhouse. The Hotel Restaurant du Cap Hornu is in a breathtaking location surrounded by a 37 acre park which has an excellent chef offering traditional French cuisine. There are plenty of leisure facilities for all the family to enjoy, including a swimming pool and tennis courts. Villa apartments for rental are available all year round and there is a picturesque campsite at Château de Drancourt in the wooded gardens of a private château in the countryside near to the Somme estuary. Maison Pontonniére, in Petit-Port, between Abbeville and St Valery-sur-Somme, is an unusual guesthouse which is a converted bridgekeeper’s house on the banks of the Somme canal.
All along the harbourside of St Valery-sur-Somme there are plenty of colourful cafés and bars. Because the town is becoming increasingly popular with summer visitors, the choice of restaurants is becoming wider and there are several brasseries offering good value.
The nearest airport to Saint Valery-sur-Somme is the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport which is approximately 118 miles by car. For those preferring to drive from the UK, take the Channel Tunnel to Calais and follow the A16 along the coast.
2, place Guillaume le Conquérant
Tel. : +33 (0)3 22 60 93 50