Battle of Pozières
2016 sees the centenary of a bitter six-week combat central to the Battle of the Somme, with an Allied win but a huge number of losses and casualties, many of them for the ANZAC forces.
Site of an estimated 23,000 casualties in three Australian Divisions (the 1st, 2nd and 4th), including 6,800 losses, Pozières and surrounding countryside has been described by historian Charles Bean as ‘more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth’. Some have argued that the battle has left as great a mark on Australian history as Gallipoli.
Walking along the Chemin des Dames, in the shade of tall pines, it’s hard to imagine that this peaceful landscape dominated by a long green ridge is one of the deadliest sites of World War One. The trees, it turns out, were planted here after the area, riddled with munitions, was declared a no-go zone for farming. It’s even more difficult to comprehend that a village, Craonne, once stood here, home to 700 people (it was reconstructed nearby). The Plateau de Californie on the slopes of which it stood had great strategic importance throughout the war, with the Nivelle Offensive of 1917 involving particularly heavy losses and the destruction of Craonne.
If you are looking for a way to introduce the kids to a bit of WW1 history, visit the Dragons Lair (between Laon and Reims). Its underground structures which housed soldiers from both sides (sometimes at the same time!) are fascinating to explore.
Black statues rising from the landscape are the first sign that Oulches-la-Vallée-Foulon is something other than farmland as far as the eye can see. Monuments to Senegalese soldiers who fought for France, they announce your arrival at the striking modern building that houses the Caverne du Dragon (the Dragons Lair).
Step inside and you’ll find displays about World War I in the region. But the real reason to come lies below the building, in the form of a three-hectare limestone quarry. Once mined to build the creamy-white châteaux and churches that dot this region, it served as a German base from 1915 to 1917, but sometimes housed soldiers from both sides of the conflict who were known to share cigarettes and create informal peace pacts.
The quarry provides a fascinating insight into the history of this département that lost more settlements than any other in World War I - a staggering 139 villages were destroyed. For French-speaking children, there are short Dragon Tours; otherwise, general tours in English at noon daily are suitable for all the family.
Walking around this atmospheric underground labyrinth brings into sharp focus the daily life of the 250 soldiers who stayed here at any one time – remnants of their activities include weapons but also everyday items such as plates still bearing traces of food. Blown-up photos of scenes inside the Cavern – found in German archives – also help bring the Caverne to vivid life.
highA Romantic Night in a Luxury Nest
Step out of time and truly get away from it all with with a stay in a cocoon-like treehouse hidden away in splendid greenery, with breakfast and a champagne dinner delivered to you in a basket.
It’s hard to believe that the tiny hamlet of Raray tucked amidst rolling farmland is just an hour’s drive from central Paris and 12 minutes from the A1 Autoroute du Nord between Paris and Lille. Here, in the grounds of a handsome 18th-century castle turned hotel, those with romantic leanings will find the accommodation of their dreams high in the treetops.
The Cabanes des Grands Chênes are the ultimate treehouses, with hot showers, coffee machines and even fluffy bathrobes. Yet for all that, there’s a true back to nature feel to them - access is by woodland track (on foot or by chauffeured golf buggy), and at night the only sounds you hear are the hooting of owls. That and the bubbling of your open-air hot tub - five of the 12 huts are Cabanes Spa, some with bedrooms in pod-like ‘bubbles’ hanging from the trees.
The hotel golf course is on hand, or you can just wander around this magical estate where Jean Cocteau filmed the outdoor scenes of La Belle et la Bête in 1945, amidst the evocative statuary. The minuscule (but expanding) shop in the treehouse reception sells local products including honey from the surrounding woods, and in the evening you can order a basket with dinner - also comprising regional produce - to be brought to your treehouse, along with champagne or artisan beer.
It’s a 20-minute drive from Raray to Senlis with its charming cathedral and antique shops such as Scène d'intérieur brimming with typically French objects to take home with you. There’s also delicious dining to be had at Le Scaramouche, with lovely views of the cathedral facade to be enjoyed as you feast on the inventive likes of wild boar pâté with coriander and blackcurrant. Pratical Information
Meander cobbled streets
This pretty harbour town overlooking the stunning Somme Bay will make you feel miles from home, yet at less than an hour from Calais it’s just a quick hop over the channel. Wander around the mediaeval old town, where in summer the streets are full of flowers. Stroll through the quartier de l’Abbaye with a fantastic view of the bay and a countryside feel with working farms. Here, next to Chapelle des Marins, you’ll find la source de la fidelité (fidelity spring), from which newly-married couples used to drink to pledge their fidelity.
Back in the main part of town, the quartier des marins (sailors’ district) has steep, narrow streets and fisherman’s cottages reminiscent of a Cornish village, as well as the Samaris Spa. The spa’s outdoor Jacuzzi and large sauna with an unusual exterior window offer panoramic views over the water, and there are tranquil indoor and outdoor relaxation areas. Best of all, during your two-hour session in the sauna, Jacuzzi and hammam, these facilities are exclusive to you and your loved one. Afterwards you can choose from a range of massages and treatments offered in a dual treatment room using only natural products.
The boutique-style Hotel des Pilotes overlooks the bay and is a charming place to stay, offering quirky rooms with printed carpets and retro features, plus showers big enough for two. There’s also a cosy bar and a restaurant with tempting seafood platters on the menu. Another romantic option is Château du Romerel, an intimate and luxurious chambre d’hôtes, plus smart self-catering apartments in wooded grounds with a swimming pool and bay views.
There’s a large choice of restaurants serving fish fresh from the sea and other local produce.Le Relais Guillaume de Normandy offers fine-dining in an early-20th century manor. The old town’s only restaurant, le Vélocipede, is also a romantic spot. It serves food sourced from within 120 km and has its own art gallery.
She is a keen bike-rider, sea-swimmer, and owner of gourmet and beauty shop La Sardine.
You can’t come to Saint-Valery-sur-Somme without trying the seafood. At Au Poisson du Coin you can buy fish direct from fisherman Monsieur Delaby to cook at home, or you can enjoy the same produce in the next door restaurant Le Mathurin, which is run by his son Pierre Alain.
There’s also a ramparts walk circling the village, with views of Picardy to one side and Normandy to the other. Or those with more time can tackle the 33-kilometre Boucle des Deux Châteaux walking/mountain-biking trail through local countryside and villages.
The Château de Rambures with its rose garden is an hour from Gerberoy.
“Gerberoy is where I feel happiest. Our house is far from being a 'holiday home' – it's a doorway into French life.” Rosemary
Writer Rosemary Brown and her husband David Stanton, former chair of UNICEF-UK, fell in love with Gerberoy on a cold, wet, grey day in January 1999. Then living in Paris, they were on the lookout for a weekend retreat with a garden.Now back in London, Rosemary heads to Gerberoy six to eight times a year and stays as involved as she can. She’s a founding member of the Clos Gerberoy vineyard, helped restored the Sidaner gardens, and is a member of the June music festival Les Moments Musicaux de Gerberoy. She also helps plan and run the rose festival.
Beach-loving families are spoilt for choice on the unspoilt coast in Northern France! Whether you prefer huge beaches with sand dunes or cute beach huts and pebbles, there’s a landscape to suit you.
Play on the beach in total safety.Which new beach will you discover today? Build sandcastles and splash about in the gentle waves of Fort Mahon-Plage or the 15-kilometre long Quend-Plage-les-Pins one day, and stroll along Europe’s longest wooden walkway at the pebbly beach of Cayeux-sur-mer with 400 colourful beach huts the next. Whichever beach you choose, your kids can stay safe in the supervised swimming areas.
at Park AstérixLaughs and thrills for all ages
Treat the kids and create shared memories at a uniquely French theme park with family and adrenaline rides, then discover a fairytale medieval castle and explore a spellbinding forest by bike.
Parc Astérix is unlike any other theme park in the world – therein lie both its strength and its charm. Based mainly on the famous Astérix stories but also embracing historic cultures – the Romans, ancient Greeks, Vikings and Egyptians – it assures visitors a dose of history along with their belly laughs… Don’t miss the shows, which include a fabulous Gauls versus Romans ‘Match’ in the Arena, featuring a hilarious dance-off.
Despite its Gallic theme, Parc Astérix is accessible to all, with English spoken by staff throughout, together with buggy parks, highchairs and kids’ menus for young families.
The best eatery is the outlandish, fruit-and-vegetable themed Restaurant du Lac serving the Gallic and Roman likes of wild boar brochettes and Julius Caesar salad. This theme park is also easy to reach, with its own exit off the A1 motorway between Paris and Lille. Meeting up again at the on-site Hôtel des Trois Hiboux (which has its own entrance to the Parc), you’ll discover stylish, nature-themed rooms with terraces or balconies overlooking the woods, a play room, a games room and magic shows.
A short drive away, the Château de Pierrefonds, which doubled as Camelot in the BBC’s Merlin, is another great place to take kids for some learning dressed up as a thrilling day out – it comes complete with grotesque gargoyles, sculptures of medieval monsters, old dungeons to explore and even life-size model of catapults in the grounds. There’s plenty to entertain the family in Pierrefonds itself, including swan pedaloes on the lake and a safe waymarked cycling route taking you into the heart of the stunning Compiègne forest with its wonderful wildlife.
In Amiens, between Paris and Lille, exploring Les Hortillonnages - a series of gorgeous islands separated by canals, makes for a very different French experience.
As you leave the city behind and immerse yourself in nature, contemplate the area in Roman times, when the marshland of Les Hortillonnages were transformed into market gardens. Drift along the waterways in a traditional barque a cornet (a flat boat with raised ends) or stroll hand-in-hand among the islands now used them for gardening, fishing, or simply as a place to relax by over 1,000 different owners.
While you explore, you’ll probably see some of the many species of birds which make Les Hortillonnages their home, including mute swans, crested grebes and moorhens. And in the summer, marvel at the banks and gardens which come alive with flowers and reeds, and the beauty of the water lilies and water primrose in the canals and ponds.
Discover the Saturday market in Saint-Leu where the 10 market gardeners still working in the Les Hortillonnages now sell their produce. And if you are visiting in June, don’t miss the marché traditionnel sur l’eau (traditional market on the water), when the gardeners arrive by boat in traditional dress
to sell vegetables from the boats at the side of the quay as they would have done in times gone by. During the rest of the year, look out for vegetables grown in Les Hortillonnages in the town’s supermarkets and markets* labelled “Les t’cho legumes des hortillons” or enjoy a meal at one of the city’ restaurants which serve vegetables from Les Hortillonnages, such as Chez Lafleur or l’Hortellus.
Revel in the tranquillity as you stroll around the tow paths or drift along the waterways. Only boats with very low-powered motors are permitted along the network of canals and the building of houses is forbidden, so everything is calm. Apart from the plots on the edge of the 300 hectares, there isn’t even electricity here – it’s almost like stepping back in time.
France goes Green.
The Somme bay, one of France’s listed Natural Wonders, is within easy reach of London yet worlds away from modern life and where wildlife spotting and foraging for wild foods is 100% natural.
Getting away from it all doesn’t have to mean boarding a plane. Just over an hour from Calais, the Somme Bay is an otherworldly setting for a change of scene in the great outdoors. You don’t even need a car – you can walk everywhere, refuelling on healthy local produce. Nor do you need to go to a restaurant to sample the region’s gastronomic delights. Take a walk with Olivier Hernandez of Sens Naturel and you may taste wild plants such as oreilles de cochon (sea asters), samphire and sea
Fertile vineyards and winding waterways dotted by picture-postcard villages, half-timbered medieval churches and castles like something from a story-book: Champagne is a place to enjoy at your own pace – just as you would a coupe of the famous fizzy wine. You’ll find it almost impossible to believe you’re just a few minutes off the Autoroute de l’Est and 80 minutes from Paris…
Gain an understanding of wine production by touring the prestigious Champagne Pannier in Château-Thierry, with its cellars in medieval stone quarries, or head for one of the smaller family-run farms dotting the undulating countryside that surrounds Château-Thierry such as The Champagne Meteyer.
Part of the joy of the discovering this region lies in simply happening upon champagne producers along the idyllic tree-lined lanes (though the signposted Route Touristique de Champagne will help you pinpoint them).