#1147. Un-destination Amiens

By philberphoto | Travel Photography

Oct 15

Amiens is a medium-sized town (pop.: 150.000) 150km North of Paris, on the way to beautiful baie de Somme. Mention it and you get a yawn, or just no reaction at all. It used to be the capital of Picardie, a region sort of stuck between the Paris region, and the North. Amiens is this as un-sexy as it gets. Or is it?

Carte pour Paris - Amiens

Amiens is famous for 4 things, but only 3 are photo material. The first is ficelle, the local gastronomic delight. Think of a crepe (thin pancake), stuffed with chopped mushrooms rolled in a slice of jambon blanc (plain ham), and cooked in a cream sauce. 100% crème, as far as I am told :-), and flavored with some shallots, and salt and pepper to suit. Sophisticated and pretentious, this is not. But oh, so delicious!


The second of Amiens’ claim to fame is its cathedral. Simply, it is the vastest Gothic cathedral in France, with an inner volume of 200.000 cubic meters. To give you an idea of scale, Notre-Dame de Paris could fit inside…. Only that of Beauvais is taller, except that it collapsed twice, so…. And when you see this cathedral, you cannot fail to notice the decorations which indicate the parenthood with Northern Europe, especially scenes with many small painted statues, which would not look out of place in Northern Germany.


The third item on my list is that Amiens was for decades the home of legendary sci-fi writer Jules Verne. To write sci-fi you need to write about devices that don’t exist yet, and his most famous one is the Nautilus submarine, a key device in his book 20.000 leagues under the sea. His house can be visited, and it incorporates small-scale models of his ficticious visionary designs. I could not but remember the same in the Clos-Lucé, the manor given to Leonardo da Vinci by king François 1er, where you can also see many models of the Italian genius’ inventions. Differences of course are that Leonardo saw himself as an engineer, each of his designs expected to be functional, and Verne had all the litterary licence to create concepts that never would exist beyond the pages of his books. Nevertheless, the contrast -nay the counterpoint- between these two visionary minds is striking, and enlightening.


The fourth and last item are the hortillonnages, a network of shallow, narrow canals crisscrossing some 300 ha. of land. Taking a tour down these canals with a quiet, electric boat is like a trip far removed from civilisation. The faint rustle of the water against the hull of the boat, the weeds growing on the bottom of the canals (clear water, because there is a steady current), the peaceful patches of gardens, specked with wooden huts without electricity or running water. You almost feel like an explorer in the far-way regions of Mongolia or long-lost extensions of Eastern Russia.

The caption in French stands for “do not lose focus…”

In truth, there is a fifth item, the tour Perret, or Perret tower, considered the highest skyscraper in Europe when it was inaugurated in 1950, and the highest building in concrete. But as I consider it a butt-ugly eyesore, I cannot run the risk of showing you an image, it would be grounds for immediate expulsion from the elite corps of DS contributors, if not outright excommunication. So you’ll have to make do with looking up the images yourself -if you must! This by the way is not an indictment of Perret’s ability, as he did great work on rebuilding the port city of Le Havre also after WWII, and that is now a World Heritage site.

Jules Verne’s room and writing table

So there you have, the un-glamorous, un-sung, un-overrun-by-tourists un-destination Amiens. It is an easy day-trip from Paris and back. How many such days can you put together that combine the best of the past (Gothic marvels, Leonardo, the best of the future (Jules Verne), the uninspired present (Perret), the deep-hidden hinterlands of Russia? With of course, scrumptious food, else all the rest amounts to nothing!


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  • Pascal O. says:

    Dear Philippe,

    Good to have you back! I think your pictures of the Jules Verne flying objects for lack of a better word are absolutely superb. Congratulations.
    As to the picture of the bicycle that reminds us not to lose focus, no ‘tog will ever disagree with that one!!

    Thank you for sharing.

    • philberphoto says:

      Well, you should know about bycicles and not losing forcus, because that is a them that you make great use of in quite a few of your images. And many thanks for the kind words!

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Philippe, you have made an undestination a sought after destination for all of us! Your lovely and intimate images of the delights of Amiens are a reminder that all one needs to do is slow down and observe the beauty all around. Of course, it helps to be as skilled a photographer as yourself, to bring it all to fruition.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • philberphoto says:

      Ah, Nancee! You are so right. I was thinking pretty much the same, that un-destinations are not destinations-that-don’t-get-the-love-they-deserve. They are all around us, if we care to look hard enough…. And so many thanks for your kind words, they matter!

  • Dave Massolo says:

    Philippe very much enjoyed you article and photographs

  • Dallas` says:

    Philippe, i really like Amiens it has something about it, your are so right the cathedral is something else. Your image of Mr Verne’s magical are a masterpiece.

    • philberphoto says:

      Many thanks, Dallas, but I think that the word masterpiece which you so kindly grant me, rightly belong to Mr Verne. Do you know he is the second most translated author in the world, second only to Agatha Christie?

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Philippe, that was very unfair – I read your description of a ficelle, and my mouth was salivating – yet there is no possibility of finding one here, to eat it!

    I can add another point – Australians have a connection with Amiens – alongside the British and the Canadians, Australian troops played an important role in the defeat of the Germans during the Battle of Amiens. And many Australian tourists have been travelling to Amiens, ever since, to remember troops who fell during the Battle – to see the headstone for a relative who died during the conflict. My wife, with her sister and her sister’s daughter, amongst them.

    Canadians probably go there too, for the same reason.

    The cathedral of course is a “must see” – so, too, Verne’s house – as a kid I think I read almost all of his books – a fantasy world like none other! – or was it? – you can now circle the globe in less than one day, live in a submarine for 12 months without surfacing, go to the bottom of the ocean, travel India or anywhere else in a Winnebago (without, of course, the steam powered elephant towing it!), or fly to the moon. Even see Paris in the 21st century! – go one better than Verne himself! “Pass” on going to the centre of the Earth – that would be altogether too warm, for me!

    Oops! – I took your hint – I had a peak at a few photos – ghastly! – “Perret’s Shame”!

    Love the description of the river trip – and the photos – electricity is taking over, regardless of what the prophets of doom (or “big oil” and “dirty coal”) think or say! The idea of an electric boat makes it sound like a magical trip! I take it that the gentleman on (off?) the bike is a statue? Very imaginative!

    Philippe – enough of me! – I am mesmerised by your photos! – while I’ve been penning these thoughts, I’ve been scrolling up & down your post, looking at the photos again and again – beautiful photographs, enchanting subject matter, andI’ve now added Amiens to my “bucket list”.

  • Ian Varkevisser says:

    Phillipe, thank you for a fascinating and interesting tour to a surprisingly un-sung un-destination full of wondrous sights. We could all take a leaf out of your book and adventure more into our own local surrounds scouting out the unusual and interesting.

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