French Connections

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Our featured region this month is the Somme in Northern France.  Bet you didn’t know that there was such a potent mix of history, seascapes, fishing harbours, unspoilt beaches, sports and activities around an hour’s drive from Calais. Typical is St Valery sure Somme, shown in our photo.

I first visited this area by train when staying in Le Touquet, a little way up the coast, and I really liked Amiens, the main town, for its Gothic cathedral and surrounding square and its walkways beside the River Somme. Abbeville was fascinating for its World War II history and museums.

For some reason I particularly remember seeing in Abbeville a monument to a 19 year old boy who was shot shortly before the Revolution for refusing to salute a passing member of the aristocracy. No wonder French people so value their egalitarianism!

Of course the major historic interest in this area are the battlefields and cemeteries of the First World War. With its hundredth anniversary coming up, this is a poignant time to think, remember and allow ourselves to be moved. You can follow a Route of Remembrance and even take a flight in a small plane across the battlefield area, which can be strangely uplifting to visit.

At the Château de Péronne there’s a special exhibition running from 23rd April to 24th November this year. ‘So Far from Home" tells the story of the lives of six Australians in France during the First World War.

The modern Somme is very much celebrating the present rather than dwelling in the past and there are fantastic facilities for sports, especially golf – and many more festivals and exhibitions. The creative "Jardins en Scène" festival, on until 15 Oct 2013, combines art, gardens and performing arts and back at Amiens’ Notre-Dame, La Cathédrale en couleurs breathes life after dark into the Saints, apostles and other figures sculpted in stone during the 13th century.

The Somme is so easy to get to, crossing from Kent by either ferry or Eurotunnel and then a short journey by road or rail, making the region perfect for either a short break or a summer holiday. French Connections accommodation ranges from seaside apartments with views of wide open beaches - yet close to restaurants and shops - to chateau and country house B&Bs, all set in lovely countryside.

More about where to stay and what to do in the Somme in our complete guide to the region.