St-Valéry-sur-Somme is a joyous revelation, a jewel along the Somme, and built around a walled and gated medieval city, where, in 1430, Jeanne d’Arc was held prisoner en route from Le Crotoy to her trial at Rouen.
More significantly, and almost 400 years earlier, it was from St-Valéry that William of Normandy set sail to conquer England – clearly, St-Valéry didn’t have then the qualities of indolence it instils now. Since then, the seafront houses along the Quai Blavet have been built, and rather smart they look, too, brightly painted and attractive with not a modern architectural blemish in sight.
In reality, there are two towns here, an upper
town, with half-timbered houses, and a lower town beside the port. It is the
capital of the Vimeu region, and enjoys a lush and comfortable setting
overlooking the Bay of the Somme. Like so many places, it began as an abbey
founded by a monk called Valéry, from Luxeuil in Lorraine.
From the seafront, the light plays tricks on the imagination, shimmering, beguiling and, at times, thunderous, but always capable of producing something a little magical. Often it is difficult to distinguish where the sea ends and the sky begins, and it was this opaque luminescence that inspired painters and writers alike. Today, it provides a pastel backdrop to an unhurried pastis and bowl of moules.
The bay, not surprisingly, is a huge and dangerous place to be, though it does seem to be suffering from coastal erosion. In 1878, it comprised 86 sq km; in 1993 that was down to 73 sq km, and today is about 70 sq km – one estimate puts it at 40sq km, but I suppose it’s how and what you are counting. Either way, it’s big, and visitors wanting to walk across the bay are strongly advised to engage the services of a local guide (information available from the Office du Tourisme). The tide goes out as much as 14 kilometres, the second largest ebb in France, leaving behind tricky sandbanks, muddy channels and large expanses of sea grass; when it comes back in it does so rather more quickly than it went out.
Tel: 03 22 60 93 50