Located in the heart of the Picardy coastline on the Hauts-de-France coast is Saint-Valery-sur-Somme. This picture-perfect town is a sheer delight. Not only is it ridiculously pretty – all medieval buildings, whitewashed fishermen’s cottages and views over the ever-changing Baie de Somme – but it’s filled with things to do.
Saint Valery sur Somme is also rich in history, has a number of truly excellent restaurants and is easy to reach; it’s just 115km from Calais by car and 30km south of the popular seaside town of Le Touquet.
If you’re looking for somewhere a little different for your next holiday to France then I can’t recommend St-Valery-sur-Somme enough, it really is one of my favourite places to visit in France with kids.
Read on for our guide to visiting this special place in the heart of the Baie de somme area.
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Things to do in Saint-Valery-sur-Somme
Saint-Valery-sur-Somme has a rich and colourful history. This is where William stopped off to gather more soldiers in 1066 before heading off to conquer England.
It’s also where Joan of Arc was held captive in the local prison before being taken to Rouen to be tried and then burned at the stake in 1431.
Over the years myriad artists and writers have come to Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, drawn by the beauty Somme Bay, its wide horizons and its still, opaque light. Writers including Jules Vernes and Colette had villas in the seaside resort while painters including Degas and Seurat came here for inspiration. Victor Hugo, famous for penning Les Miserables, also spent time here.
Still today artists find inspiration here; Pippa Darbyshire is a British painter who has been capturing the Baie de somme for the last 22 years.
The first tourists came to the Somme Bay in the early 19th century as romantic literature celebrated maritime landscapes and the medical world promoted the healing powers of “sea bathing”. Today the town is a popular tourist destination with visitors coming for a short break or a longer holiday.
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The Somme Estuary
Start your visit with a wander along the esplanade that runs alongside the Somme estuary. Fishing boats bob up and down in the water and you may even spot a seal or two. The wooden boardwalk ends near Place des Pilotes where a market is held on Sunday morning (the market extends right along the promenade).
From here the wooden boardwalk ends but a path continues along the estuary past grand houses with views over the bay. Carry on to the end and the church and Guillaume Towers sit perched above you; a path leads up to the top from where you’ll get wonderful views out over the water.
The Medieval Quarter
Full of character and stories of long ago is the medieval quarter. Parts of this neighbourhood – what was once Saint-Valery as a medieval city – date back to the 12th century. This is a wonderful area to wander with cobblestone streets, half-timbered houses that are wonderfully asymmetrical, and small town squares.
The oldest remains in town are the Guillaume towers, which date back to the 11th century. This is where you will find the ‘Upper Gate’, otherwise known as the ‘Joan of Arc Gate’. This is the gate that Joan of Arc passed through on her way to Rouen.
A church sits near the top of the ramparts form where there are lovely views of the Bay of Somme.
The Sailor’s Chapel
Located on the outskirts of town the Chapelle des Marins de Saint-Valery, also known as the Seamen’s or Sailor’s chapel, was built in memory of a hermit (Saint Valery) who was thought to have lived in the area between 611 and 622. During the French Revolution the chapel was used as a store for manufacturing the basic ingredient for canon powder. It was rebuilt between 1876 and 1880.
Take a peek at the weathervane on top of the spire and you’ll see that there’s a seagull on top instead of the traditional weathercock. This is a tribute to sailors who would traditionally sound their fog horns to salute the church as they sailed by. Small wooden sailboats also hang down from the ceiling of the chapel.
It takes about 20 minutes to walk to the sailor’s chapel from the centre of town and it’s well worth it.
The Fishermen’s Quarter
Probably my favourite corner of Saint-Valery-Sur-Somme is the Fishermen’s Quarter, know as the Quartier des Marins. The narrow streets in this neighbourhood are lined with whitewashed cottages with rainbow-coloured shutters and doors. Some bear the name of their first inhabitants marked in tiles above the front door. Many locals still live here, other houses have been transformed into holiday homes.
You’ll spot signs for the Calvaire des Marins when here, the secluded spot on a hill where fishermen’s wives and their children would keep a lookout for returning boats. There’s a lovely, tiny chapel here dedicated to those sailors lost at sea.
See the seals
The Somme Bay is home to the largest seal colony in France. Hundreds of harbour and grey seals have taken up residence in the Somme Bay and you can go and see them. One of the best ways to do this is on a guided tour with naturalist Maxim Marzi, you can book tours through the local tourist office.
Ride the Steam Train
During the summer months genuine Belle Epoque carriages drawn by stream locomotives travel the length of the bay travelling between the seaside towns of Le Crotoy, Noyelles-sur-Mer, Saint-Valery-sur-Somme and Cayeux-sur-Mer.
This is a really lovely way to travel and a wonderful way to see the Bay. The train runs alongside salt and freshwater marshes, fields and the Bay itself. We spotted plenty of wildlife on our journey including storks, wild pigs and rabbits. Saint-Valery sheep pepper the countryside too; these sheep are reared on the salt marshes (much like in the Baie of Mont-Saint-Michel) and are quite delicious.
Find out more information on the official website here.
Visit Le Crotoy
The Somme estuary is bookended by Saint-Valery-sur-Somme and Le Crotoy, an equally pretty fishing village. It’s here that you’ll find the only south-facing sandy beach in the north of France – helpful if you’re visiting the area with kids. Le Crotoy is a great place to come for horse-riding, kayaking or even kite-surfing.
A walking tour of the Bay of Somme
Although the changing tides of the Baie of Mont-Saint-Michel are more well known, the ebbs and flows of the tides can be equally fast in the Bay of Somme. When the tide is out then a trek across the bay with a qualified guide is a wonderful way to explore the area. Because of the rapidly changing tides it is not recommended that you explore the bay alone.
Other options include high-tide canoe trips and horse rides across the sand.
Eat Gatteau Battu
You can’t leave Saint-Valery without trying the local speciality, Gateau Battu. This sweet treat, traditionally given o friends and family on special occasions, is similar to a brioche but more spongey. I bought one from the Fournée de la Baie bakery, and it was very tasty. The Watterlot pâtisserie also comes recommended.
Cycle around the Somme Bay
The Bay of Somme features plenty of cycle paths, many of them designed especially for families. The bike paths are a wonderful way to explore the wild beaches, characterful villages and wildlife of the area. The tourism office has more information and you can hire bikes here.
Les Fêtes Guillaume
A festival is held every July devoted to William the Conqueror (Guillaume de Normandy) when the town goes into full medieval mode with historic reenactments, a medieval market, street entertainers and concerts.
Don’t miss! Le Mathurin
There are some very good restaurants in Saint-Valery but probably the best is the boat-to-table restaurant, Le Mathurin. Chef Pierre-Alain Delaby comes from eight generations of fishermen and the restaurant is very much a family affair. His older brother is a fishermen and delivers the catch of the day every morning to his parents, who run a fish stall. His parents then prepare and transport the selection to the restaurant, which is then used to create and prepare that day’s menu.
The restaurant is not cheap but the food – all fresh fish and local produce – is phenomenal. Le Mathurin is well worth a splurge when you visit.
Where to stay in Saint-Valery-sur-Somme
The first time I visited Saint-Valery I stayed in Hôtel La Colonne de Bronze, a cosy hotel not far from the centre of the old town. The second time I visited I stayed in Les Tourelles in nearby Le Crotoy. This redbrick fairytale-looking hotel has large rooms overlooking the Bay and a very good on-site restaurant.
The map below shares hotels and holiday rental listings in Saint-Valery-sur-Somme.
Getting to Saint-Valery-Sur-Somme
Saint-Valery-Sur-Somme is located on the Hauts-de-France coastline in Northern France. It is 115km (71 miles) from Calais and 30km (19 miles) from Le Touquet.
The nearest airport to Saint-Valery-sur-Somme is Beauvais (BVA) Airport which is 89km away (55.2 miles). Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) is 150km away (92.6 miles).
By train, From Paris Gare du Nord to nearby Noyelles-sur-Mer there are regular trains that take 1hr 43min.