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Amiens, the capital city of Picardy, is one of those places that people tend to leave off their bucket lists despite it’s age-old history, incredible UNESCO listed Gothic Cathedral and remarkable “Green Venice” of ancient canals which criss cross the city, an extraordinary network of watery arteries dotted with hundreds of floating gardens… Les Hortillonnages Hortillonnages is not a word you’ll come across often and possibly not outside of Amiens. And me telling you that it means market gardens won’t in any way convey just how utterly amazing they are. From the middle ages, the hortillonnages have made Amiens famous throughout France. 65km of ancient canals peppered with island gardens lie in the shadow of the Cathedral right on the edge of the city. They go way back in time, probably to the days of the Romans, but it was in the middle ages that gardeners started to plant the floating gardens and grow vegetables. It’s said that the Cathedral itself was built on a field once used to grow artichokes, donated by gardeners in the 13th century to the church. A short walk from the city centre along the river Somme, which flows through the middle of Amiens, will bring you to the hortillonnages which you can explore by guided electric boat along a 3km stretch (April to October). It’s incredible to find that one moment you’re in a teeming metropolis and the next in tranquil waters, dragon flies, butterflies and birds flitting about, water lilies bobbing on the water. There are still around ten professional gardeners growing vegetables and fruit here. They sell their produce at the weekly market in the medieval St Leu district, alongside the river. Most of the gardens are worked by keen owners, handed down through families for generations. The hortilllonnages are an oasis of wild nature, tamed patches full of flowers, small boats quirky buildings and beautiful huts.
Art with a heart Each year a unique Art & Garden festival takes place in the hortillonnages – an outdoor art gallery which spills into the water and on islands and riverbanks. From June to October some 50 artworks are installed on the islands and in the water, some of them monumental, all of them extraordinary. The only way to see them all is by electric boat and you can take a self-guided tour. Follow the circuit, all the islands featured in the festival have pontoons where you can tie up your boat and then wander freely. There’s a firm emphasis on sustainability and our relationship with nature at this festival: a wall made from recycled drinks cans, a repurposed phone box in which you can listen to the sounds of insects and water plants. This is one of the most unusual and beautiful garden festivals I’ve ever been to. Entry is not at the same place as the normal guided boat tours. Instead make your way to the Port à Fumier, Camon district where you can to rent an electric boat for this fabulous excursion. Expect to spend around two and a half hours seeing all 50 artworks. There are parking spaces available and a welcome desk.
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