For this language stay diary, we’re going off the beaten track on a trip to the Baie de Somme. Our French teacher, Amelia, and her group of students from Malta were won over by the beautiful Baie and bring you their highlights. All the students reconnected with nature on this revitalising trip from Paris to the region between Picardy and Normandy.
Top 5 of the Baie de Somme
Our language stay went in a whole new direction when my group of students, guide and I left the bright lights, museums and monuments of Paris for the Baie de Somme. Within just two hours we had a total change of scene and maybe even a trip back in time! White chalk cliffs, dunes and wetlands, Belle Epoque beach huts, sheep and kites, chic seafront villas…. My students soaked it all up and almost forgot about their smartphones! Here are our favourite experiences in a 5-stage travel diary.
1. Le Crotoy and land sailing
The sandy beach stretches as far as the eye can see at low tide in Le Crotoy, so you realise how big it is as it wraps around the entire Somme estuary. We made the most of the open and sun-drenched (lucky us!) space to go land sailing with the students. After two hours of (intense!) exercise, we still had some gas in the tank for a spot of birdwatching. We asked our local guide for help spotting the birds living here… apparently it’s all in the beak. Look out for the petit gravelot (little ringed plover), avocette (avocet) and huitrier pie (oystercatcher) among others.
The group were pleasantly surprised to see a steam train straight from the Belle Epoque. The sleek train travels slow and steady along the entire Baie de Somme to Saint Valéry. The train glided past us and certainly left a mark on the wide-eyed students. What a way to end the day!
2. Saint-Valery-sur-Somme: full of sheep and medieval charm
Saint Valéry is one of 3 ports in the Baie de Somme and its village is perched on a rocky headland. We visited the idyllic and romantic medieval town home to ramparts and two defensive towers. We really enjoyed exploring the fishing quarter, Courtgain, and its maze of narrow lanes lined with flowers, half-timbered houses and red and white checkerboard walls.
After a pot of mussels and chips, we headed for the Herbarium des Remparts: a botanical garden dating back to the Middle Ages and home to countless rare plant species.
From the top of Saint Valéry, students feasted their eyes on the fabulous scenery with a patchwork of sandy beaches and meadows: mollières (they have very specific terms to describe the landscape, flora and fauna here… it’s not easy!) where salt marsh sheep graze peacefully. The salty plants make the lamb taste like nothing you’ve tried before.
Last but not least, we visited the flint and chalk so-called sailor’s chapel: the architecture is unique to say the least! There’s no cockerel or cross at the top of the spire; there’s a seagull!
3. Cayeux sur Mer and Hourdel Lighthouse
The coastal landscape changes in Cayeux as sand is replaced by pebble beaches. Since pebbles are hard to walk on, Europe’s longest boardwalk stretches along the beach over 2km and we used it to stroll among the dunes and pebbles to the falaises vives (cliffs lapped by the waves).
It has such a romantic atmosphere with a retro feel: in the distance you can see the green and white Hourdel Lighthouse, colourful kites and rows of beach huts (there are over 400 in summer!).
The blockhaus gave us the chance to discuss World War II with the students and we used it as a milestone as we explored the beach.
The highlight of the day (of the trip actually) was meeting the seals! We were lucky enough to see them: there are a lot of them since they made the Baie de Somme their home decades ago. During high tide and from a distance (over 200m away) you can see the biggest colony of harbour seals in France and countless grey seals.
4. Mers-les-Bains, a chic rock pooling village
Our trip back in time to the Belle Epoque continued in Mers les Bains, tucked into the white chalk cliff. The village is home to beautiful villas! Colourful houses with bow windows and beautifully decorated fronts form a picture-perfect setting. We spent the morning rock pooling with the guide and several keen amateurs during low tide. We actually gave them our catch at the end of the grey and windy morning… the sun can’t always shine at the Picardy seaside!
5. Parc du Marquenterre: nature break
Another great day reconnecting with Mother Nature: Parc de Marquenterre is a huge nature reserve where you can see the animals and plants native to the Baie de Somme. Especially the birds…
It’s time to zoom out of France for a geography lesson: the Baie de Somme is in a prime location between Mauritania and Scandinavia, making it a popular place among migratory birds in Europe. We joined a naturalist guide and held a treasure hunt for the students to encourage them to observe different species and understand their lifestyles. Very rewarding!
This language stay between the city and seaside was a wonderful surprise. After the pomp and glory of the French capital, we soaked up the great outdoors and magic of a region in touch with nature. Whilst in the Baie de Somme, the students switched off, recharged their batteries and learnt all kinds of things about coastal life, history and beauty in this unspoilt region.