© Clairmarais Faiseurs de bateaux bacôve | Tourisme en Pays De Saint Omer - Philippe Hudelle

The Audomarois marshes of Saint Omer

A nature getaway with the kids

“Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food”(*). Wise words so befitting for a site that has been used to grow vegetables for almost a 1,000 years! The peaty soil is rich and black, and if you want to explore the 3,400 hectares of this “world-class land” (as famous presenter Jean-Pierre Coffe put it), then there is a 100 miles of river you can boat down on an escute (traditional boat). Bring the children: they’ll learn all about the changing of the seasons and discover how wonderful cauliflower is. (as famous presenter Jean-Pierre Coffe put it), then there is a 100 miles of river you can boat down on an escute (traditional boat). Bring the children: they’ll learn all about the changing of the seasons and discover how wonderful cauliflower is.

(*)Michael Pollan

Northern France _ Saint-Omer _ Marais audomarois _ Marshes ©CRTC Hauts-de-France - Philippe HudelleNorthern France _ Saint-Omer _ Marais audomarois _ Marshes ©CRTC Hauts-de-France - Philippe Hudelle
©Northern France, Saint-Omer, Marais audomarois, Marshes|CRTC Hauts-de-France - Philippe Hudelle

The Audomarois marshes, a vegetable sanctuary!

The escute is the marshes’ traditional long, flat boat that will get kids excited even before they step off dry land. “Until the 1970s, the only way for children to get to school was on an escute,” explains Rémy Colin, the boat maker. Here, even the postman does his rounds by boat. That gives you an idea of the size of this immense semi-aquatic labyrinth! And since they are the only way to get around and work, the bâcove and smaller escute are still used to navigate up and down the waterways to this day. “We are five generations of gardeners,” says Rémy, who continues to transport his marsh-grown cauliflower harvests by boat, as do his colleagues. And although Saint-Omer is the French capital of summer cauliflower, you’ll also find other locally grown vegetables: Tilques carrots, earthy chicory, Leblond leeks and gros vert de Laon artichokes.

A biosphere reserve

Marvel at the spectacular show put on by the marshes. Savour the sound of the whistling willows, fall under the spell of the hypnotic white and yellow water lilies that sway in the wind, and play Attenborough as you observe the grey heron, great crested grebe and the little bittern amongst the reeds at dusk. A preserved haven for nature has led to UNESCO classifying the Audomarois marshes as a Biosphere Reserve. Take a deep breath and feel the fresh air fill your lungs with natural goodness.

Local's tip

Bruno DelforgeBruno Delforge
Explore northern France's rich landscapes in a vintage vehicle

 

In my mind, anyone looking to properly explore the area around Saint Omer should do so in the most memorable way possible and that’s by vintage vehicle, be that in an iconic 2CV, a Fiat 500, a Méhari, or VW Camper. We will be happy to advise you on itineraries through the most picturesque routes including spots like Cassel (voted France’s favourite village in 2018), Watten windmill, the Eperlecques blockhouse, Persyn distillery (voted the world’s best Genever gin in 2018), Wisques abbey and the unusual Fontinettes boat elevator in Arques.

Bruno Delforge, expert on what to see in the Audomarois area
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