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driving tours in france – a romantic weekend break

With its pretty harbour towns and fine restaurants, the Picardy region of Northern France is perfect for a weekend away a deux

is famous as one of the world’s most romantic spots. Even the classic song “Roses of Picardy” was written by a love-struck visitor from England. A First World War army officer wrote it for a charming young French widow when he was billeted in her house. Maybe you’ll be as overcome with the romance of the area on your weekend break as he was…

Day One

The best news is that Picardy is less than an hour’s drive from the ferry in Calais. Simply head south on the A16 to start your weekend break. This is a good fast toll road but with plenty of chances to stop off at romantic spots along the way. Boulougne is great for a candlelit seafood meal around the harbour - try the elegant La Plage (Tel: +33 3 21 999090) or the bustling Chez Joules (Tel: +33 3 21 31 54 12) - Le Touquet has glamorous shops and bars and Abbeville is worth an intimate coffee-and-croissant stop, with its breathtaking Gothic church and riverside walks.

If you have time, leave the motorway for the final 25 miles to Amiens. The little D112 potters along the wooded north bank of the River Somme. At the strangely-named village of Long there’s a lovely old pink chateau open to the public. Across the river at Longpré there’s another grand old church and colourful village market.

From here head down either side of the river into Amiens - they’re both pretty enough to change your impression of The Somme, despite a history that’s swamped with tragedy and sadness.

makes a good base for the night with its choice of charming old hotels and stylish modern ones (including the impressive All Seasons; Tel:+33 3 22 22 00 20 - and the wonderfully traditional Logis de Prieure; Tel:+33 3 22 71 16 71. Alternatively crank up the romance by staying outside the city in an auberge or country chateau. They range from Laura Ashley’s grand old French home that is now a romantic country hotel Chateau de Remaisnil (Tel: +33 3 22 77 07 47) or the pretty little B&B at Blagny-Tronville, Les Orchidees (Tel: +33 3 22 47 50 64). There are all the fine restaurants anyone could need in Amiens too. The waterside Le Quai (Tel: +33 3 22 72 10 80) is best for sitting outside or snuggle into the cosy little Le Bouchon (Tel: +33 3 22 92 14 32) instead. After dinner wander down to the Cathedral. Often at nightfall its façade is illuminated by a multi-coloured light show. The idea is to recapture the look of the church during the Middle Ages when it was brightly painted. It’s ideal for enjoying a special moment together on your romantic weekend break in France.

Day two

Whatever time you get up, Amiens is great for a leisurely stroll - especially if you pick up a pan au chocolate in the first patisserie you see as you wander the pedestrianised shopping streets. Head back to the gothic Cathedral to see it by day - the church is such an impressive historical monument it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Then explore the old river and canal-side quarter of St-Leu with its picturesque cottages, cafes and shops. It’s a bohemian area ideal for browsing antique and craft shops. Or take a trip side-by-side in a traditional horn-shaped boat around the maze of gardens and canals here.

You could easily fill your weekend with museums, art, history, culture and shopping in Amiens. There’s even a puppet theatre, castle and zoo. But I want to give you the option of continuing your Picardy tour by heading south on the D210. This is a classic old long straight road with great views of the Selle Valley. Try to spot chateaux in the trees as you head for the historic riverside town of Conty where you can take a horse-drawn carriage tour of the unspoilt old town.

The D920 is equally scenic heading west past lakes, rivers and woods to Poix-de-Picardie. You’ll spot the huge old church on the hill above the village as you drive in. Climb the old stone steps, under the archway, and into the churchyard for memorable views across the valley.

If you need to get home today, the D901 leads to Abbeville and the fast coast road north - but if you’ve another day in France, head west towards the gorgeous Bresle Valley and the enormous and ancient Foret d’Eu. Follow the winding D316 from Aumale through the villages and overhanging deciduous trees to join the D1015 at Senaport. Yet another wonderful old French road, this will lead you to the coast via pretty villages like Blangy, Gamaches and Eu - any of which make good stops for a stroll, explore or meal.

Stay the night at the small fishing town of Le Treport at the mouth of the river. What could be more romantic than the cafes and restaurants round the harbour? One of my favourites is the charming Le Homard Bleu – the Blue Lobster- with its panoramic views (Tel: +33 2 35 86 15 89). If you feel energetic, there are stunning views along the coast and back down the Bresle Valley from the high chalk cliffs.

Day three

It’s going to be hard to leave the bustling little harbour town but console yourself that you’ve got another fascinating drive ahead. The D940 takes you right across the mouth of the Somme at St Valery. Stop at Le Crotoy for a breather on the long sandy beach or wait for the traditional seaside resort of Berck-sur-Mer or the up-market charms of Le Touquet. The fast autoroute is a few miles to the east if you’re short of time. Otherwise stick to the scenic D-road - it follows a final memorable hour of such friendly little villages and dramatic coastal views that you’re sure to arrive back in Calais with a big smile on your face.

Fancy a bite? Try driving our food holiday in France.


P&Os drivng holiday expert

Simon Heptinstall

 When former taxi-driver and garage-manager Simon switched to journalism he was soon described by Private Eye as "a miserable little squirt". Luckily he's grown a bit since then and cheered up slightly (so only the "squirt" part applies). Since then he's helped launch BBC Top Gear magaine, worked for Autocar and AutoExpress to name but a few. Simon has also been an editorial consultant for Toyota, Peugeot, Lexus and BMW. And he once broke the world record for motoring madness by driving to 12 one day.