Amiens was badly scarred during both world wars, but sensitively restored. Most people visit for the cathedral, but there’s much more to the city: St-Leu, the renovated medieval artisans’ quarter north of the cathedral with its network of canals, is charming, while the hortillonnages transport you into a peaceful rural landscape. A sizeable student population ensures enough evening entertainment to make an overnight stay worthwhile.
The Cathédrale Notre-Dame dominates the city by sheer size – it’s the biggest Gothic building in France – but its appeal lies mainly in its unusually uniform style. Begun in 1220 under architect Robert de Luzarches, it was effectively finished by 1269. The west front shows traces of the original polychrome exterior, in stark contrast to its sombre modern appearance. A spectacular summer evening sound and light show vividly shows how the west front would have looked, with an explanation of the various statues on the facade in French and then in English. The interior, on the other hand, is a light, calm and unaffected space. Later embellishments, like the sixteenth-century choir stalls, are works of breathtaking virtuosity, as are the sculpted panels depicting the life of St Firmin, Amiens’ first bishop, on the right side of the choir screen. Those with strong legs can mount the cathedral’s front towers. One of the most atmospheric ways of seeing the cathedral is to attend a Sunday morning Mass (9am and 10.30am), accompanied by sublime Gregorian chants.