At the gateway of the city and the Saint-Leu quarter, the Hortillonages are an exceptional mosaic of floating gardens and waterways.
Floating gardens: unique to Amiens
Shaped by generations of market gardeners known as 'hortillons', this site is the only one of its kind in France. The Hortillonnages are made up of a multitude of small cultivated islets surrounded by water, accessible only by boat on a network of waterways, known as 'rieux'.
The Hortillonnages have been here since ancient times. They are located on the naturally marshy terrain of the old bed of the River Somme. The site's name has its origins in the Latin 'hortus' meaning garden. Nowadays, the ownership of his 300-hectare site is shared by over 1000 individuals who use it for market gardening or leisure activities such as gardening, fishing, and observing nature... This haven of greenery, gently cradled in the water invites contemplation and rest.
'Hortillons': market gardeners and boatmen!
For many years, these unusual market gardeners not only supplied the city of Amiens with fresh fruit and vegetables, but also with peat for heating. They used a particular type of boat to navigate the Hortillonnages and transport their produce. At the turn of the 20th Century nearly 250 market gardeners cultivated plots here.
Although much of the 300 hectares of marshland has been given over for ornamental gardening, a dozen families still cultivate the land. Several generations of hortillons live side by side and farm about 10% of the site. Their fruit and vegetables are sold every Saturday on Place Parmentier in the Saint-Leu quarter.
The market gardeners have joined forces and market their produce under the banner of 'les t'cho légumes des hortillons'. On the third Sunday in June, dressed in their traditional costumes and aboard their unmistakable boats, the hortillons navigate down the River Somme to sell their produce opposite the Quai Bélu.
From May to October, the Amiens International Garden Festival offers its visitors some aesthetic and poetic escapism in the heart of this exceptional site. A showcase of landscaping installations and artistic creations on the theme of sustainable development and environmental conservation, the Festival is held on the Etang de Clermont and the Ile aux Fagots. Come and take a wander!
From May to October, the Amiens International Garden Festival offers visitors an aesthetic and poetic escape in the heart of this exceptional natural site. Landscape and artistic creations on the Clermont pond and the Ile aux Fagots invite the public to a gentle itinerary on the theme of sustainable development and the preservation of the environment.
The Hortillonnages Museum
The Hortillonnages Museum in Rivery gives pride of place to this protected natural environment and the lives of the market gardeners. It holds a rich collection of material and equipment, patiently collected by a couple of hortillons over many years. René and Thérèse Nowak will tell you all about the hard but fascinating lives of these men and women, how their techniques evolved over the years, and what makes the profession so special.
Round off your visit in an electric-powered boat, and see the hortillonnages for yourself as you navigate the network of waterways... discover the great wealth of flora and fauna that inhabit the variety of habitats: gardens, waters, fallow areas, marshes and woods.
Get up close to the waterfowl, such as great crested grebes, swans, mallards, coots and moorhens. From May to August waterlilies shimmer on the ponds, and water irises, grasses and rushes carpet the banks.
A change of scene!
There are so many ways to explore Nature's jigsaw puzzle:
- Guided tours on traditional boats from April - October, organised by the Association de Protection et de Sauvegarde du Site et de l'Environnement des Hortillonnages ;
- Guided tours on electric-powered boats all year round, run by Le Jardin des Vertueux ;
- If you're feeling adventurous, or maybe in love, take a self-tour on a rowing boat from the Auberge "Ô Jardin (don't forget to take a map!) ;
- If you like to walk, enjoy the Circuit de la Canardière (13.5 km), usually around 3.5 hours, in idyllic and tranquil surroundings ;
- Last but not least, cyclists too will also appreciate the peace and quiet of these places... at their own pace.
Of course there are many other options! Why not design your own experience, and make the most of some exceptional time out in Nature?