In Amiens’ enchanted forest

In the Hortillonnages, Amiens’ green lung pumps away. In the centre of the town, allotment plots develop from winding walkways and a branched canal system. Pure romanticism – and at the same time, the home of one of the most unusual hotel concepts that I have ever come across. Come with me...

‘D’une île à l’autre’ guestrooms: Grounds / arrival

Laure Henry and Emmanuel Colange have established in the Hortillonnages an array of cabins, which welcome and carry you off to another world in the middle of the town. And that means: I first have to find my guest house in this mysterious magical garden. A path forks off from one of the main roads in the city centre, to the right, the Somme river, to the left, unusual, sometimes even a little spooky steps and doors, which appear to sometimes lead to nowhere, sometimes to a fairy tale adventure. Some time later, there stands a locked gate on which, ‘d’une île à l’autre’ is written. This must be it. And look – the key fits!

‘D’une île à l’autre’ guestrooms: Cabins / room

On the grounds stand six cabins, connected to each other sometimes via paths in healthy green, wild-growing grass, sometime via small footbridges. And the first one is mine. In the two-storey cabin, you find everything that you need – and what’s more, nothing that you don’t need or shouldn’t. By shouldn’t I mean: WiFi and TV here are reported missing; instead there is a cosy couch, there’s also a bathroom and a well-equipped kitchen stocked with tea, coffee and cocoa.

‘D’une île à l’autre’ guestrooms: Cabin / View looking out

Sure, it could be a bit warmer, but I’ve got the choice of a heater or a small real stove for heating. From this room there is also a small staircase up into the upper storey, right under the roof. It is completely taken up by a huge mattress and a tiny bedside cabinet. Everything is much too cosy to not go straight to sleep...

‘D’une île à l’autre’ guestrooms: Cabins / outside

... and to awaken the next morning in a fairy tale world. A fairy tale with a cockerel who announces dawn at the top of his voice. Clambering down the steps, I see a basket hanging on a hook next to my cabin door – as I find out, that’s how breakfast works round here. The basket was packed with: a croissant and fresh baguette, jam from the Hortillonnages, milk and an apricot – delicious, and even more so because I can enjoy it on my garden chair right by the water.

‘D’une île à l’autre’ guestrooms: Other cabins

As I look around, I discover two things which I hadn’t noticed last night: Lying at the water’s edge are two canoes and further back in the garden is a shed with a row of bikes: So everyone can decide by which means of transportation they would best like to explore the Hortillonnages. I also have a closer look at the other cabins now and discover an especially pretty one in bright blue. Sadly I can’t look inside the other cabins – they are all occupied at the moment. No wonder!

Town and Country Arts Festival

In 2018, already in its ninth edition, this wonderful arts festival combines plastics, landscape art and conceptual art, consistently reflecting history and natural events in the Hortillonnages and thinking about the future. So, many works expose the ephemeral nature of the many small ‘islets’, whose often tiny ‘coastal strips’ are fast being eroded by the water and which therefore have to be freshly supplied so that they don’t disappear altogether. Other works, some of which stay for years, others which disappear at the end of the festival in October, deal with vegetation, fauna and the agricultural aspect of the Hortillonnages; a few water gardeners still make a living from vegetable growing and selling. And the best thing: Most of the artworks can only be reached by boat, so you have to go off on your own. I am curious about what the anniversary edition next year will bring – I’m already planning my return visit...

Au fil de l‘eau restaurant

... and where better to hammer out plans than over a warm plate of something. This small restaurant, right on the corner of the boulevard that leads to the city centre, offers one of the most laid-back options for eating in the Hortillonnages. This eatery was mainly a bar until a few years ago and now it has a short menu with French cuisine. I’m not going to miss the opportunity to sample the ficelle picarde. These crêpes filled with mushrooms and ham, topped with Emmental and baked in the oven are one of Amiens’ ultimate specialities and are served here as a starter but work well as a light main dish too. The Au fil de l’eau which also has a pretty balcony terrace, also acts as a canteen for the Hortillonnages barques boat guides who enjoy spending their lunch break here.