Backwaters reveals a new world of inland cruising with its “observation lounge” escapes along the smaller French waterways. In a 2021 programme centred on the beautiful River Somme, Backwaters scales its vessels to match the capacity of a touring coach, creating an attractive new concept for tour operators. On board: Space, View, Comfort and an Open bar!
The Somme – named after a Celtic word meaning “tranquility” – lives up to its name in meandering a 245km course to the sea from its source near St-Quentin. Backwaters operates along the 108km between Abbeville and Péronne, with historic Amiens as mid-point. A partnering coach conveys guests between hotel and boat and runs the excursions – programmes typically cruise the morning, lunch on board, and afternoon visit.
For much of its course, the river feels its way through a network of lakes marking the peat extraction of centuries past. Without modern development in sight, cruising here feels remarkably like stepping back in time – an impression heightened by the silence of the boat’s electric engines. In May there is little else to hear but the Nightingales in full voice!
East of Amiens, operators usually theme around battlefield history. The new Sir John Monash Centre at Villers-Bretonneux is a stone’s throw from moorings in Corbie, and the narrow-gauge supply line at Froissy parades its century-old steam trains which now convey visitors rather than munitions.
Amiens itself makes for a fascinating cruise passage, highlighted by the Hortillonnages, a network of island gardens which once served the city’s vegetable supplies. It’s a lovely setting made all the more attractive by being close-up – the scenery and wildlife seems to be almost there to touch.
Amiens has so much else to offer as a cruise & tour base. With the magnificent UNESCO listed cathedral as backdrop, the city offers a fine regional museum, House of Jules Verne, zoological gardens and some great shopping in the pedestrianised centre. The heritage attraction extends nearby – from William the Conqueror and Joan of Arc in St Valery, to the Samara Prehistoric Park, ancient caverns of Naours, history of the Hundred-Years War, and the wonderful Abbey of St-Riquier, this can be a cruise into history.
Three more half-day cruises take us west of Amiens to Abbeville, where our themes are much more varied. To just cruise and soak-up the scenery is a theme in itself good enough for most guests, but we also focus on natural history for the great bird migration through the Somme Estuary in Spring and Autumn, and on the lovely “Gardens of Picardy” for early summer.
The gardens cruise is especially popular, between them Saga Holidays and Brightwater have already chartered five departures in 2021 and other operators are looking at the planned programme for 2022. “Gardens of Picardy” follows a slightly different pattern in cruising alternate days so that operators have some completely clear days for their excursions – so no need for hurry.