After our two-day visit to Ypres, we were quite keen to see Saint-Quentin, a town which we have often passed on our way to other destinations but never explored, and, as we were in no particular hurry, having still a week left of the Christmas break, we started to make our way down south from Belgium.
We had an overnight stop at the very quiet town of Estaires, in the Lys valley in the French Flanders Nord department, about 20 km west of Lille. We came here because the reviews of the motorhome aire were very good and it sounded like a nice place to stay. This town, like Ypres, was completely destroyed in WWI and rebuilt afterwards.
One of those buildings erected after the war (between 1927-1930) is the Church of St Vaast, built in a New-Gothic Latin Cross style, which we thought was quite striking. But this again was heavily damaged during WW2 and had to be reconstructed yet again, with the spire restored in 1988.
Another remarkable building in this lovely sleepy town is the Neo-Renaissance Flemish-style Town Hall, built between 1928 and 1930, to replace the one destroyed in WWI. Final renovations to the façade and belfry were performed in 2007-2008. The determination of this people is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stroll through the town and along the river and were ready to leave again the next morning for St Quentin in the Aisne Department.
We stayed at the convenient aire by the Recreation Centre La Bul, within easy walking distance to the town and which also provided a nice dog walk along the river Somme. We were lucky enough to find the city centre in full swing with the Christmas markets stalls still in place and doing good business, as well as an ice rink, carousel and other seasonal amenities. It was cold, so we looked for shelter and enjoyed a drink in the lovely and very busy Golden Pub near the Place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville, where I enjoyed a delicious hot chocolate and Adonis a local beer.
We couldn’t help being impressed by the Saint-Quentin Town Hall in the central square with its magnificent Gothic-style façade, boasting 173 sculptures and a carillon of 37 bells, as well as the Gothic Basilica of Saint Quentin, built between the late 12th and 15th century to house the relics of the saint.
But best of all was to gently stroll soaking up the happy end-of-year atmosphere, the Christmas lights and seeing the young families making the most of the seasonal entertainment.
Should it have been the summer months (July and August), this lively square would have been transformed into a beach, complete with fine sand, swimming pool, deckchairs and even palm trees! This is surely something to be seen and enjoyed! We’ll be back!