Northern France Tourism : official website

A traditional ‘brouckailler’ (marsh dweller) house

The river Audomarois Marshes - Saint-Omer

For centuries, the water network of this huge unenclosed garden on the outskirts of Saint-Omer has offered a livelihood to generations of men and women; it is a fertile area being the only marsh in France that has always been cultivated; it is an island between the river and the sea, a sensitive and vulnerable landscape, listed by UNESCO. Visit it at the pace dictated by the flat bottomed marsh boats which are still built the traditional way by the marsh’s last boat builder.

The Audomarois marshes - a UNESCO site

What a history! Over a thousand years ago, Benedictine monks tamed this marsh into a green eden, linked to the sea by the Aa canal. Through drainage, and the subsequent drying out of the area, this hostile land covering 3, 730 hectares has become a bucolic, wild maze of waterways that is perfect to explore by boat. The ‘lègres’ (fertile and cultivated strips of land) are combined with ‘wateringues’ (waterways) which, if placed end to end, would make a single channel 700 km long. In 2008, the Audomarois marshes were included in the Ramsar Convention which aims to conserve wetlands. In June 2013, the marshes were awarded the ‘Man and Biosphere’ accreditation by UNESCO.

View of the ‘lègres’ - strips of land bordered by drainage ditches up to 300 metres long.
  • View of the ‘lègres’ - strips of land bordered by drainage ditches up to 300 metres long.
  • © Laurent BUT et Jean-Claude SADOINE
These waterways would make a single channel 700 km long if placed end to end.

A nature reserve in the heart of a park

The Audomarois marshes stretch over 15 communes in the heart of the Caps et Marais d'Opale Nature Park. Nature lovers will enjoy visiting the green oasis of the Romelaëre National Nature Reserve. Its hundred hectares of ponds (resulting from former peat bogs), reed beds, wetland meadows and marsh woodland are criss-crossed with raised walkways, making it perfect for families. Keep all your senses sharpened, ready to spot protected birds! These species all love this area, which has a unique biodiversity and is a migration corridor. From inside a hide, watch the ghostly silhouettes of cormorants perched on the stakes of an old dike. A timeless moment of magic - far from the hubbub of urban life!

The marshes are one of the largest wetland areas in the Nord-Pas de Calais region
  • The marshes are one of the largest wetland areas in the Nord-Pas de Calais region
  • © Christophe DUBOIS

Tour the only marsh that is still farmed in France

The marshes are cultivated across 440 hectares and provide work for about thirty market gardeners growing approximately 50 types of vegetables (endives, cauliflowers, carrots). Cauliflowers are the marshlands’ top crop with three and a half thousand heads produced each year. Sylvain Dewalle, a market gardener, does his best to keep this tradition alive which is so deeply rooted in the marshland. His family continues the long line of ‘brouckaillers’ “whose origins are lost in the mists of time”, he explains. So, before you leave Saint-Omer, stop at one of the many local roadside vendors. Or, visit the covered market in the new ‘Maison du Marais’. There is no better way to put something fresh on your plate than to choose from the local produce...

Cauliflowers are transported after harvest on a flat-bottomed ‘bacôve’ boat - the marshes tractor.
  • Cauliflowers are transported after harvest on a flat-bottomed ‘bacôve’ boat - the marshes tractor.
  • © Pascal MORES