The most beautiful way to explore the marshland is by boat
In Saint-Omer there is a little corner of paradise that has been created and maintained by local people since the Middle Ages.
This spot is known as the Audomarois Marsh – Audomar being the name of 7th century bishop Omer, founder of the city of Saint-Omer.
It is the result of 13 centuries of work diverting the waters of the River Aa, clearing and transforming a swamp into an area of marshland in which crops can be grown and people can live.
The Audomarois Marsh stretches across more than 3,700 hectares and 15 communes that all lie on the daily round of the same postman… An exceptional wetland habitat, in May 2013 this marsh was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in recognition of the unique nature of the interconnections between the area and its inhabitants.
Today, around 40 market gardeners produce a range of 50 different vegetables here, although it is cauliflower and endive for which it is most famous.
Just like all exceptional sites, the Audomarois Marsh attracts visitors who come to enjoy a walk, a boat trip or a spot of fishing… whatever the reason, this site allows visitors to get away from it all!
Escute and Bacôve, the traditional boats of the Audomarois marsh
The traditional boat of the Audomarois, sailing through this natural setting for centuries, the Bacôve is a flat-bottomed vessel made of overlapping planks of wood. It was mostly used for transporting merchandise. Popular with the market gardeners of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Bacôve is now a favourite with visitors enjoying a boat trip around the Audomarois Marsh.
Whilst it is possible to compare the Bacôve to a market gardener’s truck, the Escute would be more like their car. Used for fishing trips, family boat rides, transporting small amounts of goods or even just for reaching the little isolated houses that sit at the heart of the marshes, the Escute was very popular right up until the 1970s, up until the roads and bridges were built through the fields and across the streams. Every family owned at least two of these in addition to a Bacôve.
Discover the fascinating history behind this reclaimed wetland
In order to explore and to understand this area, looking into its history, its habitats, its people, its biodiversity and its farming, the Maison du Marais Centre awaits you just a few hundred metres from the historic town centre of Saint-Omer.
Exhibitions, videos and a garden outside, it sits at the foot of the Moulin de l’Aile (the last drainage mill standing in France) and offers the chance to step aboard for a boat ride.
See the skills behind the traditional boats
In the market gardening suburbs of Saint-Omer, Rémy and Vincent Colin are the very last ‘faiseurs de bateaux’, boat makers manufacturing Escutes and Bacôves, those traditional boats made of oak that have been used for centuries by market gardeners here.
In their workshop you can learn about the stages of construction of a traditional craft, made using local and natural materials, from selecting the oak needed for construction to the staining process that is designed to protect the wood.
The tools, skills and materials are all the same as they were in the Middle Ages. This unique savoir-faire has earned the workshop the ‘Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant’ label, a distinction awarded by the Ministry of the Economy in 2015.
As well as visiting the workshops, the boat makers also offer daily walks through the marshlands. These can be independent or guided.
O’Marais by Isnor
Different itineraries are available from the company O’Marais by Isnor, setting out from Clairmarais or Moulle, aboard flat-bottomed boats that have been specially adapted to allow visitors to explore the marshes, or aboard a Bacôve, the traditional boat of the marshland.
The O’Marais by Isnor team helps you explore the marshes in an unexpected way with a range of exceptional boat trips:
- Gourmet trips (aperitif, brunch…) from May to September
- Market garden trips from May to August
- Night-time trips from April to September
- Adventure trails (by reservation)
To explore the marshlands in your own way, it is also possible to hire boats, canoes or bikes throughout the year (depending on the weather).
From May to September, at the Clairmarais river stop, market gardeners and producers from the region offer up their very best products at a market on the water arranged by O’Marais by Isnor. Fresh vegetables from the marshlands, cheeses, fruit, flowers… these products are all sold from aboard Bacôves.
Le Bon Accueil
Le Bon Accueil is, above all, a family business and has been for nearly 100 years!
Le Bon Accueil provides boat trips departing from Salperwick that cross the maze of canals that make up the marsh. Canoes, rowing boats, motorised craft, boat cruises and Bacôves will all take you along on an independent or guided visit.
Open every day from 1st May to 31st October.