Starting Friday last week I participated in a six day trip to some major cathedrals and abbeys of northern France. An excellent week in outstanding company, with perfect artistic and spiritual guidance and a dedicated driver, although not without a slight personal problem which might have ruined the trip (but fortunately did not).
It is totally impossible to rank the long series of majestic and charming views and impressions. I just list the major ones : the marvelous multi-towered Laon cathedral on its hill ; Reims with its cathedral and its Musée du Tau and the wonderful St Remi basilica. The modern Fujita chapel was a discovery and the spiritual and artistic visit of Reims was complemented by a trip to the Champagne region and a tasting.
The next day we drove by Soissons to still active Ourscamp abbey and its "divine" ruins near Compiègne and its famous forest ; we visited Noyon cathedral and its historic center and the superbly beautiful minuscule and well hidden village of Morienval with its jewel : a small roman church, where spontaneous gregorian chanting developed (we had some excellent singers in the group and the church had outstandig acoustics).
On the way to Rouen we visited the royal city of Senlis with its cathedral, as well as one of the "plus beaux villages de France", Gerberoy, famous for its pittoresque houses draped in climbing roses and surrounded by thousands of other beautiful flowers. There already were some tourists around, but as it was Monday, two of the three pubs were closed ; and I can tell you it was super hot and clammy ... Still, our coach held some supplies, and the village is worth the trip any day of the week.
We visited Rouen with its cathedral and various churches and other sites ; we saw the absolutely marvelous roman abbey church of St Martin de Boscherville (the church is dedicated to St Georges) and the absolutely superb gothic ruins of Jumièges abbey. Two jewels in the superb land of Normandy.
On the way back, we visited Beauvais cathedral, with its dramatic building history. Only part of the enormous planned cathedral was built but the part that stands can hold the Notre Dame de Paris twice over.
Then came Amiens, in my view the "apogée" of our trip - perfection inside and out, and one of the few cathedrals where later additions (for instance its world famous stalles) were perfectly integrated and have been conserved.
By that time the weather had turned ugly, so we did not visit old Arras (Atrecht) with its Flemish style squares. We just drove through it.
Add the beautiful landscapes of Champagne, Normandy and Picardy and good food. A fantastic experience altogether.
One of my definitions of heaven on earth : spend a perfect and sunny sunday morning in a smallish town in France ...
By the way, France is taking care of its treasures : restaurations are under way almost everywhere.
A minuscule small - in more senses than one - country to the north might be well inspired to look across "de schreve" from time to time. We just might learn a thing or two...