In May 2017, two remarkable events occurred. First, Emmanuel Macron, then little-known, became French president. Days later, an even lesser-known football club from his home town of Amiens reached Ligue 1 after 116 years.
Promotion proved harder than presidency, a 96th-minute winner pushing les Licornes over the line.
A unicorn seems an apt nickname for Amiens SC – who play at the modern Stade de la Licorne west of town.
Football was first played south of town, at the Parc Jean-Rostand, later commandeered by the British for manoeuvres during World War I – the Somme flows through Amiens. Amiens then moved a few streets over to the Stade Moulonguet, abandoned in 1999.
For the two Ligue 1 campaigns since 2017, the Unicorn Stadium has been pushed to its capacity – only 12,000.
From Paris Gare du Nord – linked with the Eurostar and Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport 135km (84 miles) from Amiens – a train runs every 2-3hrs to Amiens (€15), 1hr 10-20min away. Eurostar passengers may also use Lille, journey time to Amiens and ticket price the same.
Amiens bus and train stations are by the city centre, but across town from the stadium. Ametis run four Nemo electric bus lines and outer bus routes (single €1.40, day pass €4.30), plus a free city-centre shuttle. Note that the train station is referred to as Gare du Nord on local bus timetables.
Amiens taxis (+33 3 22 91 30 03) offer airport transfers.
The nearest hotel to the stadium, La Chambre d’Amiens is a modern three-star set in parkland the other side of Mégacité. Also close, by the station of the same name, Le Saint-Roch offers six comfortable rooms and a decent restaurant.
Either side of the main station in town, the Campanile Amiens Centre – Gare Cathédrale and Holiday Inn Express offer similar, wallet-friendly experiences. Just over the main road, the Anzac and Au Spatial provide a simple, one-star experience. Nearby, Le Carlton is more old-school, its Art-Deco exterior a local landmark.
Further down rue Noyon into town, the elegant Grand Hôtel de l’Univers dates back to Jules Verne, his house a short walk away. Alongside, the Normandie attracts wallet-conscious visitors by price and location while at the end of rue Lamartine, the Victor Hugo is similarly affordable.
By the cathedral, the Prieuré fills a historic ecclesiastical wing with modern furnishings.
The bar hub overlooks the Somme in the old Quartier Saint-Leu. The terraces of lively Le Living, Baobar, Couleur Café, le Retroviseur Watson and Au Fût et à mesure meld into one another to create a pleasant evening buzz. Just along the waterfront, the English Pub Amiens offers pool, table football and live match action.
The other side of the cathedral on rue des Chaudronniers, Le Charleston is easily the best bar in town, its TVs tuned to football, its walls dedicated to Cantona, Celtic and a collection of match tickets, its corner given over to live music, its pub food unpretentiously satisfying, and its welcome, most of all, warm.
There’s a big screen and cathedral-facing terrace at Les III Maillets on place Notre-Dame while by place Gambetta, more convivial terraces awaits at Les 3 Cailloux and L’Atelier façon bistrot. Over on place René Goblet, Le Square might merit a quick drink.