Departmental capital: Laon
Main towns and cities: Saint-Quentin, Soissons, Château-Thierry, Tergnier, Chauny, Hirson, Villers-Cotterêts, La Fère, Vervins, Guise
L’Aisne, like so many French departments, is named after the river that runs through it. The Aisne – in historic Picardy – runs from east to west, while part of the department’s southern boundary is marked by another river, the Marne.
As you would expect, transport links are excellent. Lille, with its Eurostar connections, is just over an hour from Aisne’s most populous town, the 60,000-resident Saint-Quentin, while road links to Germany, Belgium and Paris are all excellent. Airports in Paris and Charleroi are within a couple of hours’ drive.
But the Aisne is no asphalt jungle. About 20% of it is covered in forests, and it boasts more than 300km of inland waterways and 2,000km of walking paths, nearly 700 of which have been specially laid out and listed in the relevant Topo-guides for walkers and mountain bikers.
Place names in this part of the country are synonymous with the two world wars, and cemeteries dot the landscape – but there’s more to the department than 20th-century human tragedy. Chateaux, abbeys, Romanesque churches and fortified churches abound in its lush, green valleys, its rolling meadows trimmed with hedges, plains, forests, hill country and plateaus.
Despite all its advantages – its proximity to Paris and Belgium, and its excellent transport hubs – the Aisne has not caught the imagination of property-hunters or speculators, so prices are relatively low. A typical non-new house in Saint-Quentin will cost about €1,158 per m², €1,113 per m² in regional capital Laon, and rise to €1,577 per m² in relatively sought-after Soissons or €1,720 per m² in Villers-Cotterêts.