Convenient to the Calais / Rouen motorway, and a short drive south from Dieppe, Saint Saens is a charming, picturesque market town situated at the meeting of three valleys at the upper reaches of the river Varenne, on which in the 18th century it depended for its reputation as a thriving tannery town.
Named after an Irish missionary monk who arrived in the 9th century and whose name anglophones would recognise as being Sean, Saint Saens has no relationship with the French musical composer of the same name.
Now that the artisanal tanneries have gone, long replaced by urban industrial units, and with the wheel of the town watermill sadly inactive, the sympathetic charm of Saint Saens nevertheless remains solidly intact.
Saint Saens has several distinguishing features immediately notable to the visitor. Principle amongst these is perhaps the good number of fine “town houses” or “hôtels particuliers”, marking the homes of the once wealthy tannery owners. Simultaneously perhaps the visitor’s attention may be drawn to the attractive orange brick from which much of the town is built. This brick, known locally as the ‘St Jean brick’ is similar to what we would consider a Queen Anne brick.
Saint Saens is an attractively compact town, huddled about a central square on which stand the two iconic and ubiquitous French monuments, the church and town hall.
Almost all the commercial activity occurs within walking distance of this public centre, making the town a convivial, socially cohesive and pedestrian-friendly environment.
The Varenne river flows in two arms through the centre of the town, uniting immediately beyond to continue northward towards Dieppe, winding its way through a wide lush valley, of willows and water meadows, reminiscent of Psalm 23.