Less than two hours from Paris, the French Ardennes is a region of France at the crossroads of history whose heritage is remarkable with such gems as the largest castle in Europe at Sedan, the magnificent Renaissance Ducale Square at Charleville-Mézières, the star-shaped town of Rocroi, the fortified churches of Thiérache, battlefields, memorials and much more.
This rural corner remains one of the last-explored, greenest and wildest areas of France. Its outstanding natural beauty was recognised in 2011 by the designation of a French Regional Natural Park. This is a great outdoors playground where the visitor is able to go walking, cycling, canoeing, horse-riding, swimming, bathing, fishing, sailing or enjoying adrenalin activities while communing with nature.
In 2018, the War & Peace Museum in the French Ardennes, dedicated to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the First and Second World Wars, will open its doors to the public on the 23rd January. The 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War will be commemorated in the village of Vrigne-Meuse where the last official soldier, Augustin Trébuchon, fell ten minutes before the cease-fire. In the southern part of the Ardennes, the Liberation of the Argonne by the Americans in 1918 will also be commemorated during this special anniversary year. Finally, the entire A304 motorway will open in mid-2018, which will encourage trade with border areas.
Top new attractions for the visitors will include the tour of the Mézières ramparts and the opening of the treasure room of the Notre-Dame d’Espérance basilica. The historic village of Mont Cornu in Montconet will also open to the public in March 2018 while the adrenalin-pumping Terr’Altitude Park in the Meuse Valley will launch a new experience that will “catapult” visitors over a 20 metre distance!
The French Ardennes offers a surprising mix of lush nature, remarkable heritage and fascinating history. This the perfect place to visit, for unwinding and relaxing or for exploring and adventure!
See also: Cities in Champagne-Ardennes
Created by the prince Charles de Gonzague, Charleville is the setting for one of the finest squares in Europe, designated ” a Town of Art and History”. The Place Ducale, with its 24 town houses, is a architectural gem of harmony and balance. The Museum of the Ardennes, which occupies one of the mansions, offers an overview of the Ardenne region. In Charleville, “The Beffroi” Tour will give visitors the chance to see the finest panoramic view of the town for the first time ever. United with Charleville in 1966, Mézières will offer a new tour of the last remaining sections of the town’s historic fortifications in 2018. Not far away, the treasure room of the basilica Notre-Dame d’Espérance, famed for its magnificent stained glass windows, will open to the public.
Reims Cathedral. Notre-Dame de Reims (Our Lady of Rheims) is the Roman Catholic cathedral of Reims, where the kings of France were once crowned. It replaces an older church, destroyed by a fire in 1211, which was built on the site of the basilica where Clovis was baptized by Saint Remi, bishop of Reims, in AD 496.
The Meuse and Semoy valleys are located in the regional natural park in the northern part of the Ardennes, one of the most unspoilt areas of France. In this preserved place, visitors are invited to commune with nature, enjoy great outdoors activities and admire rivers meandering through landscapes and typical blue-slate villages. Here, metallurgy and mysticism have gone hand in hand through the centuries, the museum of metallurgy in Bogny-sur-Meuse should be on every visitor’s itinerary.
Rimbaud – iconic genius. Born in Charleville in 1854, « the man with soles of wind », as his friend Verlaine called him, has left marks of his genius around the town, such as the poet’s bust in the station square, his birthplace (can only be viewed from the exterior), and his tombstone in the town’s cemetery. There is also an post-box dedicated to the poet who even now receives letters from all over the world. Pieces of graffiti art inspired by the poet decorate the town’s walls. The « House of Elsewhere », where Rimbaud spent his adolescent years, offers visitors an immersive experience while the Rimbaud Museum houses galleries and exhibition spaces that tell the story of the one of France’s most charismatic artists.
Verlaine – prince of poets. In the 19th century, the poet Paul Verlaine used to frequent the “Auberge du Lion d’Or” in Juniville where he wrote such famous works as the “Sagesse” collection of poems and the edition of the “Poètes maudits”. Turned into a museum, the “auberge” has kept the original furniture and atmosphere, and showcases life and work of Verlaine, the prince of poets.
Sedan – medieval city. Designated “Town of Art and History”, the city, where Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, Viscount of Turenne, was born in 1610, was an independent principality until the 17th century. The largest fort in Northern Europe successfully combines a taste for splendour and also stages regular public events such as its renowned Medieval Festival. And to go back in time, there’s no better way than a stay at the castle hotel****. The Franco-German wars also left their mark on Sedan: five informative and fascinating trails are devoted to the battles of 1870, 1914-18 and 1939-45, and guided tours are also available.
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Rocroi – star shaped city. Rocroi, with its ramparts and 10 streets pointing towards a central square in the form of a star, is unique in France. It was the scene of the famous battle of 19th May 1643. The 22-year old Duke of Enghien, also known to history as « Le Grand Condé », had made a brilliant entrance onto the world stage by defeating the Spanish army. This story is related in the museum of the town.
War and Peace museum Dedicated to the battles of 1870 (The Franco Prussian War), 1914-1918 and 1939-1945, the War and Peace Museum in the Ardennes in Novion-Porcien will open the 23rd January 2018. The new building houses a rich collection of 16,000 items including 150 uniforms and 50 machines. The new tours – one for adults and one for children – will show the everyday life of civilians and soldiers and includes projections and maps, offering a reflection on memory and history.
Les Ayvelles – a frontier story. After the defeat at nearby Sedan in 1870, France needed to better protect itself from invasions, and General Séré de Rivières was given the task of building a series of forts along the East frontier. The fort of Les Ayvelles, built between 1877 and 1879, still dominates Charleville-Mézières. This impressive military heritage, which held 880 men, a battery of 21 cannons and a monumental powder magazine, and which is still intact, is maintained and restored by an association. The fort, which played a decisive role until 1918, now offers a 2-mile/3 km circuit of trails and a circuit for children. Les Ayvelles, a frontier story
Argonne – 1918-2018. Having volunteered for military service in World War I, Roland Garros was killed in a dog fight on the 5th October 1918 at Saint Morel near Vouziers, where he was buried. On the 18th October 1918, Sergeant Alvin York killed 35 German soldiers and captured 132 others during the battle of Argonne. He was played by Gary Cooper in a Hollywood movie. A 2-mile/3 km circuit around Chatel-Chéhéry retraces the story.
The French Ardennes is also where the last official French victim of the Great War, Augustin Joseph Trebuchon, fell – just ten minutes before the cease-fire at 11am on November 11th, 1918. Trebuchon is buried in the cemetery of Vrigne-Meuse, an Ardennes village of 220 inhabitants. Visitors today will find a church with 18 white crosses surrounding a memorial in honour of the men of the 415th Infantry Regiment who all died during the last offensive while attempting to cross the River Meuse. 11th November 2018 will be the date of major commemorations here. the last official French of the Great War
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Coveted and besieged by Europeans powers, Charlemont, the citadel of Givet, was requested by Charles Quint in 1555 as a protection for the Empire This imposing fortress is built on a rocky promontory and surrounded by about 6 miles/10 km of ramparts, overlooking the town. During the tourist season, visitors will be able to visit the church and bunkers of the village with an audio-guide tour. There is also the opportunity to discover the beautiful panoramic views of Givet, an attractive northern town on the borders with Belgium.
In 1680 the Count of Avaux-la-Ville (now Asfeld) wished to celebrate in his own way the Peace of Nijmegen, which consolidated the frontiers of the kingdom of France. He engaged a Flemish Dominican monk, François Romain, who had designed the Pont Royal in Paris, to build a church in an unparalleled architectural style. He more than succeeded! Saint-Didier d’Asfeld, with a shape that is close to that of a viola de gamba, was a challenge to contemporary architectural standards and tastes. The finest church in the French Ardennes – or at least the most astonishing
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Villy – Le Ferte – a tragic sacrifice. The French Ardennes forests were thought to be impregnable. The fort of La Ferté, built to fight off any enemies, became the final bastion of the Maginot Line. In May 1940, the German forces attacked the French Ardennes. After four days of determined resistance, the Germans placed explosive charges in the bells of the fort and on the 19th May 107, French soldiers were asphyxiated. A guided tour 35 metres underground tells the tale of their heroic combat. The history of the Fort is introduced at the tourist centre.