On the drive south

By | Category: Travel destinations

Reims Cathedral

For those taking the ferry to Calais as you drive south you will go through the area known as Champagne-Ardennes. The instantly recognisable names remind you of two things, the sparkling wine that has been the delight of connoisseurs for centuries and the stalwart at weddings for probably just as long and the battlefields of both world wars. It is also one of the least populated regions of France which makes it one of the most attractive areas to visit as you won’t be tripping over large cities everywhere.

But there is much more to see including Reims, the capital to which you have been introduced by Frederic a little while ago and which is only just over two-and-a-bit hours from Calais. And remember in summer there is the light show dominating the cathedral.

The region is full of picturesque villages and towns such as Châlons-en-Champagne which sits on the Marne river. You can catch a boat trip up the river to see the half-timbered buildings and the parks. What you probably won’t see will be the circus school. You could be excused for missing it because it isn’t housed in a tent. Nonetheless this is one of the training schools for circus acts and, so successful has it become that extension works have just begun.

Charleville-Mézières is a combination of two towns and where a famous puppet show takes place every two years. And this is the year when it happens – in late September. It’s just a shame it doesn’t coincide with half-term but it is close enough for a weekend break or even a long day trip.

, the home of General de Gaulle and where stands a huge cross of Lorraine in tribute to the man who led the free French against the Nazis in WWII. Slightly incongruous as being so modern in a village which harks back to an age long before the twentieth let alone the twenty-first centuries. His family house is open to the public as is the graveyard in which his headstones lies and which tells nothing about him other than when he was born and died.

Chateau de Pailly

Langres, as befits a town where twelve Roman roads crossed, has a strong Roman influence. Most of the ancient walls are still to be seen as are the dozen towers and seven gates that protected the town. And you wouldn’t want to miss seeing the château du Pailly, a castle dating from Elizabethan (our Elizabeth I) times, one of the pretiest you’ll see. It is also home to the strong cheese of the same name. That such a walled town is twinned with Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire has always struck me as slightly odd given that Langres has such a military tradition.

Troyes remains a mediaeval town with its eight museums, its buildings largely untouched by wars and its history. This place was considered as the capital of France; it was where Henry V married his French wife to try and consolidate his right as the leading player in France and it was where Joan of Arc returned a few years later to restore the town to France. Although badly damaged by fire five hundred years ago and the home of the very modern up-market brand of Lacoste it is the mediaeval that still is first thought of. This is the town that gave its name to the system of weighing gold and it was Chrétien de Troyes the poet who gave us the romantic figure of Lancelot at the court of King Arthur.

And talking of romance there is always Épernay which leads you into the heart of the champagne producers. If you suddenly decide to drive south no further, everyone will understand why!

For more information about Champagnes-Ardennes, click here.

Image of Reims Cathedral © Frederic de Poligny. Image of Chateau de Pailly © Tourisme-Langres

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