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Cycling in the Ardennes

Statue of a knight in chain mail, holding a sword aloft in one hand and looking over the river Meuse

La Meuse is a winding river which meanders its way through the French Ardennes and on into Belgium. It’s a haven for cyclists, especially if you enjoy cycling on the flat. A cycle path follows the Meuse for over 50 kms with incredibly scenic views on either side of the river where hills descend sometimes gently and sometimes steeply down to the river. There is also a railway which follows the route from Charleville-Mezieres to Givet near the Belgium border so it is possible to put your cycle on the train and cycle back.

The other advantage is that the French Ardennes are not too far from Calais and one can drive there in 3-4 hours. If you want to explore just a little further afield then Reims and the Champagne district are not much further. La Meuse is easily accessible and very scenic too, approached through dense rolling forests that seem to go on for miles. A brochure advertises the Ardennes as a place to ‘changez de rythme, adoptez la slow attitude’ with massive forests, deep rivers and exceptional panoramas. A good description.

Where to cycle in Ardennes

Town Hall of Haybes in Ardennes, flower filled window boxes and forest in background

The Lac des Vielles Forges is a beautiful site to stay at, with walks by the lake where the early morning mists descend. In early September temperatures can be quite chilly first thing in the morning. In the town of Fumay it’s a lovely ride by the Meuse with a stop at the nearby village of Haybes where the small mairie is decked with flowers and has a lovely fountain. On the corner is a café and just along the road a boulangerie. Sitting in the sun in the small square with coffee and croissants provides one of those very French, special moments.

Not far away is the unusual small fortress town of Rocroy, ‘ville etoile’ as roads and fortifications spread outwards from the centre forming the shape of a five pointed star. Begun in 1555, the ramparts were rebuilt in 1691 by Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, Louis XIV’s military engineer. The duc d’Enghien (later called the Great Condé) defeated the Spaniards near Rocroi in 1643. There are easy walks round the outskirts of the town along the fortifications with good views.

Cycle path along the river Meuse, dark forests in the background

There are many villages along the Meuse worth a visit. Montherme is very pretty and a scenic cycling expedition is possible along a river leading off the Meuse called Le Semoy. Climb the steep hill behind Montherme (not for the faint hearted by bike) to visit la Roche la Tor, a collection of high rocks with scenic views over the countryside. There are other good vantage points above Bogny-sur- Meuse where a statue of the Knight Dardennor guards the valley from Roc du hermitage. It stands on the edge of a rock, looking out to the monument of the Four Aymon Brothers across the river Meuse. On his shield is a depiction of a boar’s head, the boar is the symbol of the Ardennes. The name ‘Dardennor’ is derived from ‘d’Ardenne’.

You’re unlikely to cross hordes of tourists in this area, which is scarcely known to the British. Belgian and Dutch visitors were more evident.

Charleville-Mezieres is the main town on the Meuse and well worth visiting. It has a notable square called La Place Ducale which is known as the twin sister to the Place des Vosges in Paris with similar impressive colonnades surrounding the square.

This quiet unspoilt area of France is perfect for nature lovers has plenty of history and culture and is easily accessible from the UK.

Sedan Fort, Ardennes – the largest fortified castle in Europe
The misty elegance of the Ardennes
The International Puppet Show of Charleville-Mezieres, uniquely brilliant and bizarre

Monica Stringer is from the UK and has travelled extensively in France. She is the author of A French Experience du Nord and In the Steps of the Huguenots. Find her at: www.blessfrance.wordpress.com

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