Lovers of undiscovered locations need look no further than the Ardennes. Extending from Belgium to Luxembourg, Germany and France, the particular region of the Ardennes we visited, situated in Northeast France, is known for its rolling hills and meandering rivers winding their way through picturesque valleys. In spite of all its natural beauty, it remains one of Europe’s true hidden gems. If going off-grid with superb landscape, medieval villages and country walks is your preferred way to travel, here’s how to spend three days the Ardennes, France.
This post is in collaboration with Champagne-Ardenne Tourism but as ever, all thoughts, opinions & photographs are my own. I spent 5 days in the region and will be breaking the trip down into two separate posts, one on The Ardennes and one on Champagne.
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How To Get To The Ardennes
Being centrally located, it is easy to make your way to The Ardennes from most corners of Europe. Internationally, make your way to Paris and hire yourself a car (find rental prices here) and head east along the A4 and then onto the A34. It will take roughly three hours before you reach the region. Arriving from the UK into the port of Calais, it takes roughly three and a half hours to drive to your first destination of Haybes which is the perfect place to begin your adventure.
Road Trip Around The Ardennes France Day 1
Haybes is a characterful little village which has become quite the haven for walkers and cyclists alike, thanks to its lush green views and impressive architecture so wandering through it is sure to give you a taste of what you can expect from a slow few days in the region.
Once you’ve taken in all the scenery this village has to offer, the Micro-Brasserie du Clos Belle Rose is a must-visit for the evening’s entertainment. Explore the beer brewing process from start to finish and sample some of the brasserie’s own micro batches before heading to L’ermitage du Moulin Labotte just down the road, to dine and rest your head. The hotel is very rustic and will offer you the chance to immerse yourself in French country living. Its restaurant is very popular with the locals and serves up plates of quintessential country dishes – think plates of foie gras and scallops. Did I mention, it is also home to its very own wine bar. Don’t expect any grandeur here, this hotel is a little rough around the edges but I quite liked that charm!
Le Clos Belle Rose – 9 Place De La Charite, 08170 Haybes – Tel: +33 (0)6 30 48 44 54
Hotel-Restaurant L’ermitage Du Moulin Labotte 0 52 Rue Edmond Dromart, 08170 Haybes – Tel: +33 (0)3 24 41 13 44
Road Trip Around The Ardennes France Day 2
With a good night’s rest under your belt, there’s no better way to continue exploring the region than by bike. Don’t worry, you won’t need to bring your own, they’re available to hire from Maison de Randonnees. From there you’ll have the opportunity to cycle along the greenway along the River Meuse, which is a particularly scenic route. Straddled by mountainous hills on either side, the river lies at the centre of the Meuse valley and the path alongside it is smooth and flat – perfect for those of you like me who prefer a laid back, relaxing cycle. We got an attachment for the back of Peters bike so that Heidi had her own little ‘carriage’ as she called it. This was ideal as she was able to have a nap on the bike ride back to Haybes later on in the day. If you prefer though, you can always catch the train back which will speed up your journey. The trains have designated bike spots so it isn’t any difficulty. We preferred to take the slow, scenic route back though.
Follow the river path for about 45 minutes to an hour depending on how fast you are happy to pace yourself at, and it will take you all the way to Hierges – a medieval village that’s packed full of history and charm, not to mention the cutest shutter laden houses. The village sits at the foot of Hierges Castle which dominates the surrounding landscape with the remains of its towers and ramparts. Dating back to the 9th century, it has fascinating tales to tell of the region’s past. Make sure to take a walk up and visit the Italian gardens which are just beautiful.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, La Causerie des Lilas is a great spot to stop for lunch and is perfectly situated at the heart of the village. From there, you can have a 10 minute cycle back to Vireux-Molhain to take the train back to Haybes (or cycle all the way back to Haybes as we did) before swapping the bike for your car and taking a drive along the Muese Valley.
Your next destination? The town of Monthermé. The drive takes no longer than 40 minutes and there’s plenty to uncover once you get there, including the Dames de Meuses rock formation at Laifour. Ancient legend has it the three rocks are sisters that God turned to stone as punishment for their adultery! The famous viewpoint of ‘La Boucle de Muese’ is another of the town’s selling points. To reach the viewpoint, follow the road signs in the direction of Hargnies/Lees Hauts-Buttés and park in the car park at the restaurant L’auberge de la Roche a 7 Heures (Address: Chemin du Haut du Terne, 08800 Monthermé) and then follow the signposted footpath through the forest and towards the viewpoint. This viewpoint marks the start of the Muese Walk (not one for hiking lovers to miss!) and is just one of the vistas the town is known for. It’s hardly surprising that Monthermé is known as the Pearl of the Valley with breath-taking landscapes and outdoor activities like this to take advantage of.
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After all that walking, take an hours drive to the Chambre et Table D’hotes La Correrie which offers an extra warm welcome, some incredible home cooked food and a wonderful place to spend the night before your last day in Ardenne. As soon as we arrived, we got the warmest greeting from the owner who then told us that she had prepared dinner for us, a feast of magnificently cooked dishes that I still think back to even now. We felt so at home here and I would book another night here in a heartbeat. It is located in the middle of the countryside with nothing else around except for an old former monastery a few miles away. When the sun sets, you are literally in complete darkness and I have never seen such a spectacular sky before. In fact, I still keep dreaming about it. Night skies speckled with glittering diamonds. I stood outdoors for a good ten minutes just staring up into the sky, marvelling at it.
Check for prices and availability for La Corrrie here.
Maison Des Randonnees – 50 Rue Dromart, 08170 Haybes – Tel: +33 (0)3 24 41 02 75
La Causerie Des Lilas – 30 Rue Roger Renard, 08300 Hierges – Tel: +33 (0)3 24 41 10 51
La Correrie – 08390 Le Mont-Dieu – Tel: +33 (0)3 24 30 48 23
Road Trip Around The Ardennes France Day 3
The final day’s adventures begin with a walk. The Correrie is located close to the Chartreuse of Mont-Dieu, a Carthusian monastery founded in 1130. Today, only a few buildings and some ruins are left from the original site, but those that do remain were renovated and converted into a family home which is what this property now is. Surrounding the house is a beautiful 2km walk starting from the Chartreuse car park which will take you through some magical woodland and plunges you into the meditative atmosphere that inspired the monks to establish their monastery here. We loved slowly ambling our way along the woodland path, looking out for local wildlife and listening to the birdsong. Make sure to keep an eye out for signs for the 1000 year old tree too!
For lunch, head to a lovely restaurant sat right next to a lake a short drive away. The Restaurant Le Panoramic comes with just what its name suggests as a reward too – delicious food with a side of view! We tucked into a hearty burger and I have to admit, it was one of the tastiest I’ve had. I could happily devour another right now! Just a note, these burgers are served pink in the middle, just as the French like them to be – and they taste all the better for it.
After lunch take a 45 minute drive to the nearby town of Charleville-Mézières. I suggest parking in the free car park in the Place Jacques Felix, just off of Quai Jean Charcot. As the birthplace of poet Arthur Rimbaud, possibly the most famous figure to come out of the town, and the home of a famous puppet theatre, there’s plenty of culture and history to get stuck into in Charleville-Mézières but just like the rest of Ardenne, it’s an unspoilt location and you won’t be fighting with other tourists to explore it.
Things To Do In Charleville-Mézières:
- Visit the Rimbaud Museum – Located on the Meuse river running through the town, you will find the Arthur Rimbaud museum. The location for the museum was chosen as Rimbaud once lived across the road from here where he lived with his mother and siblings in an apartment on the first floor. At the museum you will be able to get a glimpse at original manuscripts for some of his poems and letters as well as some of his personal objects. A real must visit if you are a fan!
- Wander the Place Ducale – Charleville and Mézières were once two separate towns. The Place Ducale was the show piece of the town of Charleville. A marvellous square surrounded on all sides by beautiful architecture in the Baroque style. Today the square consists of cafes, restaurants, shops and the tourist information centre.
- Visit La Maison des Ailleurs – Across from the Rimbaud Museum is one of the houses where Arthur lived when he was young. He lived here with his mother and siblings from around 1869-1875. There aren’t any of the original furnishings left in the apartment but there are displays to educate you further on the life and work of Rimbaud. If you’re only having a short visit to the town, I would recommend the museum over the house.
- Post a letter to Rimbaud – Two or three times a week mail is delivered to the yellow postbox inscribed with the poets name outside the entrance to the cemetery where he was buries in 1891. If you are a fan, why not mark your visit and post your own letter!
- Le Grand Marionnetiste – Just off of the Place Winston Churchill, you can find a great display! Every hour the giant puppet comes alive to tell you the medieval tale of the Four Sons of Aymon. Not many people will have the time to spare to listen to one tale every hour but I was told that at 9pm the whole tale is told so if you are spending a night here then I would wait for that and watch it all in one go.
- Visit the Musée de L’Ardenne – Located on the Place Ducal, this museum showcases the history of the Ardennes region. If history is your thing, then this is the museum for you.
- Visit the bi-annual Puppet Festival – Asides from Rimbaud, this is what Charleville-Mézières is famous for. The town is renowned as the puppet capital of the world and has performers from across the globe.
After exploring Charleville-Mézières make your way to your hotel for the night, or should I say chateau. The Domaine du Chateau du Faucon is just a short 15 minute drive away and it as beautiful as you would expect without feeling too ostentatious. Driving down the tree lined drive towards to the gates, you will definitely feel like you are arriving somewhere special – and I assure you, it is quite something. Sprawled across the grounds in all its stately splendour, this chateau doesn’t disappoint.
Inside this 17th century hotel there are just 33 rooms and all are just as traditionally French as you would expect from a historic chateau, with chandeliers, wood panelled walls, antiques, big comfy sofas, grande ornamental fireplaces, gold gilding and a cosy bar and restaurant. The food here is a little pricey but exceedingly good! Before you head off in the morning, make sure to get up early and have a walk around the lake to the back of the chateau. I was treated to a beautiful sight with fog and mist rising off the water, it was a beautiful moment. I would love to return to this place on our next visit to The Ardennes France and it was the icing on the cake for what was a wonderful family trip.
Restaurant Le Panoramic – Lac de Bairon, 08390 Le Chesne – Tel: +33 (0)3 24 54 46 73
Domaine Du Chateau Du Faucon – Route de Vrigne aux Bois, 08350 Donchery – Tel: +33 (0)3 24 41 87 83
What do you think? Have you been convinced to pay The Ardennes France a visit?
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