Champagne Ardenne Geography and Natural Beauty
Foret d’Orient Regional Nature Park
The 70,000 hectare Foret d’Orient park in the department of Aube was one of the first 5 Regional Nature parks created in France. Bordered east and west by chalk hills, its massive forests are home to deer and eagles. Hidden at the heart of Foret d’Orient, 3 vast man-made lakes are a favourite stopping place for migrating cranes, wild geese and rare black storks and osprey.
Temple Lake is a wild haven enjoyed mainly by fishermen, while Amance Lake is the place for water skiing and boat racing. Orient Lake offers everything a watersports enthusiast could wish for, from sailing and windsurfing to fishing and swimming.
In meadow wetlands and marshes surrounded by forest rare gentian and perennial sow thistle grow alongside ponds displaying water lilies.
Walk and cycle themed trails or ride the 15km sign-posted horse riding circuit. Local equestrian schools also give accompanied outings.
Contact the park’s visitor centre between Gerandot and Mesnil-St-Pere, tel: (00 33) 3 25 43 38 88 or tourist information offices for more information on exhibitions and weekly events in the tourist season, including guided walks along the forest trails and lakeshores.
Ardennes Forest and River Meuse
The peaceful pursuits of walking, cycling and boating have changed the craggy hills and dense forests of the Ardennes, straddling the Belgian border, from a centuries old battleground to a centre for peaceful green tourism.
In Roman times, the much larger forest took its name from the pagan goddess Arduinna. It is said ‘there is a legend hidden under every stone’. Many are linked to good and evil. Mysterious rock formations are plentiful like the ‘Devil’s Castle’ at Roc-la-Tour near Montherme.
The twin towns of Charlesville-Mezieres make a good base. Look for the puppeteer clock telling the tale of the four Sons of Aymon and visit the Musee Ardennes in Charleville’s old watermill. Begin explorations with a cruise from Charlesville quay along the River Meuse, bordered by dramatic gorges and high wooded cliffs. At Laifour, legend has it unfaithful wives were transformed into giant river rocks.
The whole family will enjoy a visit to the Musee de la Foret set in woodland near Renwez (open daily). Outside, large wooden characters bring to life the ancient crafts and you’ll find refreshments and a picnic area.
Cycle or walk part of the Trans-Ardennes green path converted from the River Meuse towpath, stretching 85km from Charlesville-Mezieres to Givet. The GR12 long distance hiking trail (signed in red and white) crosses the forest. Those walking forest paths should be aware this is an area popular with hunters so watch for ‘chasse’ signs.
Charlesville-Mezieres Tourist Office has information on hiking, canoeing, cycling, walking and riding, tel: (00 33) 3 24 55 69 90. Bikes can be hired at towns like Montherme, Sedan and Givet. Some hire boats also include bikes.