Joinville perches 188m above the River Marne, its Renaissance architecture surrounded by a green landscape of relaxing charm. Great for forest walks, trout fishing along the river and with good mooring facilities.
The town’s sixteenth and seventeenth century houses lure you down narrow streets offering mysterious glimpses of Italianate courtyards. First stop should be the sixteenth century Chateau du Grand Jardin.
It was built for entertaining by the first Duke of Guise, head of France’s premier Catholic family and a prime player in the country’s religious wars. Recently restored by the present owners, the General Council of Haute-Marne, the castle has become an exhibition and cultural centre.
The romantic parklands and formal gardens, including rare fruit trees, medicinal plants and glorious flower beds, rank amongst the finest historic Renaissance gardens in France.
Open each day high season and weekends in winter. The gardens are especially lovely in May and there’s son et lumiere in summer. See www.legrandjardin.com in French for times.
Fine buildings worth a visit are the sixteenth century church of Notre-Dame and Chapel of Sainte-Anne where you can admire 2 magnificent glasses made by champion glass-blowers.
For a glimpse into the town’s historic past, a maquette of Joinville as it was in 1650 is on display in the Musee de l’Auditoire alongside 80 models wearing costumes from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries.
Set above the meeting of the Marne and Suize rivers, one of the most striking features of this capital of Haute-Marne is its 52m high viaduct built in the mid-nineteenth century to connect the railway to the upper town.
Construction of the 50 arches took 2,500 workers just 15 months, toiling day and night. A stroll along the viaduct’s 600m offers great views over the Suize Valley. The present law courts and Chaumont’s eleventh century Tour Hautefeuille keep were once the residence of the Counts of Champagne. A museum at the base of the tower is devoted to art and history and includes ninth century bronze armour, religious sculptures and a section on Chaumont’s past glove making industry.
There’s much of architectural interest within the town’s sixteenth century ramparts. Renaissance houses present unusual towers protecting their spiral staircases, the thirteenth century Basilique St-Jean has fine later balconies, stairways and sculptures and seventeenth century Chapelle des Jesuites displays a particular Jesuit style. Take a trip to Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises close by to visit the memorial to Charles de Gaulle at La Boisserie.
Hilltop Langres is sometimes called the ‘Carcassonne of the North’. Its impressively intact fortifications, first developed by the Romans, contain 12 towers and 7 gateways including the remarkable Porte des Moulins.
Walk the 3.5km encircling ramparts for breathtaking views of the Lac de la Liez, Marne Valley and wooded hillsides of the Langres Plateau. Non-walkers can see these sights from a little tourist train.
Within the walls, fine buildings dating from the second century through to the Middle Ages and Renaissance, ensure Langres’ richly deserved label of ‘town of art and history’. Take a step back in time along narrow streets - much less crowded in high season than southern Carcassonne.
Of interest are the statue of Langres-born eighteenth century philosopher Denis Diderot of encyclopedia fame, twelfth century Cathedrale St-Mammes and beautiful Hotel du Breuil de St-Germain. The Art and History Museum, in a modern building in the heart of the old town, has exhibits ranging from a second century Baccus mosaic to Art Deco faience china and Langres cutlery.
Langres also gives its name to an AOC protected cow’s cheese which fittingly has its rind washed in champagne!
Bourbonne-les-Bains officially became a spa town when France’s first military spa hospital was built here in 1730 to treat wounds and fractures.
The waters have been popular since Gallo-Roman times and remains of the original baths are at Parc des Thermes. In fact, the town was named after Borvo the god of hot springs. Three hot springs containing mineral waters said to have a beneficial effect on rheumatism, arthritis and respiratory complaints bubble up from the rocks at 66°C and thermal treatments include hydro-massage and mud baths.
Within walking distance of the treatment centre are a casino, castle which is now the town hall and Bourbonne’s twelfth century church with a fine statue of the Madonna and child.
A museum in the old fort contains Gallo-Roman artefacts plus a large collection of stuffed birds, many of which are now extinct. Children will probably prefer the live birds at the Bannie Animal Park aviary. Enjoy a picnic, and watch deer and wild boar roam freely about this protected site.
Champagne-Ardennes’ only spa makes a good base for walking and riding in the forests and beautiful countryside which surrounds the town and there’s good fishing in nearby lakes and rivers. Visit the source of the River Meuse at Pouilly-en-Bassigny and follow part of the Meuse Springs cycle route.
Contact Bourbonne-les-Bains Tourist Office for spa treatment details and bookings, and town tours tel: (00 33) 3 25 90 01 71