A drive away using our Sussex ferry - this holiday destination's 'an absolute gem'
A TRIP across the Channel on our fantastic ferry crossing from Newhaven opens up a world of opportunity and we found a part of France that would surprise us in many wonderful ways.
The French Ardennes, a drive away from Dieppe, Calais or Dunkirk, is a great place to enjoy an active holiday, with excellent culture, rural beauty and an amazing city that was easy to dip in and out of. It had everything.
It was one of those places where I thought, ‘why did I not know about this before’. Everywhere in the French Ardennes is picturesque. I spent the first couple of days wanting to photograph everything and then I just relaxed and enjoyed the views.
You can spend your whole time there enjoying its forests and beautiful river, the Meuse, which winds up through the Parc Naturel towards Belgium.
We hired bikes from a lovely couple who run a hire shop and cafe on the river at the picturesque Bogny-sur-Meuse.
We headed north towards Montherme, the stunning “gem of the Ardennes” with a panoramic viewpoint across the forest and river. We headed onwards though, under the dappled sunlight of the trees along the cycle path that runs all the way up the riverside, stopping at more cafes and drinking in the absolutely stunning views. It’s nice and flat so even children can clock up the kilometres, a good 13km each way in our case, at a relaxed speed. We could’ve spent every day from then on, on two wheels, it was so much fun. The Trans-Ardennes cycle path along the river Meuse is 130km long from Givet to Mouzon, onfoot, by bike, horse or even roller skates. The Trans-Ardennes route is also one of the links in the international Meuse Cycle Route on the Eurovelo No. 19 route, following the river from its source in the Haute-Marne region to its mouth in Rotterdam, more than 1,000km.
You can also ride up the Meuse river in the Ardennes by car or train.
On another day we took a ride on a boat further up the Meuse, into Belgium and back. The further into the Ardennes we went, the more away from it all we felt. Enjoying a drink and even a snooze with the water lapping against the side of the boat, barely a soul to be seen at times. Idyllic.
But the Ardennes has Charlevilles Mezieres, so you can enjoy a bit of city life too. It’s a smaller city, easy to get in and out of, without a traffic jam in sight, even in high summer, when we were there. It felt like a small Paris, particularly the central square, the 17th century Place Ducale. This is probably because architect Clément Métezeau was the brother of Louis who designed the Place des Vosges in the capital.
Cafes around the archways were the perfect place to grab a coffee and enjoy the shade away from the glorious sunshine. Charleville is internationally renowned for its biennial World Puppet Theatre Festival, which you can get a taste of at a small show each day.
We walked in the footsteps of the poet Arthur Rimbaud, passing his home, visiting the riverside museum and even seeing the cemetery where he was buried, and where they have erected a postbox so that you can leave him a letter. I think he’ll enjoy my little ode to Charleville that I left him.
His poetry, and murals inspired by Rimbaud, are emblazoned across walls around this beautiful city, which even managed to be peaceful on a weekend that it hosted the Cabaret Verte music festival, with Madness and Liam Gallagher there. This year they have Calvin Harris, The Chemical Brothers and Yungblud.
If you like a castle then you are in luck here as Sedan is the largest medieval castle in Europe. It’s not an old ruin either. You can walk in and out of the buildings, much of it made up to show you how feasts and the like would have been held there. The pictures even move, Harry Potter style.
We got to fire the giant Trebuchet, the huge catapult designed by Leonardo Da Vinci, which you wind up and fire, destroying a model castle. Absolutely great fun.
On another day we found the Fantasticable zip-Wire a huge thrill, more than a kilometre, 110 metres across, above the Meuse, hung in mid air, lying forwards as you speed across. Not for the faint hearted.
On the other end of the scale was undoubtedly another absolute gem of the French Ardennes.
Dumaine De Vendresse is the site of a 19th century metalworkers blast furnace. They have created an illuminated ironworks “furnace” that you walk around and enjoy a sound and light show as you learn about how it used to work. It is really spectacular. So after that exciting show we went on to discover the site’s 32 aquariums where you can touch and feed the fish, and meet Bébert the huge 42 year old sturgeon.
Probably the most fun at Vendresse was that they also have a fishing area next to it, where you can hire rods. The fish are farmed and easy to catch, my son caught two trout, which were lovely on the barbecue later.
The Ardennes may be miles from the sea but we even managed an afternoon at the “beach” at the Lac Des Vieilles Forges, which has more attractions nearby, including the cute Elfy Park.
Our abiding memory of the French Ardennes is its natural beauty, which we were lucky to enjoy right on our doorstep at our holiday accommodation at Les Gîtes des Prés at Haudrecy, a village near Charleville Mezieres, where we even enjoyed horse and carriage rides along former railway lines, seeing nesting storks and all sorts of wildlife. The French Ardennes is a spectacular rural idyll with a beautiful city nestled in it. Pure joy.
Arron Hendy was a guest of Ardennes Tourism, see www.ardennes.com, staying at Les Gîtes des Prés, Haudrecy, www.ardennes-gites.fr/le-f2/
Newhaven to Dieppe
DFDS offers up to three sailings per day on its Newhaven to Dieppe route, with crossings taking four hours. Fares start from £80 each way for a car and two people.
Facilities onboard the ship include a bar, restaurant, and a duty-free shop with a range of perfumes, cosmetics and electronics at up to 50 per cent off UK high-street prices. A quiet lounge with reclining seats is available to book and for extra privacy customers can book a cabin from £24 each way.
Alternatively you can choose the routes from Dover to Calais or Dunkirk.
DFDS offers up to 30 crossings per day on its Dover to Calais service, and 24 to Dunkirk. Fares start from £78 each way for a car and four people.
Upgrade your ticket to include access to the exclusive Premium Lounge with complimentary hot and cold drinks and snacks from £12 per person. Add Priority Boarding to be one of the first to board and disembark the ferry from £10 per car each way.
Take your whole family on holiday and bring your furry friend for £15 per pet each way. A maximum of five pets can travel per car and your pet must remain secured inside your vehicle during your journey. You can arrange to visit your pet during the crossing if accompanied by a crew member. For more information about taking your pet abroad visit https://www.gov.uk/taking-your-pet-abroad.
Book at www.dfds.com.