The Wild Ardennes to Champagne Barge Cruise

The Wild Ardennes to Champagne Barge Cruise - Print ItineraryCharleville-Mezieres to Reims (Cruise runs Saturday to Friday)

Highlights: Charleville-Mezieres Place Ducale - 27 Locks of the Montgon Flight - Intensely rural scenery - The Champagne Capital of Reims

Let the world glide romantically byYou'll join the barge at her mooring in Charleville-Mezieres. It's a pleasant little town laid out in the 17th century around the Place Ducale, one of the most beautiful Louis XIII style squares in France. It's home to a museum celebrating the life and works of French poet Arthur Rimbaud as well as home to the International Marionette institute. The institutes building has an hourly automaton that recites the local legend of the Four Aymon brothers or Quatre Fils Aymon as it is known locally. I normally cook your welcome aboard dinner on the first evening aboard, but because some of our moorings are very rural this week, I thought I'd give you the chance to dine out in the town. Charleville offers some excellent dining opportunities plus a great bar in the hold of a cavernous French Freycinet (Barge). If you fancy something light with a glass of beer or wine, why not try the 'tarte-flambe'. It's a bit like a pizza with cheese, onion and bacon. Very tasty!

We'll be steaming out of Charleville on Sunday morning having consumed a hearty continental breakfast. In complete contrast to the civilisation of Charleville, the stunning Canal des Ardennes is a little like I would imagine the Amazon to be in places, with foliage that has utterly overtaken the waterway's original boundaries. From the Canal de l'Est junction with the Canal des Ardennes at Pont-a-Bar, the canal is predominantly rural from beginning to end and wild remote moorings are the norm through to Variscourt. After cruising through the short 'St. Aignan' tunnel, I hope to moor somewhere near the village of Malmy this evening. It's a wild bank area with two tiny hamlets nearby. Tonight, we'll either be self catering aboard or you might choose to walk a couple of kilometres to a pleasant restaurant in the neighbouring village. If you are game for more exercise, you might choose to head off for a long walk across the fields to the 13th Century church and 16th Century ruined Chateau' at 'la Cassine', maybe returning via 'Vendresse' with its ruined chateau and monastery. It'll build up your appetite nicely! 

Being in the middle of nowhere, on Monday we'll head off early towards the small town of 'Le Chesne' and prepare for another highlight of this navigation, the Montgon flight of 27 ecluses (locks) that drop the barge slowly between the towns of Le-Chesne  and Attigny. It's a lot of hard work for the crew, taking up to seven hours to cover what is little more than nine kilometres in distance. We aim to break that in two by mooring half way down at the small village of Neuville-Day in order to enjoy a well earned drink and possibly even dinner at a pleasant little hostelry. I enjoyed several beers there in 2004-2012 and was delighted when the owner delivered fresh baguettes and his 90 year old mother to the barge in the morning. I'd forgotten that the previous night I'd promised her a ride on the barge! 

One thing you will notice as we drop through the ecluses it that every one has its derelict lock-keepers cottage. Two autumns ago, when I passed through this flight, the overgrown gardens trees were so bursting with fruit it would have been a crime not to go 'scrumping'. As a result, we feasted on apple pie for weeks and weeks afterward! 

On Tuesday, having descended through the rest of the flight, we'll stop for lunch in the small town of Attigny before cruising on to tonight's destination, the larger regional centre of 'Rethel'. It's a great place to dine ashore and a local restaurant there specialises in regional cuisine such as the town's famous white sausages known as 'Boudin Blanc de Rethel' 

Some of the overgrown tree lined reaches cruised on Wednesday are quite breathtaking and we have a very good chance of spotting bird life including the usually elusive Kingfisher. If there's space at Asfeld's quay, I'll moor for lunch and allow you time to visit the villages extraordinary seventeenth century brick built baroque church before moving on to the beautifully manicured rural mooring provided and maintained by the villagers in the small hamlet of Variscourt. It's another wonderful spot to relax, read a book or get the BBQ out yet again. The small town of Guignicourt lies a couple of kilometres bike ride away along the tow path.

On Thursday morning, we turn off the Canal des Ardennes and head south down the 'Canal de l'Aisne a la Marne' to our mooring in the fabulous City of Reims, famed throughout the world for its involvement in the Champagne industry! It is highly likely that we'll visit the 'odd' Champagne cave in town, possibly even forcing ourselves to drink the odd glass of the celebrated liquid? The champagne houses of GH Mumm, Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot and Piper-Heidsieck offer guided tours and degustations. 

There is so much to see and do here. Reims' Notre- Dame Cathedral is spectacular with a facade containing some 2300 statues! It's 38 metre high nave has borne witness to the coronation of French Kings from Clovis in 498 AD until Charles X in 1825. It contains no less than two UNESCO world heritage monuments, the stunning 'Palais du Tau' and interior of the 'Basilique St. Remi'. I have details of a self guided 2 hour walking tour if you are interested in following it. Reims is a wonderful city to explore at your leisure and you might decide that tonight's the night to round your week and splash out on a meal out in one of Reims' very chic and fashionable restaurants. 'Foch' and 'Le Millenaire' are but two of Reims three fork Michelin rated establishments. I would recommend that you consider staying a day or so longer to fully appreciate all the city has to offer, maybe booking a hotel in town?

On Friday morning, you are due to depart the barge after breakfast. Trains from Paris to Charleville-Mezieres take about 90 minutes and from Reims to Paris, about an hour.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Unforeseen circumstances sometimes affect our cruising schedule. These can include, but are not limited to: illness, floods, weather, canal closures, canal maintenance, lack of moorings, bureaucracy, strikes, civil disturbance, acts of god, the engine, and whims and fancies of both skipper, guests and crew. All of these things might cause last minute changes to the above and cruise routes. Although rare, we reserve the right to alter any and all routes accordingly. Flexibility is the name of the game and any such changes cannot be considered grounds for cancellation of the cruise.

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