The French Ardennes is a treasure trove of nature and spectacular green scenery. Situated northeast of Paris the Ardennes region stretches east across Luxembourg and Belgium before continuing on into Germany.
Family Holidays in France
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Ardennes Tourism on a press trip organised by BritMums for the purpose of this family travel guide. All opinions and photos are, as always, entirely my own and remain a copyright of the Curious Pixie.
It’s the perfect paradise for a family adventure with dense lush forests, meandering rivers and picturesque villages. The beautiful natural landscape makes the Ardennes a fantastic place to engage with the great outdoors with cycling, hiking, horse riding, canoeing and ziplining for the daredevils.
And the adventure doesn’t end there, the region has over 2,000 years of history to explore. Wander spooky castles, let your imagination run wild in Charleville-Mézières the world capital of puppetry and admire the 17th century architecture in the grand squares. And when it’s time to relax, sit back with an ice cold craft beer – the region’s tipple of choice.
Here is a guide on How to Visit the French Ardennes with Kids
Cycle the Trans Ardennes Path
The region is one of France’s greenest, so what better way to explore than on two wheels along the award winning Trans Ardennes Cycle Path. In total the full track is 75 miles following the River Meuse from Remilly-Aillicourt all the way to Givet on the Belgium Border.
Surrounded by hills the flat, peaceful bike route is perfect for families and cyclists of all abilities as you can pick up the route from various points. This handy cycle guide will help you plan your itinerary. For an easier ride with younger children you can also hire a bike trailer.
Other options include taking a local train back to the starting point. The trains come with bicycle racks which makes the journey more manageable. For more information on bike hire in the Ardennes click on this brochure.
Catch a Free Puppet Show
Charleville-Mézières is known as the capital of puppetry and hosts the World Festival of Puppet Theatre every two years. Students from all over the world also enrol in the Institut International de la Marionette, a school which offers a three-year degree in all things puppetry.
This year the festival takes in September and will bring together over a 100 puppet companies from almost 30 countries to be part of the event. Founded in 1961 by Jacques Felix it attracts over 150,000 visitors to the regions capital city. With over 500 performances scheduled it’s an unusual and unique festival for families. For more information, visit their website.
Visitors to the city can also watch a daily free puppet show at Le Grand Marionnettiste (The Grand Puppeteer) on the facade of the building next to the Institut International de la Marionette. Here an incredible automaton of a brass character ten metres high comes to life marking the hours from 10am to 9pm.
Created in 1991 by the artist and automaton-maker Jacques Monestier, in twelve short scenes it enacts the local legend of the Four Sons of Aymon. On Saturday you can watch the whole sequence of the 12 paintings at 9.15pm lasting 40 minutes.
Le Grand Marionnettiste | Place Winston Churchill | 08000 Charleville-Mézières | Website
Explore the Ardennes Museum
Housed in a striking building on Place Ducale the local museum Musée de l’Ardenne, blends 17-century architecture with modern glass and steel.
Charting the history of the Ardennes region, you can wander the rooms admiring objects from prehistoric times to the eve of the First World War.
It’s a journey through time for the whole family from sculptures, fresco art from the Romans, vintage guns to jewellery and earthenware.
This is where you can also see the mechanical workings of The Grand Puppeteer on Place Winston Square. Along with a permanent exhibition of antique marionette puppets from various countries and eras.
Musée de l’Ardenne | 31 Place Ducale | 08000 Charleville-Mézières | Website
Paddle down the River Semoy
Head to Hautes-Rivieres in the heart of the Semoy Valley to Nautik Evasion where you can hire one and two person canoes (big enough to also seat a child in the middle), kayaks and stand up paddle boards.
From the peaceful, calm wide river you can admire the landscape from the waters along with the beautiful local flora and fauna. You can either opt for a 2.5km journey which takes about an hour or a 7.5km to even a whole day on the river covering 12km.
Hiring a canoe starts at 10€ per person. Included is a shuttle bus back to your car on site, life jacket, paddle and insurance. This is all provided as long as you can swim!
Canoe Semoy | Rue du Château d’eau | 08800 Hautes-Rivieres | Website
Admire Monthermé from La Roche à Sept Heures
The most spectacular birds eye view of the small town of Monthermé is at the summit of a steep rocky hill overlooking the winding Meuse. Named La Roche à Sept Heures (Rock at Seven Hours), according to some at seven o’clock, the sunlight reflecting from the rock rich in quartz gives it a very visible brightness.
For the adventurous there are many different marked hikes to the the top or if you’re short on time drive up to the nearby car park and walk up a small, rocky hill towards breathtaking panoramic views.
La Roche à Sept Heures | 08800 Monthermé | Website
Stay in a Château
One thing you can’t miss in the nearby historical city of Sedan is Château Fort de Sedan. Only a 25 minute drive from Charleville-Mézières and also on the Trans Ardennes cycle route it’s a sight to behold.
The imposing medieval castle built almost six centuries ago in 1424 towers over the city. Built by the Earl of La Mark it has been extended over time. Today it is the largest fortress in Europe.
The guided trail within the castle helps you relive the Middle ages, steering you around the seven floors, through underground tunnels, up ancient towers and across bastions and ramparts. A great mini adventure for all the family.
And if that wasn’t enough you can also spend a night at the castle. The comfortable rooms offer views of the castle courtyard. A family mezzanine suite is also available with access to the castle’s ramparts.
Château Fort de Sedan| Cour du Château | 08200 Sedan | Website
Zip Line Across the River Meuse
For the thrill seekers and older kids in heart of the Ardennes countryside you can try some adrenaline pumping activities at Terraltitude in Fumay.
Home to the longest zip wire in Northern France at a whopping 1.2km. Children 12 years and older can fly solo and younger can go tandem with an adult. Onced geared up your launched from a platform 110m above the River Meuse and can accelerate up to 100km per hour.
Darting over the river you enter a canyon of trees before abruptly landing on terrafirma. It has to be the most exhilarating yet serene way to cross a river!
Terralitude | 77 Rue J Baptiste Clément | 08170 Fumay | Website
Relax on a Sandy Shore
Questioning your geography? Yes, the Ardennes region is landlocked. And yes, it has beaches! Lac des Vieilles Forges is nestled in the Ardennes forest, just 200m from a sandy lakeside beach. Families flock to this oasis and campsite to spend sunny summery days where you can enjoy rowing, canoeing, fishing, swimming and sailing.
In the summer the main square in Charleville-Mézières, Place Ducale is transformed into Ducale Beach where you can relax or play volleyball, pétanque and mini golf.
Le Lac Des Vieilles Forges | Rue du Lac |08500 Les Mazures | Website
Savor a Galette à Suc
An Ardennais speciality is galette à suc. Yes that’s right – sugar pie to you and I. The traditional sweet treat is a big, round extremely soft cake with a texture similar to a doughnut and sprinkled with a thick layer of sugar.
Cut in slices, it can be eaten anytime during the day, accompanied if you want by a cup of coffee tea or a hot chocolate! It’s a norm on the hotel breakfast buffet (be warned), my favourite slice was at Maison Billard a pretty patisserie and coffee shop in Charleville-Mézières.
Maison Billard | 4 Rue de l ‘Eglise | 08000 Charleville-Mézières | Website
Pen a note to Arthur Rimbaud
The most famous figure to come from Charleville-Mézières is the 19th-Century poet Arthur Rimbaud. With a writing career which only spanned five years, most of his greatest works were penned in his birth town. Musée Rimbaud is located in an old windmill opposite the house and tells the story of his short life and literary legacy.
Something which may entice youngs minds is the gold painted metal box with his portrait in a cemetery where he is buried. To this day over 130 years after his death the poet still receives fan mail from all over the world.
Musée Rimbaud | Quai Arthur Rimbaud |08000 Charleville-Mézières | Website
Drink and Feast at an Artisanal Brewery
Not what you’d expect from a place a stepping stone from Champagne, but the Ardennes is well known for its craft beer. If you’re a fan of the golden nectar it’s worth taking time out to visit one of the successful microbreweries in the region.
Located in the town of Launois-sur-Vence, Ardwen produces 5,500 hectolitres of award winning beers. Book yourself on a tour to learn more about the history and brewing process. Read about it here on Pigeon Pair and Me.
Families may prefer to taste the beers with a hearty lunch at the adjoining restaurant. The small, traditional French menu certainly pulls in the locals. If you’re veggie call in advance and they’ll rustle up a special plate of deliciousness.
Ardwen | 20 Avenue Roger Ponsat | 08430 Launois Sur Vence | Website
Where to stay
The main city of Charleville-Mézières is a great base. We stayed at 4-star Le Dormeur du Val located moments from the train station and only a
The former printing works is named after one of Rimbaud’s poems and channels a modern industrial chic design with pops of colour. The 17-bed hotel has a unique design for each room and offers a bar and relaxing space with a sauna. Interconnecting rooms are available for families. There is no restaurant but breakfast is included in your stay.Click for availability at Le Dormeur du Val
Le Dormeur du Val | 32 bis Rue de la Gravière | 08000 Charleville-Mézières | Website
How to Get to the French Ardennes
The French Ardennes is within easy reach of the UK and very well connected – two hours from Paris and 45 minutes from Reims. Inbound we travelled from London St Pancras to Lille and changed onto a direct train to to Charleville-Mézières. Outbound we boarded the train at Reims to Paris Est. Followed by a seven minute walk to Paris Gare du Nord back to London. Travel time each way was around five hours.
If you chose to fly, the closest airports are Paris, Luxembourg or Brussels. The Ardennes also has great motorway connections, from Calais it’s around a 3.5 hour drive and has good routes from Paris, Belgium and the Netherlands.
For more information about things to do in the Ardennes, visit the Ardennes Tourism website.
Have you ever been to the Ardennes? Love to know your favourite part? Let me know in the comments box below.
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