A visit to the battlefields
Belle France director, Rod Wheat, and his wife Caroline have just returned from a few days in Picardy completing our new Great War Walk. Here is Rod’s account of their holiday.
We began our holiday at the wonderful chambre d’hôte at Chéret. M and Mme Simonot are delightful hosts, full of stories based on their 25 years experience of running a quality B&B. Our evening meal here was taken at the excellent La Petite Campagne restaurant, a very short stroll from the B&B.
Walking throughout the holiday is easy going. Distances are easily manageable and there are a combination of quiet lanes, woodland trails and well marked footpaths. It’s pretty much impossible to get lost!
Our second hotel was the Auberge de Vauclair, a newly renovated Logis with a decidedly quirky edge. The bedrooms are all themed – we stayed in ‘Zen’ – with a good night’s sleep guaranteed. The hotel owner, Manuel, is also the chef and food is his passion. Needless to say we weren’t disappointed!
Our day walk here started with a delightful stroll through woods to the evocative ruins of the Cistercian Abbaye de Vauclair. Although suffering during the Revolution, the abbey survived relatively intact until the Great War. It’s well worth exploration, and there's a lovely medicinal herb garden at the back.
Then on to the Caverne du Dragon. We had an English language guided tour at the Caverne, which I can highly recommend. The site, an old quarry, has been imaginatively brought back to life with multimedia presentations and is a fitting testament to the intense fighting here during the Nivelle Offensive of 1917.
From there, we strode east along the Chemin des Dames, retreading the footsteps of Great War soldiers, and their Napoleonic counterparts, a century previously.
We soon reached the Plateau de Californie – a pivotal site during the fighting and very close to the site of the lost village of Craonne – now an arboretum, with just its ancient cemetery remaining. It’s a poignant spot and multi-lingual information panels explain the background to the fighting here, and evoke life before the War.
Then it’s a woodland walk back to Vauclair, with plenty of evidence of shell craters and trenches. The following day, we walked to Chamouille on the far side of the pretty Lac d’Ailette and then on to the fascinating city of Laon.
All in all, a classic Belle France holiday - great accommodation, wonderful French food and wine and consistently interesting walking, and what’s more, plenty of bright sunshine every day!