Champagne & the Wild Ardennes Barge Cruise

Rethel to Charleville-Mezieres (Cruise runs Saturday to Friday)

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

The canal is a tad overgrown, MOST of the way!You'll be joining Barge Nilaya at our mooring in the fabulous City of Reims, famed throughout the world for its involvement in the Champagne industry! It is highly likely that you'll visit the 'odd' Champagne cave in town, possibly even forcing yourselves to drink yet more 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 kick start 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 arriving a day or so earlier to fully appreciate all the city has to offer, maybe booking a hotel in town?

Berry-au-BacHaving consumed a hearty continental breakfast, on Sunday morning we'll be steaming out of Reims following the 'Canal de l'Aisne a la Marne' through to the important canal junction with the 'Canal des Ardennes' at Berry-au-Bac. In complete contrast to the civilisation of Reims, the canal quickly leaves the old industry and decaying wharves as we skirt the Champagne cereal plains. The stunning Canal des Ardennes, which is in places, a little like you might imagine the Amazon to be, with foliage that has utterly overtaken the waterway's original boundaries. Right through to Pont-a-Bar the canal is predominantly rural from beginning to end and wild remote moorings the norm if we so choose, or we can stop at some of the small towns and villages we encounter en-route. Tonight we'll moor at the beautifully manicured rural mooring provided and maintained by the villagers of the small hamlet of Variscourt. The small town of Guignicourt lies a couple of kilometres bike ride from the mooring. Variscourt is a wonderful place to relax.

On Monday we'll cruise onward to Asfeld. You can take a walk to see the villages extraordinary seventeenth century brick built baroque church while I prepare lunch which if weather permits, we'll enjoy outside on deck. In the afternoon we are cruising through some particularly wonderful overgrown stretches of canal and have a very good chance of spotting bird life including the usually elusive Kingfisher. Our destination today is the Town of 'Rethel', where you might choose to dine ashore, possibly enjoying some of the town's famous white sausages known as 'Boudin Blanc de Rethel'. There is a great restaurant in town which specialises in specialties of the region.

Tuesday sees us cruise through to Attigny for lunch before beginning to climb through one of the highlights of this navigation, the Montgon flight of 27 ecluses (locks) that raise Barge Nilaya slowly between the towns of Attigny and Le-Chesne.  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. One thing you'll notice as we climb through the ecluses it that virtually every one has its derelict lock-keepers cottage. Last autumn ago when I passed through this flight, the overgrown gardens were so bursting with fruit that it would have been a crime not to go 'scrumping'. As a result, we feasted on apple and fruit pies for weeks and weeks afterward. I aim to break the flight in two by mooring half way up at the small village of Neuville-Day in order to enjoy a well earned drink and possibly even dinner at a pleasant little hostelry there. I enjoyed several beers there two years ago and was delighted when the owner delivered fresh baguettes and his 90 year old mother to Barge Nilaya in the morning. I'd forgotten that the previous night I'd promised her a ride on Barge Nilaya! 

On Wednesday we'll climb the balance of locks and pass by the small town of 'Le Chesne' to a very rural place somewhere near the village of Malmy. 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! 

On Thursday we pass through the short 'St. Aignan' tunnel, arriving in Pont-a-Bar for lunch. Shortly after, we'll join the Canal de l'Est taking us right into the heart of Charleville-Mezieres. Charleville is a pleasant town laid out in the 17th century around the Place Ducale, supposedly 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 the International Marionette institute. The institute's building has an hourly automaton that recites the local legend of the Four Aymon brothers or Quatre Fils Aymon as it is known locally. It's well worth seeing. Charleville offers some excellent dining opportunities plus has 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! 

You'll be leaving Barge Nilaya after breakfast on Friday morning. Trains from Charleville-Mezieres to Paris take about ninety minutes and from Paris to Reims around 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.