The Paris Skyline
Another of the new ‘mega-regions’, Grand Est takes in, from west to east, Champagne, Lorraine and Alsace.
This includes the champagne fields between Reims and Epernay, de Gaulle’s home at Colombey-Les-Deux-Eglises, the great medieval cathedrals of Reims (left), Troyes, Metz and Strasbourg, the Verdun & Argonne battlefields of World War I, the Vosges Mountains, Maginot Line forts near the German border, and the Surrender Room where German forces surrendered at Eisenhower’s HQ in May 1945 (in Reims).
A stunning mix of open, rolling countryside, huge forests, great cities, and some off-the-beaten track villages.
Here are, for illustration, two suggested itineraries - do get in touch to discuss a tailor-made programme for your group:
Enjoy the cities of Reims, Metz, Nancy and Strasbourg. Drive the champagne fields, the Argonne Forest, and the Vosges Mountains. Walk in the traces of three wars - 1870, 1914-18 and 1939-45.
Start at a Reims hotel - or at the station at 8.44 a.m. (meeting the 7.58 a.m. out of Paris Gare de l’Est: 46 minute ride on TGV): walking tour taking in the multi-faceted history of this city, the coronation site for most French Kings. A relaxed walk, with stops for coffee and a snack lunch, we’ll go inside the Cathedral - stunning west front from the 1200’s with multiple carved figures; excellent 20th and 21st century stained glass, including some by Chagall.
We’ll also see the Carnegie Library, part of the post-World War I rebuilding of the city (much of it done with private American funds), and end with the Surrender Room - part of Eisenhower’s 1945 Forward HQ; the preserved Map Room is where the Germans surrendered on 7 May 1945.
Drive 1 hour 20 minutes mid-afternoon to the Argonne Forest in Lorraine, leaving Reims via a short detour into the champagne fields. In the Argonne we’ll stop to get a taste of the forest, and see crater-fields from World War I, before checking in to our overnight hotel in the Argonne village of Vienne-le-Chateau.
The West Front of Reims Cathedral
The Argonne Forest
French trenches near St Mihiel
Drive 1 hour 10 minutes to St Mihiel where, after coffee, we’ll walk in preserved German and French trenches from 1914-18, deep in the forest. Drive 50 minutes (taking in a snack lunch along the way) to the village of Gravelotte where the Prussians won a significant victory over the French in 1870. The war ended with the declaration of a united Germany, and the annexation of half of Lorraine and all of Alsace; the new French-German border ran just outside the village. See the Prussian memorial dedicated by Kaiser Wilhelm II and visit the excellent modern (2004) Museum of the Franco-Prussian War & the Annexation, the only museum to tell the story of life in the area as part of Germany from 1871 to 1918, when it became French again.
20 minutes to Metz, going via a brief stop at the house of Robert Schuman, French Foreign Minister in the early 1950’s: he proposed the establishment of the European Coal & Steel Community. Schuman, born in 1886, lived in the area when it was German, then French.
In Metz we’ll see some of the civic buildings from Kaiser Wilhelm II’s time, then check into our hotel opposite the Cathedral. We’ll take a look inside the Cathedral; it has the most stained glass of any cathedral in France, and a biblical statue in the 20th century West Porch based on Kaiser Wilhelm II!.
45 minute drive to Nancy for coffee and a short walking tour in the historic centre, with fine 18th-century buildings and squares. From here we’ll drive 1 hour 30 minutes (incl. a lunch stop) up into the Vosges Mountains, crossing from Lorraine to Alsace. We’ll make a visit in the Vosges to the European Centre of Deported Resistance Members in the village of Struthof - on the preserved site of the former Natzweiler concentration camp. This was the only concentration camp in France (Alsace being reincorporated into Germany from 1940-45). A 50-minute drive at the end of the afternoon takes us out of the mountains, through the Alsace vineyards to Strasbourg for our final night.
A guided city walking tour for the first half of the morning, through the half-timbered houses and over the waterways of the Petite France quarter, and including time in the great Gothic cathedral. Free time including lunch, then meet up at 2.15 p.m. to go to the suburbs for a guided visit of the Palais d’Europe, where the European Council and the European Parliament meet. Back into the city for your train back to Paris - the 4.58 p.m. TGV will get you back into Paris at 6.50 p.m.
Tour the champagne fields. Visit the cathedrals of Reims, Troyes and Châlons-en-Champagne. Step inside Eisenhower’s 1945 HQ and the home of Charles de Gaulle.
Start Reims - at a hotel, or at the station at 8.44 a.m. (meeting the 7.58 a.m. out of Gare de l’Est: 46 minute ride on TGV): walking tour taking in the multi-faceted history of this city, the coronation site for most French Kings.
A relaxed walk, with stops for coffee and a snack lunch, we’ll go inside the Cathedral - stunning west front from the 1200’s with multiple carved figures; excellent 20th and 21st century stained glass, including some by Chagall. We’ll see the Carnegie Library, part of the post-World War I rebuilding of the city (much of it done with private American funds), and the Surrender Room - part of Eisenhower’s 1945 Forward HQ; the preserved Map Room is where the Germans surrendered on 7 May 1945.
Free time for the museums (Beaux Arts; car museum), other sites (Palais de Tau; Basilique de St Remi), and/or the shops. Night in Reims.
We start with a 90 minute drive south-east to the Lac du Der-Chantecoq, for a coffee stop by the largest lake in France. Then it’s just 40 minutes - small villages, open landscapes, forests - to Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, the village in the quiet open spaces of south-eastern Champagne where General de Gaulle had his home. 3 hours here: time for lunch, the huge Cross of Lorraine memorial and the adjacent modern museum, and time inside his private home. The gravesite in the churchyard is also open to the public.
1 hour drive into Troyes, site of one of the huge annual medieval fairs, famous today for its fine collection of half-timbered buildings. Check-in to our hotel, then a late afternoon short guided walk including the cathedral and the Church of St Jean, where Henry V of England was married to Princess Catherine of France in 1420. We’ll find out just what that - and the accompanying Treaty of Troyes - was all about.
We’ll drive 1 hour north to Châlons-en-Champagne for a coffee stop and a short visit to its Gothic cathedral, plus (if available) a visit to underground medieval town cellars. On 25 minutes to the champagne fields around Epernay: lunch stop in the town; guided visit of the Mercier cellars.
30 minutes back to Reims via viewpoints in the champagne fields. TGV back to Paris at 5.15 p.m. TGV (into Paris 6.00 p.m.)
This tour could be adapted to start/finish at a Paris hotel if the tour involves a minibus/coach - it is an approximately 2 hr drive to/from our first & last sites. It is also 2 hours from Lille, making a link to Eurostar travel from the UK possible: evening Eurostar & night in Lille before the tour. Final day: get 8.30 p.m. Eurostar from Lille, into London 9.03 p.m. British time.
De Gaulle’s home at Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises
Champagne fields near Epernay
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Website design by Joseph Thomson
Last updated December 2017
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