To the northeast of Reims, the scenery of the Ardennes region along the Meuse valley knocks spots off any landscape in Champagne. Most of the hills lie over the border in Belgium, but there’s enough of interest on the French side to make it well worth exploring.
In war after war, the people of the Ardennes have been engaged in protracted last-ditch battles down the valley of the Meuse, which, once lost, gave invading armies a clear path to Paris. The rugged, hilly terrain and deep forests (frightening even to Julius Caesar’s legionnaires) helped World War II Resistance fighters, but during peacetime life here has never been easy. The land is unsuitable for crops, and the slate and ironworks, the main source of employment during the nineteenth century, closed in the 1980s. The only major investment in the region has been a nuclear power station, to which locals responded by etching “Nuke the Élysée!” high on a half-cut cliff of slate just downstream. This said, tourism, the main growth industry, is developing apace – there are walking and boating possibilities, plus good train connections – though the isolated atmosphere of this region still lingers.