Visit the French Ardennes: slow travel in France
Looking for a scenic and charming trip in France? Have you thought about the French Ardennes? It’s the perfect destination for slow travel filled with local and authentic experiences. You will be enchanted by the Ardennes in France.
Our family enjoyed exploring this beautiful area, filled with rolling hills, lush forests, and picturesque villages. There are plenty of things to see and do here, so enjoy!
In this article, we’ll give you our itinerary of a 4 days road trip in the French Ardennes. But, as we traveled slowly, there is much more to be seen in the region.
So we’ll also give you some more highlights of the most beautiful places to visit in the French Ardennes in general. Let’s dive into it!
Where are the Ardennes in France
The French Ardennes is an area located in the Grand Est region of northeastern France.
The area is named after the Ardennes mountain range that lies in France, the southern part of Belgium, Luxembourg, and a small part of Germany. The capital of the Ardennes departement is Charleville-Mézières.
The French Ardennes is known for its beautiful scenery and its many forests and rivers. The region is also popular with tourists who come to enjoy its numerous outdoor activities, such as hiking, camping, and fishing.
The Ardennes in France is bounded by the regions of Champagne-Ardenne to the north, Lorraine to the east, Franche-Comte to the south, and Burgundy to the west.
The Ardennes in France: how to get there
The French Ardennes is located centrally in Europe. Because of its location, the best way to get to the Ardennes in France is by car or train.
If you’re traveling internationally, however, you can also fly to Paris, Brussels, or Stuttgart and hire a car or take the train there.
By train: as it is more sustainable and so easy, we went by train from Belgium. The region is well-connected by train, with a lot of (high-speed) trains coming from all the surrounding countries and big cities (Paris, Brussels, Dusseldorf, … and even London).
Take the TGV (high-speed train) to for example Champagne-Ardenne TGV station and the local train from there to Charleville-Mézières or Sedan. If you want, you can always rent a car there for more freedom.
By car: the most popular way to get to French Ardennes is by car. This gives you the freedom to explore the region at your own pace.
The French Ardennes is about a 2,5-hour drive from Paris and 2 hours from Brussels. Coach services are also available, and these can be a cheaper option if you are traveling in a group.
If you have to rent a car, you can do so in Paris or Brussels, but also in the local cities such as Charleville-Mézières (after you arrived there by train). You can find the cheapest car rental deals here.
Whichever mode of transport you choose, the French Ardennes is an easy and enjoyable place to visit.
Things to do in the Ardennes France
The Ardennes is a beautiful and largely unspoiled region of France, located in the northeast of the country. Although it is relatively small in size, the Ardennes offers a wealth of things to see and do.
Cycling and hiking in the French Ardennes
For those who enjoy the outdoors, there are plenty of opportunities for hiking and biking in the Ardennes in France. The region is crisscrossed by a network of trails and routes for all abilities. There are also several scenic routes that follow rivers or take you through ancient forests.
Another great hiking and cycling path (also for families) is the 20 km (13 miles) long Trans-Semoysienne path that follows the Semois river.
Other activities to do in the Ardennes
If you want to explore the Ardennes at a slower pace, then why not go on a boat trip? You can cruise along the river Meuse or have a kayak, paddleboard, or canoe experience.
Horseback riding is another popular activity in the French Ardennes to enjoy the scenery.
The region also has many charming and picturesque villages, rolling hills, and breathtaking viewpoints well worth exploring.
Further on in this article, we’re giving you a 4-day itinerary for the French Ardennes. But, as we want to promote slow travel, our itinerary only covers a part of the region. There is far more to see if you have more time or want to travel quicker.
Therefore, at the end of this article, we’ll give you an overview of other places to visit in the French Ardennes if you want to extend your trip.
Best time to visit the French Ardennes
The best time to visit the French Ardennes really depends on what you’re looking to do while you’re there.
The Ardennes is a beautiful, but a rural region of France, and much of the countryside is best enjoyed during the warmer months.
From May to September, the weather is perfect for hiking, mountain biking, and picnicking in the many parks and forests.
If you’re interested in exploring the region’s festivals, these months are also the best ones to visit:
- Sedan Medieval Festival in May
- Festival of Brotherhoods in May
- Plage Ducale in Charleville-Mézières in July-August
- World Festival of Puppet Theatre in September
- European Heritage Days in September
Slow travel through the French Ardennes: our itinerary
Let’s dive into our 4-day road trip in the French Ardennes around Sedan and Charleville-Mézières.
As mentioned earlier, read on until the end as we’ll give you extra suggestions if you have more time.
Day 1: Discovering the Sedan castle
Our road trip through the French Ardennes starts in Sedan. This lovely town is known for its large medieval castle, which is one of the largest in Europe. Today, it houses a museum that tells the story of its fascinating history.
After arriving in Sedan by train (as we did) or by car, go straight to the castle as this is where we’ll spend the rest of the day and, if you want, can stay for the night.
- Lunch in Café Marck
But first, have lunch in Café Marck which is located on the castle grounds. We ordered some typical Ardennes products such as a sugar cake and a charcuterie plate. And if you like local beers, they have a great selection here!
- Discover the Sedan Castle (Le Chateau Fort de Sedan)
It is possible to visit the castle on your own or in a guided group. We chose to visit the castle of Sedan by ourselves with an audio guide.
It is best to take at least an hour or two to explore the entire castle. There is a pre-mapped route that you have to follow. Check the website Chateau Fort Sedan for more information about prices and opening hours.
- Check-in at Hotel Le Chateau fort (inside the castle)
Feel like a real princess or knight and stay inside the castle for the night! Hotel Le Chateau Fort has rooms for singles, couples, and families and a delicious breakfast. We spent a night here and loved the views over the castle in the dark.
- Paddle on the “Meuse”
After your visit to the castle, walk through the center of Sedan towards the Moskova Nautical Base where you can rent paddle boards with O2Sports Ardennes. We love paddling and followed the river to the center of Sedan.
- Diner at the restaurant St. Michel
In the evening, go to the center of Sedan for a dinner. We went to the Saint-Michel restaurant. You can find typical Ardennes dishes with local products here, but also some international plates.
The kids have the carotte velouté (soup) and some pasta. And we had beef with vegetables, which was delicious!
Other places to stay in Sedan
Don’t feel like staying in the hotel of the castle, Le Chateau Fort? There are some other great options inside the city center of Sedan for a stay.
- Villa Notre Dame: right across the castle)
- A 3-bedroom apartment: perfect for larger families or groups
- Aux Remparts du Château: a 2-bedroom apartment right next to the castle
Day 2: Hiking – Canoeing – Sleeping in the forest around Sedan
- Hiking the French Ardennes between Croix de Piot in Donchery and Noyers Pont Maugis
After a delicious breakfast in our Hotel chateau Fort, we drive 20 min to the starting point of our 9 km (5 miles) walk at Croix de Piot.
From here you have a beautiful view of the Maas valley and surrounding hills. Soon we head deeper into the woods with our guide Jeremy from La Maison des Randonnées.
The walk we did is only partially marked and was put together by our guide. However, you can find many walks in the neighborhood that are marked, such as this Croix De Piot walk.
After crossing beautiful fields and forests, we arrive at the breathtaking viewpoint of Noyers-Pont-Maugis. Many battles have been fought here. Witness to this is the French Military Cemetery and the German War Cemetry.
- Lunch and cheese tasting at la ferme St. Quentin
We get an explanation of how sheep cheese is produced and are impressed by the stories of Vanessa who built this all by herself.
After a delicious lunch, while tasting the cheese and the local wine, it is time to go canoeing.
We meet again in the Nautical Center in Sedan from where we start our 6 km long canoe trip to St. Menges with O2Sports Ardennes. After 2 km (1,3 miles) we find ourselves surrounded by wild nature. We even see a kingfisher.
We enjoy the silence, the beautiful nature, spotting birds and fish, and being together. A great activity for everyone, also with kids (the distance was perfect).
- Sleeping (bivouacking) in the forests around Sedan
This evening, you’re going for a real nature experience. We’re going to bivouac in the woods. Which means alone in a tent with no one around you.
Our guide Jeremy from La Maison des Randonnées provides us with a tent, sleeping bags, and a picnic with delicious local specialties.
After enjoying our dinner together, we go sleep in our tent. It’s been an exhausting day and the kids are tired after the walking and canoeing. An owl wishes us a good night.
Today we didn’t use any electricity, had no wifi. We loved it! The perfect example of slow and sustainable travel in the French Ardennes.
Other places to stay around Sedan
If bivouacking just isn’t your thing, there are many other amazing opportunities to spend a lovely night around Sedan.
- Séverine Chambre d’hôtes: lovely rooms located 2 km (1.3 miles) from Sedan
- Gite Theys Floing: a beautiful holiday home (perfect for families) 2 km (1,3 miles) from Sedan
- Charming holiday home in Givonne in the Ardennes: another great holiday home, suitable for 5 persons, 4 km (3 miles) from Sedan
Day 3: Constructing a raft and sleeping in a treehouse near Monthermé
After our night in the woods, slowly waking up and enjoying a delicious breakfast, we’ll leave the Sedan area and drive towards Charleville-Meziérès and the Parc Naturel Regional des Ardennes area.
We haven’t planned anything in the morning, as we wanted to enjoy our time in the woods and have time to drive towards Lac des Vieilles Forges (30 minutes drive).
If you want, however, you can plan some activities in the area in the morning.
- Lunch at La Ferme du Pont des Aulnes
Next to the Lac des Vieilles Forge (Lake of the Old Forges), you can find this hidden lovely Ferme du Pont des Aulnes.
In the farm – restaurant the chef changes his menu every two weeks and works with local products. You can choose between 2 or 3 courses and 3 or 4 dishes.
Furthermore, you can buy local products in their small shop or stay a night in one of the lovely rooms.
- Raft construction and crossing of Lac des Vieilles Forges
It’s time to burn calories today! We’re going to Lac des Vieilles Forges, only 10min from the restaurant, for a unique activity. The lake itself is also worth a visit, as it has many water sports and a beach.
We are going to build a raft ourselves and cross the lake with it. We do that together with Thomas, our guide.
A few barrels, beams, and especially a lot of rope later we cross the lake towards a little beach. We enjoy the silence, the nature, and doing this activity together as a family.
You can book this activity on the website of La Maison de Randonnée.
- Sunset at La Roche à Sept Heures in Monthermé
From Lac des Vieilles Forges we drive towards Monthermé, a lovely town locates in the national park of The Ardennes in France. Take some time to visit the village.
Monthermé is located next to the “Meuse” and has a beautiful viewpoint. Try to be there around sunset (but it’s beautiful at any time).
It’s an easy drive up the hill towards the Roche à Sept Heures. From here you have a splendid view of the city and the meander.
- Sleeping in a treehouse at Cabane et Vallée
After we enjoyed this fabulous sunset we drive to our treehouse located in Haulmé. We stay in Cabane et Vallée.
We fell instantly in love with this place, it is located in the forests next to the river (Semois). They brought us all the gear we needed to have a BBQ.
After having some talks (and marshmallows) around the fire and a good sleep we receive our breakfast in a basket that you can take up with a pulley.
The place is magical, with lush forests, beautiful views over the Semois, and a cozy interior.
Other places to stay around Monthermé and Lac des Vieilles Forges
- Gîte en bord de Meuse (near Monthermé): lovely holiday home for four persons, located next to the river Meuse.
- Le Gîte au bord de la Fôret (near Monthermé): if you’re traveling with two or more families or a big group, this holiday home has 6 bedrooms.
- Paisible Maison Entière: a beautiful 3-bedroom house located 4 km/2,5 miles from the lake.
Day 4: highlights around Monthermé and Charleville-Mézières
Today is our last day of this 4-day road trip itinerary around the Ardennes in France. We’ll explore more of the area around Monthermé and visit Charleville-Mézières, the capital of the French Ardennes.
- Visiting the Abbaye Saint Remy de Laval Dieu
In Monthermé lies this beautiful abbey and monastery, Abbaye Saint Remy de Laval Dieu. Unfortunately, it is closed when we are there (check the opening hours before you arrive) but we can still enjoy some beautiful views over the abbey.
First, walk up close to the abbey to look at the structure and the gardens. But, the best view is across the bridge, from the other side of the river.
Next to the river, you can also walk or bike along the Trans-Semoysienne. A beautiful 20 km (13 miles) long path that follows the Semois river.
- Enjoying the point of view: Roc la Tour in Monthermé
Another great stop is the beautiful viewpoint of Roc la Tour. You can drive all the way up to the viewpoint or choose to walk up there by one of the many marked walks in the area.
When you reach the rocks you can enjoy the most beautiful views over the forests of the French Ardennes.
After this viewpoint, we drive towards Charleville-Mézières.
- Charleville-Meziérès (and tasting of the Carolo)
Charleville-Mézières is the administrative capital of the French Ardennes. One of the highlights is the Place Ducale, inspired by the Place des Vosges in Paris. Wander around the city and enjoy the beautiful streets and buildings.
Go to the bakery “Mont Olympe” to taste “Le Carolo” and “L’Ardennaise”, two desserts typical for the French Ardennes. Ask the owners for some explanation, they’d be happy to explain everything! Also, check their own chocolate brand.
After this, our 4-day itinerary around the French Ardennes ends. Do you have more time or want some extra ideas, check the next chapter where we give you some more highlights of the area.
Where to stay in Charleville-Mézières
As we rented a car, we gave it back and took the train from the station of Charleville-Mézières. If you have more time, you could stay here for the night and enjoy this charming city a bit more.
- Suite Izambard: a stunning two-bedroom apartment in the center of the city
- Studio Chaleureux: a small but charming 2-persons studio, centrally located
Overview of what you to do in the Ardennes in France if you have extra time
As said before, we chose to travel through the French Ardennes slowly, taking our time to really enjoy the area and do some unique activities.
However, if you want to travel quicker, or have more time, there are a lot of other things to do in the area.
We’re giving a list of other interesting highlights for you to explore. This list is, of course, by far not complete. There are many more things to discover in the Ardennes in France. But it is a good start!
What to do in and around Sedan
- Chateau Fort De Sedan – Castle of Sedan (covered in our itinerary).
- Sedan city center with the Palais des Princes and the park (covered in our itinerary).
- German cemetery in Noyers-Pont-Maugis (covered in our itinerary).
- Ouvrage de la Ferté (Ouvrage Villy-La Ferté): a military construction (ouvrage) of the Maginot Line, in Montmédy.
- Domaine de Vendresse: a fun park filled with activities for the whole family.
What to do in and around Charleville-Mézières
- Place Ducale: the beautiful, central square of Charleville-Mézières (covered in our itinerary).
- Musée de l’Ardennes: an amazing museum with historical artifacts of the area.
- Tasting of Le Carolo: taste the local dessert at Mont Olympe in Charleville-Mézières (covered in our itinerary).
- Musée Arthur Rimbaud: a museum dedicated to this famous poet of Charleville-Mézières, situated in a beautiful building.
- La Maison des Ailleurs: a former house of Arthur Rimbaud.
- Watch a puppet show: in September the World Puppet festival is held in Charleville-Mézières but if you visit another time of the year you can listen to ‘Le Grand Marionnetiste’ who tells the tail of Four sons of Aymon every hour.
- Fort des Ayvelles: an impressive fort situated south of Charleville-Mézières, near the Villers-Semeuse and Les Ayvelles.
What to do in the Parc Naturel Régional des Ardennes
- Monthermé: a must-visit small village with stunning viewpoints, 18 km or 11 miles from Charleville-Mézières (covered in our itinerary).
- Haybes: a charming little town near the Belgian border, 35 km or 22 miles from Charleville-Mézières.
- Hierges: a medieval town with a castle and lovely houses, 55 km or 34 miles from Charleville-Mézières.
- La Roche à Sept Heures: splendid view of the city and the meander ‘Boucle de Meuse’ in Monthermé (covered in our itinerary).
- Roc La Tour: unique rock formations and views over the green forests of the Ardennes in France, close to Monthermé (covered in our itinerary).
- Le Rocher des 4 Fils Aymon: another stunning viewpoint with a statue of the 4 brothers, close to Monthermé and Bogny-Sur-Meuse.
Fun things to do:
- Lac des Vieilles Forges: a big lake lying between the forests of the French Ardennes with the possibility of camping, a beach, and many outdoor activities (covered in our itinerary).
- Trans-Semoysienne path: a beautiful route for hiking or biking of 20 km (13 miles) along the Semois river, suitable for everyone (covered in our itinerary).
- Fort of Charlemont – Citadelle de Givet: this citadel is located in the town of Givet next to the Meuse and close to the Belgian border.
- Fortification of Rocroi: this fortified town was built as a pentagon.
- Abbaye Saint Remy de Laval Dieu: beautiful abbey in Monthermé (covered in our itinerary)
- Elfy Park Ardennes: a fairytale amusement park where the many tales of the French Ardennes come to life for the entire family, close to Lac des Vieilles Forges.
- Terraltitude Adventure Park: an adventure park that will bring out the daredevil in you, in Fumay near the Meuse.
Other things to do in the French Ardennes
- Argonne Discovery Park: a beautiful animal discovery park where you can watch the local animals in their natural habitat.
- War museum (Musée Guerre et Paix en Ardennes): a museum that covers the war history of the French Ardennes.
That’s a wrap! We hope you liked our guide to the French Ardennes and our 4-day itinerary through the region. Let us know if you have any questions or suggestions in the comments!