Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Vintage Visits: The Ardennes, France

This region is perfect for quirky places to stay and retro drives

Written by Melonie Clarke
I'm sure Paris and other such cities in France are perfect if you want to rummage through thrift shops and find a killer dress from a time gone by. However, the sleepier countryside areas of the region aren't as easy for fans of thrift. Nonetheless it is possible to enjoy a vintage visit in the rolling hills of France.

Must visits/where to shop

If my experience is anything to go buy the area isn't lacking completely in shops to rummage through. Expect to find antiques though, rather than fifties full skirts.

I spent my time in and around Charleville-Mézières to coincide with the biennial Puppet Festival last year. As well as enjoying many of the puppet shows I also managed to hunt down to shops to look around.

Both Le déport-vente and Au vieux Moulin are the perfect place to pick up beautiful glass wear, old phones, pictures and more.

I'm sure if you have a better grasp of the language than me and my schoolgirl French, locals will be able to tell you about some more hidden gems. If so, be sure to email us any new suggestions!

Le déport-vente: 8, rue Noël 08000 Charleville-Mézières 03 24 33 00 99

Au vieux Moulin: 17, rue du Moulin 08000 Charleville-Mézières 03 24 35 62 14

Vintage-Visits-France-02-590Cloclwise from top left: A show at the puppet festival, Melonie getting up close to some of the many puppets around the town, Brasserie artisanale du château fort, and the inside and exterior of Au roy de la bière

Moving on from Charleville, Sedan (a 20 minute drive) has plenty to offer.

The Château fort is an imposing fortress in the town. Part of the fort is now used as a hotel but the rest has been turned into a museum and is great for a morning exploring. There is an audio tour available, telling the history of the fort and the area.

The Ardennes region has quite a reputation when it comes to making beer. The Château fort brewery makes their beer onsite, and you can enjoy a steak (highly recommended) in the restaurant which houses the beer-making equipment. So it would be rude not to try one of their beers with your lunch or dinner (again highly recommended).

Brasserie artisanale du château fort: 45, promenoir des prêtres 08200 Sedan 03 24 53 13 52 www.bierela-sedane.com

Au roy de la bière is the oldest bar in the small town. Opened in 1943, regulars received their own plaque which is secured to whichever part of the bar they frequent most.

Au roy de la bière: 19, place de la Halle 03 24 29 01 74

What to drive

A lack of places to have a rummage for bargain isn't the end of the world. If anything it gives you the chance to give your own vintage finds an outing. The area can be reached by train. Why not pack your clothes for the trip in a vintage suitcase and go the whole hog?

When you get to whichever part of the Ardennes you have chosen to stay why not hire a restored 2CV and see the region in retro bliss.
Retroscapade have a fleet of 2CV which you can hire for €149 a day. What could be better than poodling around, with the roof down (weather dependant) in the countryside?

For more information and to see the range of 2CVs on offer visit www.retroscapade.com/en

Where to stay

During my trip I stayed at three different hotels. Firstly was Chambres d'hôtes Péniche Thor, a boat B&B, my favourite of three because of its quirkiness.

There are three rooms onboard two doubles (one with a double bed and one with bunk beds, I stayed in the later) and one large family room. All the rooms were a great size with a bathroom and seating area and despite the fact I felt about twelve sleeping in a bunk bed, I would rate the room highly.

There is a communal area with wood burning stove and room to sit on deck so you can enjoy the sun and watch the wildlife on the river.

Rooms start from €69 for the double rooms and €88 for the family room with breakfast included. For an extra €26 you can also enjoy a completely homemade dinner. I opted for this and enjoyed a fabulous three course dinner of local dishes all made by the boat's owner, Daniel Dupont.

Chambres d'hôtes Péniche Thor: Mont-Olympe, au bord de la Meuse 06 81 64 09 86 www.penichethor.eu

Vintage-Visits-France-04-590Clockwise from top left: Outside Hôtel Golf de l'Abbaye de Sept Fontaines, accomodation at Château Fort de Sedan, the view from the deck of Chambre d'hôtes La Peniche Thor, and outside Château Fort de Sedan

My second night was spent at a hotel where Charles de Gaulle once stayed. Set in beautiful grounds, driving up the long gravel drive, the view of the hotel is truly stunning; I actually pulled over to enjoy it in the afternoon sun.

All of the large rooms have great views of the grounds (which includes a golf course).

Rooms start from €89

Hôtel Golf de l'Abbaye de Sept Fontaines à Fagnon: rue des Sept Fontaines, 08090 Fagnon 03 24 37 38 24 www.abbayeseptfontaines.fr/hotel-fagon

My final night was spent in the Château fort in Sedan. For the ultimate fairytale castle experience it's perfect and the onsite restaurant is definitely worth a visit.

I had a complete Miranda moment at this hotel and got hugely excited when I found there was tea (English tea!) and coffee making facilities in my room.

Château fort de Sedan: Porte des Princes, 08200 Sedan 03 24 26 11 00 www.chateau-fort-sedan.fr/en/hotel

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