Charleville-Mézières in Champagne Ardenne is the world capital of puppetry set amongst medieval ramparts and beautiful Art Deco architecture.
A town created in 1966 by the amalgamation of five communes, but in particular the towns of Charleville and Mézières, Charleville-Mézières is today a global centre for the art of puppetry, housing the International Institute of Puppetry and hosting le Festival des Marionnettes, the festival of puppets, every other year. Mézières has a long history dating back to the 9th century with the town becoming a trading hub throughout the Middle Ages. In the 11th century, the ramparts were first built to protect the town, with a second line of ramparts built in the 13th century as the town grew. In 1521 the fortifications served the town well in the defense against Charles V. Charleville was not built until the 17th century and was the birthplace of the poet, Arthur Rimbaud. The area around the towns became known for the iron and steel industry which was the second largest in the world in proportion to its size. After the destruction of WW1, a number of buildings were rebuilt in the Art Deco style with many of them centred around the wonderful Place Ducale, based on Paris' Place des Vosges. The gateway to the Ardennes, Charleville-Mézières is in an area of forests and countryside that is largely undeveloped as a tourist destination - a haven of calm off the beaten track.
Sights not to miss are the ramparts and the remaining towers, including the Tour Millard and the Tour de Roy, and the Basilica of our Lady of Hope, whose construction took over a century and is in the late Gothic style with some excellent stained glass windows created by René Durrbach. Wander through Place Ducale and enjoy the Art Deco architecture or go to the Place Winston Churchill where the Great Puppeteers Clock on the facade of the International Institute of Puppetry, reveals puppet scenes on the hour from 10am to 9pm based on the local legends of the four sons of Aymon. The town has three museums of note - the Musée de l'Ardenne looking at the industrial history of the area and containing a collection of puppets, the Musée Rimbaud inside the Old Mill and containing photos, manuscripts and possessions of the poet as well as looking at artists who he influenced, and the Maison Rimbaud, the poet's home which has been kept in its 19th century state. Just out of town is the Fort d'Ayvelles, a remarkable 19th century fort that is open to visitors. The countryside and outdoor activities are a big draw in this region and Charleville-Mézières is close to Mount Olympus, a 14 hectare complex containing a nautical base, marina, aquatic centre, playgrounds and more. Cycle through the beautiful forests and countryside of Ardenne on the Green Lane Trans-Ardenne, a 83km route along a former towpath with many shorter routes too. The valley of the river Meuse is a great place for walking with some spectacular greenery all around. There is also an animal park just out of town where you can discover some of the animals native to the Ardennes forest including wild boar and deer - sure to be a hit with the kids.
Charleville-Mézières has markets on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays where you can buy some great local produce and has all the general shops that you would expect. Some local specialities to try on your visit include the dindon rouge des Ardennes turkey, boudin blanc de Rethel - a white sausage made of pork meat mixed with egg, bread, cream and herbs, the air-dried Ardennes ham and for those with a sweet tooth there is Le Carolo, a dessert of meringues with praline cream. Wash down your meal with some local Ardennes beer.
Region: Champagne Ardenne
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