Laon in Nord Picardy is the home of the famous Laon cathedral and is close to the WW1 battlefields of the Chemin des Dames.
A settlement was first built in this hill-top location by the Gauls and by medieval times it had grown into a fortified town with a roaring trade in wheat and wine. During this golden age, the stunning Gothic cathedral with its imposing towers was built in the 12th and 13th centuries along with 39 churches and 17 chapels. However, Laon subsequently suffered greatly with the plague killing a third of the population, followed by the English burning the city to the ground during the Hundred Years War and the extreme poverty of the Wars of Religion. After the Revolution, the city was occupied by Prussia but eventually returned to French rule and undertook a period of modernisation in the 19th century. Much of the medieval fortifications are still standing including the ramparts, which are perfect for a stroll and are illuminated at night, and several impressive gates such as the Porte d'Ardon and Porte de Soissons. At the citadel you can join a tour of the underground network of tunnels beneath that were used from the early Middle Ages onwards for economic and military purposes.
The city has some beautiful religious architecture besides the cathedral including the medieval abbeys of St Martin and St Vincent and the Chapelle des Templiers, dedicated to the Knights Templar, which stands in the courtyard of the Museum of Art and Archaeology of Laon. The museum contains collections of Greek vases, Gallo-Roman, Merovingian and medieval artefacts and 18th century earthenware. Other places worth a visit are the Hôtel Dieu, the oldest alms hospital of its kind in France, the Maision des Chanoines where the deans of the cathedral lived, and Batterie Morlot, also known as Fort Morlot, where an optical telegraph was built to communicate with 6 other forts that were invisible to the enemy approaching from below. Learn about the history of Laon by taking a guided tour or following the heritage walks. Why not get some fresh air and exercise by hiking or mountain biking in the surrounding countryside? There is much for kids to do including a children's pass giving free admission to the cinema, swimming pool, ice rink, bowling alley and more. There is a wooded area known as cuve St Vincent that is perfect for strolls and has several different paths, including one called the panorama staircase that comes up to the Porte de Chenizelles.
Laon has some wonderful traditional shopping with patisseries, boulangeries, fromageries and charcuteries as well as clothes and perfume shops, jewellers and furniture stores. Local specialities include sugar beet, which often made into sugar beet syrup, maroilles cheese, a pungent soft cheese with an orange rind, and lamb reared on the salt-flats of the Somme. Why not try some Chantilly cream, a sweet whipped cream flavoured with vanilla, on your dessert or have a slice of gâteau battu, a moist and airy brioche-like cake? Enjoy your meal with locally brewed cider and beer and finish it off with a dash of eau de vie, a clear fruit brandy, and celebrate with some champagne from the Aisne region.
Region: Nord Picardy
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