On the road

PROVINCE OF HAINAUT (Belgium)

Walloon region

Population: 1,341,645 (2018)

Chef-lieu: Mons

Arrondissements: Ath, Charleroi, Mons, Mouscron, Soignies, Thuin, Tournai

Surface: 3 786 km2

Largest town: Charleroi (202,000)

Economy: coal, chemicals, steelworks, glassware, mechanical industry

Specialties: prune and beer rabbit, Escavèche of Virelles, doubles of Binche (cheese pancakes), pork guts, péket (aperitif)

Main tourist sites: belfry of Mons, Tournai (belfry, grand place and cathedral), ramparts of Binche, castle of Chimay.

Km 10

Erquelinnes (Pop: 9,940)

Château of Solre-sur-Sambre
It is one of the oldest castles in Hainaut and because of its exceptional state of preservation, a remarkable testimony of the architecture of medieval fortresses. It is located in a meadow below the village, which used to be a marsh surrounded by moats fed by river Thure. The chateau used to be the property of the lords of Barbencon from the late 13th century to the 15th. It belonged successively to the families of Barbençon, Carondelet, De Mérode and Wignacourt. Several remarkable details are visible from the outside when taking the path going along the moats: masks, machicoulis… The castle itself cannot be visited but the village is pleasant and a stroll around the castle is enough to admire its architecture.

NORD DEPARTMENT (59)

Population: 2.6 million

Prefecture: Lille

Sub-prefectures: Avesnes-sur-Helpe, Dunkerque, Cambrai, Douai, Valenciennes

Surface: 5,743 km²

Specialities: Bêtises of Cambrai, fricadelle (meat sausage), Hochepot (stew), carbonnade (beer stew), Maroilles (cheese), welsh (welsh rare bit), Potjevleesch (pie), chicons (endives), waterzooï (chicken), moules frites (mussels with fries), tarte au sucre (sugar tart), waffles, beer, chicory

Sport clubs: football: Lille OSC, Valenciennes-Anzin FC; basketball: BCM Gravelines-Dunkirk ; volley-ball: TLM ; hockey: Douai Hockey Club

Leading sport events: Trail du Val Joly in Eppe-Sauvage (March), Enfer Vert in Maroilles (April), Paris-Roubaix, Nord Trail des Monts de Flandres in Bailleul (April), 20 km of Maroilles (May 1), Paris-Roubaix mountain bike raid (May), International show-jumping in Maubeuge (May), 65th edition of Dunkirk Four Days (May), 8th Lille-Hardelot (June), semi-marathon of Phalempin (June), Women’s FIFA World Cup 2019, Chtri Man, triathlon in Gravelines (June), Engie Open de la Porte du Hainaut in Denain, Btwin Chti bike Tour in Armentières and Olhain (August), Grand Prix de Fourmies (September) …

Festivals: Handy’Arts (theatre), Name festival (techno), Secret Nights in Aulnoye Aimeries, Kermesse de la Bière (Beer Fest) in Maubeuge, Accordion festival in Wazemmes, Betizfest in Cambrai, Electronic Nights in Lille, …

Economy: automobile industry, transports and logistics, mail-order companies, steel industry, petrochemicals, agriculture. Seven universities including the largest one in France.

Websites / FB: www.lenord.fr / www.jadorelenord.fr / @departement59 / @nordtourisme

Km 12

Jeumont (Pop: 10,200)

Jeumont is the hometown of two stars of French football, Jean-Pierre Papin, the 1991 Golden Ball who played for the local club from 1970 to 1978, and Benjamin Pavard, world champion with France in 2018, who played for Jeumont between 2002 and 2005. The border town is worth visiting for its Art Déco architecture, the work of local architect Adolphe Danis. Its mayor, Benjamin Saint-Huile, became the youngest mayor of a city of more than 10,000 inhabitants in 2014, at 24.

Km 41

Trélon (Pop: 2,910)

From its past as a glass production city, Trelon retains a Glassware Museum and Workshop, one of four museums dedicated to labour in the Avesnes-sur-Helpe area.

Château de Trélon
Probably located on the site of a 15th century fortress, chateau de Trelon was gradually refurbished through time to become this majestic castle in the Louis XIII style, richly decorated with important collections of furniture, tapestry, Sevres chinaware and various works of art. It has belonged since the 16th century to the De Merode family, who were counts, barons and princes, related to the royal families of Italy, Spain and Monaco. The most famous recent members of the family were Félix de Merode (1791-1857), who took part in the Belgian revolution and independence. He had two sons, Xavier, who became a military officer and an archbishop close to pope Pius IX, and Werner de Merode who made the most important transformations in the castle by raising the roofs and building the tower housing the chapel.

Km 48.5

Fourmies (Pop: 12,120)

A stronghold of the wool industry until the 1940s, Fourmies retained from this industrial past a beautiful Museum of textile and social life in Fourmies, one of four museums dedicated to labour in the area. It is housed in the old Prouvost-Masurel factory, whose brick chimney is especially impressive. The Nord department started to list the industrial chimneys of the region in 2008, describing them as “belfries of labour”. They are celebrated on May 1. The date is particularly important in Fourmies as nine demonstrators were shot by the army on May 1, 1891 as they were celebrating labour day. Known as the Fourmies shooting, the incident had a considerable impact on the labour movement in France.

Among celebrities originating from Fourmies are the late comedian Jean Lefebvre or former walker Thierry Toutain, who held the world records for the 20 km and 50 km in the 1990s.

For the cycling fan, the town is known as the site of Grand Prix de Fourmies, held every year in September since 1928. The 2018 edition was won by German champion Pascal Ackermann ahead of Arnaud Demare.

AISNE DEPARTEMENT (02)

Population: 536,136 (2016)

Prefecture: Laon

Sub-prefectures: Château-Thierry, Saint-Quentin, Soissons, Vervins.

Hauts-de-France region

Surface: 7,369 km2

Largest town: Saint-Quentin (Pop: 54,450)

Economy: automobile industry, metallurgy, packaging, agro-resources.

Specialities: ficelle (pancake), maroilles (cheese), champagne, Thiérache cider, black pudding.

Tourism: châteaux (Villers-Cotterêts, Château-Thierry, Condé, Guise), WWI memorial sites (Chemin des Dames), Matisse Museum in Bohain-en-Vermandois, Quentin de la Tour Museum in Saint Quentin, “familistère” (former experimental factory) in Guise.

Websites: www.aisne.com / www.jaimelaisne.com

Km 63

Hirson (Pop: 9,000)

An old railway node between the Northern and the Eastern lines, Hirson lost this role when the railway depot closed down in 1969. Born in the nearby village of Aubenton,  aviator Jean Mermoz went to high school in Hirson. It is also in Hirson that former French international goalkeeper Dominique Dropsy (d. in 2014) started his career. The Alfred Desmasures museum and castle is worth a visit for its exhibitions on the French Belle Époque.

Km 79

Plomion (Pop: 450)

The Notre-Dame de Plomion fortified church is one of the most spectacular in the Thierache region… It was entirely built in bricks on the foundations of an older church and a garrison was constantly based in it. It is one of the rare fortress-churches with all the elements of fortification: tower, keep, turrets add watchtowers with more than 60 arrow-slits, including 42 in the keep. Several geometrical motives in vitrified brick have also been used to decorate the building. Its renovation will be completed in 2020.

Km 93.5

Chaourse (Pop: 540)

The Chaourse Treasure is a hoard of Roman silver discovered in 1883 and now on display at the British Museum, who bought it in 1889. The village church is one of the oldest fortified churches in the region. It stands over the valley of the river Serre separating High Chaource from Low Chaource. The church is on the Serre Valley tourist circuit. Its massive and quadrangular bell tower stands at 25 metres. It is a really impressive and original medieval keep as well as the two big towers surrounding the portal on the west side. Inside the church, the baroque altar, the prismatic tabernacle, the choir and the apse are also spectacular.

Chaourse is also the birthplace of scrumhalf Jean Lienard, rugby union French champion in 1954 with FC Grenoble, whom he later coached for a long period.

Km 123

Évergnicourt (Pop: 580)

Evergnicourt is the village where Leo Lagrange, the first ever sports minister in France, was killed on June 9, 1940. Lagrange, a lawyer and close friend of writer André Malraux, was a hero of WWI. He was sports minister in the Popular Front government of Leon Blum between June 1936 and April 1938. He joined the army in 1940 and was killed by shellfire early in the conflict. MP for the town of Avesnes-su-Helpe, he organised the leisure time and popular sport activities made possible by the first paid holidays. The Leo Lagrange foundation still is a major sports federation in France while countless stadiums and sports halls throughout the country have been named after Lagrange.

MARNE DEPARTMENT (51)

Population: 570,900

Prefecture: Chalons-en-Champagne

Sub-prefectures: Reims, Epernay, Vitry-le-François

Surface: 8,169 km²

Specialities: champagne, Ardennes ham, Reims ham, Bouzy red (wine), vinegar, mustard, croquignoles, nonnettes, roses of Reims (cakes), potée champenoise (stew), lentillons, pied de cochon.

Sports clubs: Stade de Reims, Champagne Châlons Reims Basket, Entente Family Stade de Reims athletics (Yohann Diniz, Mahiedine Mekhissi), Reims Basket Feminin, Reims Champagne Handball, Rugby Epernay Champagne,

Events: 2019 women’s FIFA World Cup, meeting des sacres (athletics), Reims international show-jumping, Boucles de la Marne (cycling), Run-in of Reims, Foulées des sacres (running), Epernay motor rally, Epernay criterium (cycling)

Festivals: Itinéraires, Habits de Lumière in Epernay, Flâneries musicales in Reims, champagne en fête, Music from here and elsewhere in Châlons-en-Champagne. Music in Champagne in Aÿ. Pied de cochon fair in Sainte-Ménéhould, Moissons Rock in Juvigny.

Tourist sites: Reims and cathedral, avenue de Champagne in Epernay, L’Épine basilica, cathedral of Châlons, Notre-Dame-en-Vaux cloister, Valmy windmill, monument to the First Battle of the Marne.

Economy: champagne, food industries and agro-resources, Paris-Vatry airport, research and pharmaceuticals, plastic packaging, floors, automobile equipment, high quality magnifying glasses.  

Websites and social networks: www.marne.fr / www.tourisme-en-champagne.com

Km 143

Betheny (Pop: 6,800)

Betheny is best known for the Reims-Champagne airbase 112, set on its soil since the 1900s and dismantled in 2011 after more of a century in activity.  Home to the famous Normandie-Niemen squadron in the 1960s, it was turned in 2014 into an experimental farm. A museum, close to the town hall, pays tribute to the aeronautical past of the city. Césaré, one of six national centres for musical creation, is also set in Betheny.

It was also the hometown of WWI heroin Marie Drouet, who ran the local grocery and helped carry the wounded from the battlefield to a nearby hospital on a cart pulled by her donkey called Fanfan.

Km 146

Reims (Pop: 190,000) (see stage 4)

Km 185.5

Hautvillers (Pop: 720)

Champagne would not be the same without Hautvillers and its picturesque little streets. Hautvillers is dubbed the Pearl of Champagne because on its soil was built the St Pierre of Hautvillers Benedict Abbey, in which are buried Dom Perignon and Dom Ruinart, two of the monks who improved the techniques of champagne fabrication in the late 17th century and gave their names to two of the most famous champagne houses.

The abbey belongs to Moet & Chandon and is reserved for receptions given by the champagne house, but the St Sindulphe abbatial church is open to the public. The tombs of Dom Perignon and Dom Royer are visible as well as rich furniture.

Km 195.5

Aÿ-Champagne (Pop: 5,740)

Aÿ-Champagne was created in 2016 from the fusion of Aÿ, Bisseuil and MAreuil-sur-Ay. Aÿ is with Reims and Epernay one of the main centres of the champagne industry. The city is home to 25 winemakers and several major champagne houses like Ayala, Bollinger, Deutz or Gosset, the oldest wine house in Champagne. Nearly 40 pc of the territory is planted with vines. Its St Brice Gothic church (15th and 16th centuries) has been listed as historical since 1942 and has a baroque organs dating from 1749. Aÿ is also the birthplace of the famous jeweller and crystal maker René Lalique.

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