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Visiting Givet, France, with its river ports: footfalls in memory and ports of call on the Meuse River
The pragmatism of riverside dwellers
In Roman times, the Meuse River in Northern Europe was already a commercial thoroughfare. When the linguistic and political boundaries of the modern European countries through which the Meuse flows were but developments still far into the future, this great European river was already well known to river-borne traders who plied their way up and down continually.
Today, the town of Givet on the Meuse River, has two port facilities: one, a commercial port and the other a marina. Even the marina is well established; prior to World War One, tourists would regularly ply the stretch of the Meuse between Givet and the Belgian town of Dinant: an itinerary with spectacular scenery.
The status of Givet as a commercial port is older still. For centuries the Givet area has been known for its quarries — which continues to be the basis for a local industry — and the proximity of the Meuse has long provided for cost-effective transportation of primary stone products. At times in the Meuse River's local commercial function, its convenience for trade has dove-tailed with a military role in transporting supplies for Fort Charlemont, overlooking the town and the river on a huge outcrop of rock, founded by Emperor Charles V in the 16th century.
"Charles V? But wasn't he a Habsburg and the (sic) Holy Roman Emperor?" some readers may ask.
Well, yes, indeed, but the fact is that this part of the Meuse Valley, although now in France, formerly came under the jurisdiction of this historic, Habsburg monarch who was also variously Duke of Burgundy and ruler of the Spanish Netherlands.
While situated firmly in the northern part of metropolitan France, Givet, in the Ardennes department of France's Chapagne-Ardenne region, is in terms of travel time from Paris as remote as are many locations in the south of France. I recall learning nearly 45 years ago on my first visit to Givet, approaching the town from the south, that the journey up the Meuse Valley proved to be a long, slow trek.
Jurisdictions and régimes have come and gone, but still the commercial barges visit Givet. Readers from the British Isles who may be unfamiliar with the extent of commercial river traffic as practised in Western European Continental countries, maybe find this to be surprising. In turn, European Continental visitors to Great Britain (as indeed North Americans familiar with the St Lawrence Seaway and its buoyant commercial traffic) will be bewildered by the manner in which river and canal commerce was allowed to decay by the British authorities in the 20th century, despite the existence of the once thriving Grand Union Canal and facilities on the Thames River at the Port of London.
But among the riverside dwellers of Givet, pragmatism has historically ruled.
February 2, 2016
Also worth seeing
In Givet itself, the imposing Fort Charlemont overlooks the town; Givet has some interesting ecclesiastical architecture and a striking Town Hall; the Tour Victoire has watched over the Meuse River since the Middle Ages; a nature reserve was designated in the Pointe de Givet (see also above) at the end of the 20th century.
How to get there: The nearest large, international airport to Givet is Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), Belgium, to which Brussels Airlines flies from New York. Car rental is available from Brussels Airport. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. For any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities, please refer to appropriate consular sources.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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