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Visiting Monthermé, France: scenic, Ardennes isolation in the meandering Meuse Valley

Updated on June 19, 2013
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Monthermé: fog at the bend in the Meuse
Monthermé: fog at the bend in the Meuse | Source
Monthermé
Monthermé | Source
Map location of Monthermé canton
Map location of Monthermé canton | Source

The stuff of ancient legends

The confluence of the winding Meuse river (1), as it wends its way northwards in northern France towards Belgium, occurs at Monthermé, in the Ardennes department (2).

As a former resident of Belgium, I find that the scenery around Monthermé and in the French Ardennes department generally is very reminiscent of the south of Belgium; a reminder maybe that in human and historical terms topography represents a shared perspective.

I travelled along the Semois river valley from Bouillon, Belgium, to Monthermé, crossing the border near Les Hautes-Rivières; at the French border, this river changes its spelling from Semois to Semoy. (Interestingly, because the Semois rises near Arlon, formerly regarded as partly German-speaking, the river has also acquired a German name: Sesbach, but this is somewhat archaic. The Walloon language, spoken in parts of the Semois river valley, also has its own name for the river: Simwês.)

A significant feature of the history of Monthermé is that its current, permanent population is hardly more than half of what it used to be at the end of the 19th century: it continues to be well off the beaten track, so to speak.

However, in the summer months, the permanent population of Monthermé is swelled by many visitors. One popular event from which Monthermé is a festival of legends at which storytellers and re-enactors represent puported events and fables from the Middle Ages. The Meuse valley — in France and Belgium — is rich in such legends, many of which have been retold for centuries, and which continue to excite fascination and amusement.

Literal valley mists, and the mists of time playing with the imagination: these are indeed complementary at Monthermé.

January 24, 2013

Notes

(1) In strict, geographical terms, the word 'meander', as in the title, should refer to a river in a fairly flat environment, while I have used it in its more general sense of 'winding'.

(2) When one speaks of the 'Ardennes', in France this refers to the French department of that name; in Belgium, where the French word occurs more generally in the singular, it usually refers geographically to the wide, heavily wooded hill country mainly in the Walloon region (French: Région wallonne ). Interestingly, the French region in which the Ardennes deparment is situated is written 'Champagne-Ardenne'; i.e., in the singular.

Also worth seeing

In Monthermé itself, there are various, noteworthy examples of ecclesiastical architecture; these include: Laval Dieu Abbey (French: Abbaye de Laval Dieu ); the church of Saint-Antoine des Hauts-Buttés ; and the church of Saint-Léger .

Rocroi (distance: 22 kilometres) is a picturesgue, fortified town close to the Belgian border.

Charleville-Mézières (distance: 15) has a striking Ducal Square, and the Rimbaud museum.

...

How to get there: The nearest large, international airport to Monthermé is Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), Belgium, to which Brussels Airlines flies from New York; distance from Monthermé to Brussels airport: 167 kilometres; 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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