This stretch of waterway is without doubt my favourite cruising ground due to the breathtaking canal and river scenery it offers from beginning to end. In the book "Cruising French Waterways" by Hugh McKnight, he wrote of the Meuse (Canal de l'Est) "It is a marvel of French bureaucracy that one of the country's most attractive river navigations should be officially known as the Canal de l'Est (Branche Nord)" He wrote further, "Now begins one of the finest portions of river landscape in Europe." His comments refer to the stretch of the Meuse from Charleville-Mezieres to the Belgian border. I wholeheartedly agree. You'll join Barge Nilaya at around 4pm at her mooring in Charleville-Mezieres. It's a pleasant little town laid out in the 17th century around the Place Ducale, one of the most beautiful Louis XIII style squares in France. Because some of our moorings are very rural this week, I thought I'd give you the chance to dine out in the town.
We'll be steaming out of Charleville this morning having consumed a hearty continental breakfast. Today's destination is one of two lovely mooring locations, either the small village of Bogny-sur-Meuse or its slightly larger neighbour Montherme, amazingly situated on a horeshoe shaped bend in the River Meuse. If you fancy a stiff climb up to a viewpoint offering magnificent views over the 'boucle' or 270 degree curve in the river below, it's a beautiful spot. If you fancy getting some exercise during the cruise, it's possible to cycle between today's mooring points along the riverside. Cruising on the Meuse is rarely less than spectacular, with densely wooded cliffs sweeping down into the water, endless forests and small riverside hamlets. The whole area is also steeped in legends such as the Quatre Fils Aymon and Roches des Dames de Meuse. Tonight we'll be cooking you a fine dinner aboard.
Today we'll cruise further downriver to another beautiful rural mooring in or near the pretty village of Laifour or head a little further to the small town of Revin. The cliffs nearby host another local legend, namely the Roches des Dames de la Meuse, the tale of which I shall regale you with while cruising. Tonight we'll whisk you up to the 'Ferme Auberge de Malgre Tout'. A little forest hideaway more reminiscent of Hansel and Gretels cottage! The game from the local forests is divine and Tourte Ardennaise, one of my favourite French dishes!
We cruise through more wonderful wooded scenery. mooring at the pretty riverside hamlets of either Fumay or Haybes this evening. Both are old Ardennes slate villages and Fumay has its weekly produce market on Wednesday morning if we are lucky enough to be there on that day. It's a great opportunity to stock up with fresh fruit and veg! Haybes has a charismatic old hotel restaurant but more than likely, tonight we'll cook you another tasty dinner aboard.
Todays cruising involves passing through the Ham canal Tunnel. Always pretty exiting stuff given that the rough hewn tunnel roof passes inches from the top of Barge Nilaya's wheelhouse. In fact, the lock keepers at either end of the tunnel lower the water level by half a metre just for me. That is a lot of water given that the tunnel is half a kilometre long by five metres wide!! Givet has some lovely restaurants and if you enjoy Moules a la Mariniere, then you've entered heaven. It's a great place to dine ashore and I have a great restaurant recommendation that's right next to our mooring! If we have time, we'll zip off in our mini-van and visit a couple of nearby attractions.
After a few formalities, we cruise across the border into Belgium and down a slightly more grown up river. We'll stop for lunch at the magically located Waulsort and if time permits, you can persuade the boatman to haul you across the river in a hand pulled ferry thats been in operation since Napoleonic times. A little later we'll cruise into the spectacularly located riverside town of Dinant, dominated by the bulbous tower of its collegial church and immense citadel high above. We encounter much bigger barges and the riverside industry that supports them. There's lots of restaurants in Dinant, so dining ashore is your best bet. I can recommend one particularly excellent restaurant just a stones throw from the barges mooring, plus a superb long walk down from the citadel, once you've taken the cable car up.
You'll be leaving us after breakfast. Dinant railway station is just a ten minute walk from our mooring and from outside there, a 30 minute bus ride plus 40 minute scenic rail line follows the river between both our start and end points providing an easy way to get back to Charleville-Mezieres. Charleville is around 90 minutes superfast TGV train ride from Paris. Alternatively, why not head on to Namur, Liege, Brussels or Amsterdam direct from Dinant?
IMPORTANT NOTE: Unforeseen circumstances sometimes affect our cruising schedule. These can include, but are not limited to: illness, floods, weather, canal closures, canal maintenance, lack of moorings, bureaucracy, strikes, civil disturbance, acts of god, the engine, and whims and fancies of both skipper, guests and crew. All of these things might cause last minute changes to the above and cruise routes. Although rare, we reserve the right to alter any and all routes accordingly. Flexibility is the name of the game and any such changes cannot be considered grounds for cancellation of the cruise.