Trans Ardennes Bike Path – Day Two

The are some things in life that just make sense – peanut butter on toast, for one (although French supermarkets certainly haven’t caught on to this yet..). Another infinitely sensible idea is creating bike paths out of old, unused railways and towpaths. It just seems like the right thing to do.

And that’s what the Conseil Général of Ardennes has gone ahead and done, and on Day Two I got to ride on it.

The bike path, like I wrote in my previous post, is 83 km long (for now) and runs along the Meuse River up to the border of Belgium. What I didn’t mention is that this simple idea could be the rebirth of a fairly depressed area (I’ll write more about this on my other blog soon), since metalworking, the main money maker till very recently, has taken a major hit in the last 30 years or so. The department is obviously pinning its hopes on tourism as a possible game changer for the economy, at least in part.

And why not? The area is relatively wild and very pretty, which the cyclotouriste wants, and they’ve got a lot of the major infrastructure in place already (e.g. a bike-friendly train that goes up the whole length of the river). Not to mention its proximity to Belgium, and especially bike-loving Holland. Could be a winner.

Here is the path near Nouzonville. The river is already a popular way for Dutch and Belgians to cruise on their pleasure boats. One guy told me that he could take his boat from Holland all the way to Béziers (near where I live) on the canal systems of France – a trip of well over 1000 km, I’d guess.

Next, a couple of very friendly mountain bikers, one of whom slapped me on the back as he passed me, sporting a hearty ‘Salut! ça va?’ I thought he thought he knew me, but he was just a happy guy on his bike, since he was treating others with similar jocularity. A nice change in reserved France.

Some helpful signs to tell you where you are and where you’re going.

This, as if I need to tell you, is a Rosalie, pedal-powered by up to 4 people. M. Lococq, the owner of many Rosalies for hire, told me that he even has one or two for handicapped folks, although I didn’t really get how they worked. He is located in Bogny, around half way up the river, and is only one of 3 places that rent bikes at the moment (he has ‘real’ bikes as well). His establishment, like all the others, are spanking new and flourishing, at least in season. M. Lococq does have one big problem, he admitted: the Dutch, a major portion of his clientele,  are just too tall for his bikes. Let that be a lesson to others considering a similar career move.

I stopped for lunch near here at the place below. I’ve been told that you know you are in the north of France (or French Belgium) if you see a Friterie. Not one to pass up a cultural experience, I happily dined on frites and a hamburger on a picnic table next to the river. One of the many benefits of traveling by bicycle is that you can fool yourself into thinking you can eat and drink whatever you want. Note: that’s not really true, but I’m still waiting to learn the lesson.

One of the many villages on the way. But don’t ask me which one.

This one I do remember because it was at the end of the only real detour of the trip. There is a nuclear plant near this village and the path, instead of passing under the stacks, skirts around them on well-signposted roads. I give you, Chooz.

Incidentally, slate was/is mined in this region and just about every house has a roof made of it, as you can see from the amount of medium-grey in nearly every photo I have uploaded so far.

This is also Chooz, or whatever is right next to it.

And finally Givet, the end of the voie verte and the beginning of Belgium. From here you can connect to the RAVeL network of long-distance bike paths in Belgium which, if you have the time, money and energy, can get you to The Netherlands, Luxembourg or Germany. Take your pick. My day wasn’t over though because I had a hotel booked back down the river in Haybes – the cozy, bike-friendly, and English-speaking St. Hubert. It was here that I had my most memorable meal. I’m not a big pig eater, but this area is well known for its boudin blanc, or white sausage, so I gave it a try. This particular boudin was served up in a creamy sauce that was so delicious I nearly licked the bowl clean after mopping up the remainder with my baguette!

The hotel was quaint and again, obviously recently renovated/upgraded. The owner had just opened up a new B&B two doors down the street as well. The bicycle, it seems, is bringing in the bucks.


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14 thoughts on “Trans Ardennes Bike Path – Day Two

  1. What a fantastic bike path. And I like the sound of the chips and boudin blanc! Maybe one day Chris and I can go cycletouring again, like in the pre-kids-and-llamas days, and try that path out.
    To answer your question, I do a little freelance editing these days and write the odd article, but our bread and butter is our carp fishery and gite. The llamas and alpacas are a hobby really – a but of an OTT hobby, I’ll admit – but I hope to start processing their wool to sell. One day!

    • It won’t be this year, but I really want to get up your way and do some riding (and stay at your gite!). My wife is a lover of anything cute, so she’s also pretty eager to check out your llamas, especially if you have any baby ones around when we come.

  2. What a great story Gerry, I was always told that the North of France was mainly dreary, windswept and miserable, but clearly this could not be further from the truth. This path is now definitely on the to do list!
    A brilliant story and how progressive of the local authority to ( pun not intended! ), recycle existing infrastructure and have a go at some diversifying. They deserve all the success that they will get.
    Money well spent in getting you up there!

    • I hope they get something out of the money they spent. I’ll be writing a ‘proper’ article for Freewheeling France after I get the blog done. Hopefully that’ll send some business their way.

      I agree about the progressiveness of their thinking, even though they have a right wing gov’t up there! It seems a no-brainer to be developing this type of infrastructure, with all the EU talk of reducing CO2 levels. More bike trips = better for the environment, I’d suppose.

  3. It’s fairly shocking, being stuck here in Melbourne – 11 deg C, snowing in nearby hills – to read your sledging from afar Gerry.

    Only 25 days and I’ll be similarly dispositioned to yourself. Bike under foot, delightful French countryside, and buttery croissants.

    Keep the good writing up.

    Tim

    • Oh, right. It’s winter down there. That sucks. What do you do for training for the Etape then? Mostly indoors?

      Hard to believe it’s only a month away. It’ll fly by quick, I’m sure. Hope to be able to meet up with you at some point at l’Etape. How long will you be in the area? I’m going on the 9th and leaving the 12th.

  4. Very nice! The problem with such pathways in the States is they tend to be clogged with pedestrians who don’t always mix well with the cyclists. Also, there are frequent crossings of roads, making for many disruptions. Did you experience any of that?

  5. I think we’ve talked about the ‘idea’ of these things versus the ‘reality’ of them before, and I’ve been on plenty like what you described above. No, for the moment at least, this path seems to be inhabited by mostly cyclists. I passed a few people walking, rollerblading and running, but not many.

    This area has a pretty low population density, which helps. The main city, Charleville, has only 50,000, and the further you go north from there, the few day trippers you see. For now, it’s quite a nice place to ride.

    I’ve been on plenty of these things in Europe, by the way, and I’d say it also depends on where they are built. In Germany and The Netherlands, for example, although you will meet other people, they know the rules and stick to them (e.g. no groups of 4 walking side by side) and bike paths tend to be just that, for bikes – not pedestrians. Admittedly, it’s a whole different concept there as well. These paths are transportation routes, not solely for leisure, like in France and probably the US.

    I’ve got one near my place here that ‘real cyclists’ never hit because it is filled with families and old folks walking their dogs. I used to ride on it, but since I became a ‘racer’, I don’t give it the time of day 😉

    • They are starting to pop up down here as well! Especially in Victoria, but the areas around Brisbane are also starting to develop a few, with similar economic goals.
      I can see if the Brisbane Valley would like to sponsor you as well?!?

  6. There’s a broader issue here, too: France just has to start promoting parts of it that aren’t Paris and environs if it wants tourists to return. I’m concerned iwth Americans specifically, and they’re an ultra-hard sell because the only thing that’s been marketed to them is Paris. But things are changing up north: a few months ago a friend sent me a food-and-beer-oriented travel story from up that way that ran in the New York Times. They seem to be too lazy to do much down here, although I’m going on a Hérault Tourisme junket tomorrow to Frontignan. I’ll have that on my blog over the weekend.

    • Well, I certainly didn’t hear any North American accents in the 3 days I was up there, which is no surprise of course. All the focus seems to be on the Dutch, Belgian, German and UK markets at the moment up there (which also makes sense). Most American tourists in Europe are probably looking at their trip as a once-in-a-lifetime deal, so it only makes sense to put the money on Paris. You guys (and I mean Canadians as well, although to a lesser extent) have a very different outlook on vacations than say, Germans, who you can’t keep away from no matter where you are in the world!

      Le Sud. Lazy, stupid, uninterested, I agree with you, whatever it is. There is an old train line that used to run from Nîmes to Ganges and le Gard has a plan to make all of it (I think) a voie verte. So far there is a 20 km section in the Vaunage valley near here, plus I just discovered another 9 km between Quissac and Sauve. There might be more, but at this rate the train might make a comeback by the time they get it done!

      Montpellier, at least, seems to know how to start something and finish it. How’s tram #3 coming along, by the way?

      Looking forward to reading the blog.

  7. They are starting to pop up down here as well! Especially in Victoria, but the areas around Brisbane are also starting to develop a few, with similar economic goals.
    I can see if the Brisbane Valley would like to sponsor you as well?!?
    Also in the Herault area there is a good looking (been there, not yet ridden it) voie verte in the foothills of the Haut-Languedoc at Saint pons deThomieres
    I will be interested to check your Herault blog as well Ed!

    • Sign me up, Steve! Never got to the Gold Coast when I was there, so love to come and explore a bit. I somehow think there might be a few questions about flying a ‘journalist’ over from France to ride around, especially since his readers are Aussies…Keep thinking though. I’m out of free trips at the moment!

      I think you’re talking about the Haute Languedoc Voie Verte that runs along the old railway, right? That’s a nice one and I still haven’t ridden the whole length. Some beautiful scenery and Olargues is an astounding site. Must get there this year. Thanks for the reminder.

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