Ouest des Vosges: Between nature and culture
Text: Anna Villeleger
Far away from the crowds, the north-east of France is brimming with hidden gems — nowhere more so than the idyllic Ouest des Vosges region. Here, you will find beautiful countryside mixed with historic hotspots and cultural gems.
With its rugged landscapes, verdant forests and clean, fresh air, Ouest des Vosges is the perfect place to enjoy the great outdoors. The region is home to some wonderful hiking and cycle routes, not to mention great campsites, holiday homes and sites for camping cars. “Spring and summer are probably my favourite seasons here,” begins Virginie Vallée-Ségault, director of the Ouest des Vosges tourist office. “Everything is in flower and there are amazing sunsets.”
When asked about the area’s must-see sites, the director’s first suggestion is the village of Grand, with its impressive Gallo-Roman amphitheatre. “When you look at this small village you wouldn’t expect there to be such an amazing site there — it’s really impressive,” she enthuses. While you are there, you also need to see the beautiful mosaic, which was unearthed in 1883, and restored to its original colours in 2009.
Joan of Arc
It is also worth paying a visit to Domremy-la-Pucelle, home village of the French national heroine Joan of Arc. In the centre of the village you can see the house where she was born, while there is also an interpretation centre nearby which offers visitors multiple resources and educational tours. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the canonisation of Joan of Arc, so there are some special events taking place. Virginie’s top tip for visitors to Domremy-la-Pucelle is the basilica of Saint Jeanne d’Arc. “It is perched above a hill and offers an outstanding view over the river Meuse,” she enthuses. Look out for some spectacular sound and light displays here in June and July.
History and architecture
Another must-visit in the region is the city of Neufchâteau, which will delight history buffs and architecture aficionados alike. Featured in the French tourist guide 100 Plus Beaux Détours (100 Most Beautiful Detours), the city boasts many historic moments and attractions, including the Hôtel de Houdreville, a former mansion which now houses the town hall, and boasts an impressive Renaissance Staircase. There is also the Church of St Christophe, which dates from the 11th century and was rebuilt in the 12th century. The Wiriot Chapel, with its complex vault, is the standout feature. “It’s truly magnificent, a real gem of the region and unique in Lorraine,” smiles Virginie.
Meanwhile, there is St Nicholas Church, which combines Romanesque and Gothic styles and features a crypt dating from the end of the 12th century. The tourist office provides guided tours of the city’s various cultural gems during its summer discovery programme, where you can learn more about sites such as the Ancien tribunal d’instance, a former convent, and the Scala, an Italian theatre which was built in 1829 and later transformed into a cinema.
Cycling and cultural heritage
Ouest des Vosges region is a great destination for cycling tourism, featuring in the EuroVelo 19 Meuse Cycle Route, which goes all the way from the plateau of Langres to the Netherlands. The route offers ever-changing scenery, with picturesque towns and villages and cultural heritage sites galore.
Worth a day-trip in the region is the charming town of Châtenois, where you can admire the remains of the Benedictine priory of Châtenois. Meanwhile, travellers with children should check out the ‘Fort aux Enigmes’ puzzle trail – situated in the 19th-century fortification of the Fort of Bourlémont. “With questions about nature and wildlife, it’s fun for all the family, and children and discover our local flora and fauna,” explains Virginie.
Arts and crafts
The high quality of the Ouest des Vosges region’s forests has contributed greatly to the development of its woodworking industry. Both Neufchâteau and Liffol-le-Grand are renowned for their stylish furniture makers, and in 2012 were labelled Villes et Métiers d’Art (Arts and Crafts Towns), while the headquarters of Liffol obtained a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) in 2016. The beautiful furniture made in the area is exported to luxury hotels, theatres and palaces around the world. “We don’t have a museum dedicated to woodworking yet, but one day maybe!” smiles Virginie.
Start planning your Ouest des Vosges adventure now, at: www.tourisme-ouest-vosges.fr
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