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3 Days In Eastern France - WW1 Sites

In mid-September, my wife and I plan to spend about 3 days is eastern France touring WW1 battle sites and museums (both of our fathers fought there in 1917-18).
I would love to hear from any of you folks who have information about where to stay, where to eat, and what to see.

Posted by
139 posts

I can't give you first hand knowledge about WWI sites but based on how useful I found their book covering the Normandy battlefields I highly recommend the MAJOR AND MRS HOLT'S BATTLEFIELD GUIDE BOOKS AND MAPS.

They have several on WWI battles and areas - if those books are as well executed as the Normandy book you will find them invaluable.

Posted by
3466 posts

If you are going to be anywhere nearby, you must go to Verdun. Very, very moving place to visit.

Posted by
126 posts

We (5 of us) were just in that area of France in May. I agree that Verdun is a must. I have been there three times (my husband five times), and am always moved by the spirit of the area. Drive through the forest and envision what it was like at the end of the battle......totally denuded of any plant life and rows upon rows of trenches. The French wisely left it as it was and allowed nature to take its course. The peacefulness of the forest is a fitting tribute to those who died there without peace. Stop where you can, and walk a little into the forest. You will see "indentations" in the growth to indicate where trenches were. Stop at Fort de Vaux on your way into the forest, another memorial to those who died in this war. And since my last visit there, a new museum has been established about the Great War, and it is one of the finest museums I have been to for either WWI or WWII. From there, go to Duomont, where the French cemetery seems to stretch forever with crosses. RS gives a driving route for Verdun, although I don't believe he mentions Fort de Vaux, a short drive off the main road.
Also, the town of Meaux (between Reims and Paris or CDG) is supposed to have a wonderful museum about the war(s). We missed it because it is closed on Tuesday, our only day to be nearby. You will see on the France forum many suggestions about this area, and I would search through them for ideas and inspiration. Rick's book, and other guidebooks, will also give you ideas of where you want to spend this time. All of the area north of Paris into Belgium is full of things to see, memorials to visit, and moments to honor the fallen, from both sides.
Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
126 posts

I forgot...This is in regard to WWII, but in Reims you can visit the Musee de Rendition, the place where the surrender was signed for WWII. It's a small museum near the back of the train station and worth a stop. It is walking distance from the Mumms champagne tasting house, and from the cathedral, although that may take about half an hour.

Posted by
208 posts

Many thanks to all of you who responded.
Now, one more question: Should I rent a car in Verdun, or is there a system in place that would take us to the various WW1 sites in the area, including battlefields, cemeteries, exhibits, and museums? Several years ago we went to Normandy and used Battle Bus Tours for a full day tour of the American sector. Is there a similar tour service in the Verdun area that offers a quality tour?

Posted by
126 posts

Regarding renting a car...Verdun is small and you would do better to rent a car in a larger city such as Nancy or Reims. Where are you coming from? If Paris, rent your car at CDG as it is north of the city and in the direction you are headed. We drove from Colmar and detoured to Verdun on our way to Reims, after a two week road trip.

Posted by
3149 posts

Non-Americans have little interest in visiting the American sites, and frankly few Americans do, either, even though the American areas are on either side and fairly close to Verdun. So provide your own transportation.

Did you mean to say "grandfathers" or are you in your 90s? Also, I don't think there were any Americans in France who were fighting before May 1918.

Posted by
1290 posts

Also, I don't think there were any Americans in France who were
fighting before May 1918.

Mon Dieu, this is wrong! Check out the history of the Lafayette Escadrille. It was a group of American fliers who joined the French army and fought as early as 1916. They were quite famous and honored throughout France in their day.

Posted by
208 posts

Tom_MN.......
No, I didn't mean my grandfather. My father was born July 31, 1899 and served in the US Army from 1917 to 1922. He was attached to the 103rd Engineers, 28th Division, and later with the Balboa Coast Artillery Corps in Panama.
My wife's father was born in 1896 and served as a Red Cross ambulance driver from 1916 through the end of the war.
We're not in our 90s......yet. But we're getting there. One day at a time.

Posted by
223 posts

Several years ago, my wife and I visited the Douaumont ossuary around the same time of year as you will be in the area.

It's sobering and I would recommend it. There were hardly any other visitors there at the time, and the quiet, the drizzle, the hummocky shell-shocked land we observed on the way there only spoke to the profound horror of that time so long ago.

The monument is sobering and the bones and skulls of the unidentified victims of that violence so long ago, which can be glimpsed in the basement of the monument, serve to help us remember why that horror should never be allowed to happen again.

If only I had confidence that mankind could remember that lesson.

Posted by
340 posts

We were just in the area a few weeks ago, and visited several WWI battlefields, memorials, etc. I would suggest you stay in the Reims area for a few days, as well as Verdun, and finally, in the Kayersberg area. We stayed at Manoir de la Semoigne, in Villers-Agron-Aiguizy near Reims for 3 nights and absolutely loved it. In Verdun we stayed at l’hôtel De Montaulbain, a small boutique hotel just off the river in the city center. If mobility is an issue as for a room on a lower floor as there is no lift. In Alsace we stayed in Colmar at Le Rouge Cigogne. It is probably the nicest apartment we have rented in France -- centrally located in the heart of the historic tanners district overlooking the city fountain and in easy walking distance to great restaurants, the cathedral, museums, etc. It also comes with a designated (though tiny) parking space. I would absolutely stay here again. As far as good places to eat, i would recommend Suty in Dorman hands down. My entree of tart with mirabelle plums, topped with seared foie gras and drizzled with balsamic vinegar was a dish I could eat happily for the rest of my life. All of our plats were also very good. There was a beautiful cheese course followed by a simply amazing dessert trolley. The next night we dined at Auberge Le Relais, a Michelin starred restaurant in Reuilly Sauvigny, and while it was very good, Suty was better, and half as costly. I would also suggest Chateau du Fere. We had lunch there, and it was simple but delicious. The best place we ate in Alsace was In Kaysersberg at an unassuming bistro called Bratschall-Manala.

Posted by
3528 posts

http://www.museedelagrandeguerre.eu/en.html
To the French, WW1 was the "big war" because so much fighting took place within France.
The museum takes the modern approach of considering how the foot soldiers and civilians experienced the war, along with the history of generals and battles. Fascinating.
The pleasant town of Meaux is about a 30-minute ride on regional train service from Gare de l'est in Paris.

Further north from Paris, the small city of Arras is a good base for nearby battlefields, including the huge Canadian war memorial at Vimy. The killing fields of the Somme are within an easy drive. Arras itself had plenty of experience in both First and Second wars.

Posted by
12246 posts

Hi,

Americans were in combat in France on the ground once they got over in 1917. These were the Black American troops. The French were willing to take any Americans for combat reinforcements. The rest of the AEF was not injected into combat until July 1918, the last of the Ludendorff offensives, at Chateau Thierry and Bois de Belleau (for the Marines). Keep in mind Pershing's view and resistance on maintaining a separate AEF not to be distributed among the French or British as piecemeal reinforcements, plus Pershing's operational doctrine profoundly differed from that of the Allies.

See the American WW1 cemetery at St Avoid and Sevenses, (sp ?) , ca 5 miles from the center of Paris. Go the Chateau Thierry to see the US 3rd Inf. Division memorial to WW1. I've been there and cemetery at Sevenses, as far as the US is concerned. There is also the Anglo-French WW1 cemetery in Chateau-Thierry.

If you want to see the German WW1 cemeteries, they are further north, ie, north of the Somme, one is near Amiens and the biggest one is near Arras.