At the start of commemorations for the World War I centenary, one family embarked on a journey to rediscover historical sites from Hauts-de-France to the Front des Vosges, the Somme, the Aisne, and the Champagne-Ardenne and Lorraine regions.
ABOUT THE FAMILY
There's Valérie, the matriarch and mom of the family, a journalist, blogger, and voracious reader. Denis, the father, is a linguist, web entrepreneur, gourmand, and curiosity seeker. Then there's Charles and Lou, their two children, each full of imagination and energy.
ITINERARY IN NORD-PAS DE CALAIS
Nord-Pas de Calais has taken enormous efforts to preserve its history, allowing visitors to discover the main World War I memorial sites in a fun and educational way. From a tour of Vieux-Lille to the Wellington Quarry, the "Twins of Loos-en-Gohelle" slagheaps at the Nord-Pas de Calais mining basin, and the Louvre-Lens Museum, follow the family through their travels and get their inside tips!
Charles : "For the Louvre-Lens Museum, we went to see the museum in general, and there was a special exhibit on the First World War. There was a great kid-friendly audio guide: you could see pictures, take a quiz, scan and interact with the works without actually touching them. And I really enjoyed that. There was a sort of a treasure map to find.
ITINERARY IN THE AISNE
From the first battles of 1914 to the terrible Chemin des Dames Offensive in 1917 and the German Offensive in 1918, the many countryside battlefields invite visitors to discover history.
A tour of Laon, a picnic lunch at the Vauclair Abbey, a tour of the Caverne du Dragon and geocaching on the Chemin des Dames - the family shares their experiences in l'Aisne.
Denis : "I really liked going up to historic sites to discover some treasure and geocatching. I found that it allowed you to not always focus on the tragedy of the war, but to remember that it's a countryside, that it has depth, that yes, there may have been a village that was destroyed, but we've hidden new things there - people are taking the land back. To do such an activity on the Chemin des Dames, a place that's always been very somber, sad, with this horrible story, it was a great way to approach the subject.
ITINERARY IN THE SOMME
One century after the Battle of the Somme, where heroes and acts of bravery numbered in the thousands, nature has retaken the land. It's in a lush and green setting that the Circuit du Souvenir brings you through the vestiges of battle, cemetaries, and memorials honoring the memory of all World War I soldiers. From the Newfoundland Memorial in Beaumont-Hamel to the Great War historical sites of Péronne, including the Musée de la Somme 1916 and the Haute-Somme Little Train, Valérie, Denis, and their children guide you through the Somme.
Lou : "I loved the museum, there was Castor the... I won't say it, because it's a riddle, you have to figure it out! The museum was very beautiful. At the end, a lady came with us, she showed us soldiers' helmets and their toothpaste, where it was a powder and you had to add water. She showed us how they did their prayers and how there were a lot of soldiers who believed in God. She showed us the bag they used for their ammunition, things like that."
ITINERARY IN CHAMPAGNE-ARDENNE
The theater of the Marne's two famous battles, an occupied and bomb-targeted territory, the Champagne-Ardenne region still shows the marks of war. From the Cathédrale de Reims to the Main des Massiges, including the Fort de la Pompelle and the Maison de Champagne Taittinger, discover World War I history as a family.
Valérie: "These trenches were reconstructed by dedicated history lovers, who invested an enormous amount of their time to create this effect where you feel like you're really in the trenches of the Great War - that is to say, with barbed wire and rusted objects that bore witness to life back then. And I think that really left an impression on the children, because we saw where they slept, where they ate, we saw the height of the trenches and how you could be shot in the head at a moment's notice. It was very interesting."
ITINERARY IN MEUSE-LORRAINE
Lorraine welcomes mindful visitors, helping them understand and relive history in a whole new way. More than thirty sites are accessible: forts, trenches, cemetaries, destroyed villages, and battlefields are open to the public, an open-air museum in the red zone.
Relive our family's trip to this informal Great War museum at the Meuse-Argonne Cemetary, the Quai de Londres, the Vadrouille la Grenouille, and the Place Stanislas in Nancy.
Valérie: "It was great to meet the Dutch owner who originally opened this little museum. It was very relaxed. The children could hold objects in their hand, which really helped them emotionally connect to what they were seeing. I saw the children's faces - Lou was touching so many things, objects that once belonged to soldiers, pieces of guns, shrapnel, weighing them in her hands. Charles tried to hold a 130 lb gun, and he could ask any question he wanted to the owner, who was very open. He told us that he wanted to send the message that we are all equal.
ITINERARY ON THE VOSGES FRONT
Interesting and unique in World War I history, the Vosges Front was the only sector that involved mountain combat. On this part of the Front, there are 9 principal battlefields offering an open-air museum tour and innumerable vestiges of war, bringing the "blue line of the Vosges" symbol to life.
Between the National Cemetary and the Musée Mémorial du Linge, experience history in the French countryside.
Charles: "We visited both the museum and the battlefield. In the museum, there was an exhibit that was half about the French and half about the Germans, and you could see the type of artillery shells they used, their grenades, and actually, there were a lot of animals they used during war - like wolves and sled dogs. There were also skiiers and camouflaged soldiers - it was very well organized."