A Road Trip in Northern France

I’ve told you how I feel about Paris. While I have a goal of finding parts of Paris that I enjoy, I’ve enjoyed discovering other parts of France that are worth visiting, perhaps as an alternative to Paris. We made a summer trip last July that was one-part relaxing holiday weekend, one-part (small) road trip. We visited a few towns that I enjoyed and wanted to share.

Center Parc at Le Lac d’Ailette

The main destination for this trip was the Center Parc located Le Lac D’Ailette in Chamouille, France. Center Parcs are family-friendly vacation destinations with cabin and cottage rentals and camping options in Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. We had heard about them and wanted to give one a try. We picked this one based on availability and proximity to home, and because we could take our dog with us!

The Center Parc was exactly as it is marketed – very family friendly with lots of activities for kids. We spent most of our time at the water attractions (wave pool, water slides, floating river), but also enjoyed the indoor arcade, beach area, walking/cycling paths, and mini-golf.

My son was going to do a pony-ride but changed his mind after he got on the pony and didn’t like the feeling of it. He said he never wanted to try it again. Not gonna lie, this broke my heart a little bit because up until then, I thought he might follow in my equestrian footsteps and join me in a future of farm and horse life. He assures me that he still will, but just wants to enjoy ponies and horses from the ground. Anyway, that is my dream, not his, and I don’t push it on him, and I digress…

There were tons of activities that we didn’t try or even look into at the Center Parc because we were only there for a few days. While it would be easy to sit by the lake and relax there (though our weather didn’t really permit it), it would also be impossible to get bored, especially for kids. Of course, be forewarned, many activities come with additional price tags, so the cost could escalate quickly.

The cabin’s accommodations were good, not grand; clean, adequate, sufficient; not five-star, but nice enough. I would recommend this Center Parc (or any, if they are equal in quality and offerings) to anyone who is looking for this sort of park/resort holiday. This isn’t how we like to spend all of our vacations, but it is nice to take a trip like this every once in a while, and now we know what the Center Parcs are like for the future.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get many pictures of the Center Park Le Lac d’Ailette. Our weather was crummy and what we did didn’t seem too picture-worthy.

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The beach at Center Parc Le Lac D’Ailette. The weather wasn’t cooperating with us.

After leaving the Center Parc, we planned to make two stops on our way home, in Laon and Reims. We had seen signs for Laon on our way to the Center Parc, and could see it in the distance as it sits high on a hill. It piqued our interest enough to want to check it out. We had heard of Reims and wanted to check it out, too. Like any great road trip, we uncovered a few unexpected gems along the way.

Martigny-Courpierre

On our way to Laon, we came around a bend in the road and before us appeared a beautiful church on a hill. As we drove closer and closer, it continued to rise up to greet us, growing larger and more interesting as we approached. I love this about road trips. You never know what you might see and find. (In Europe, we seem to be finding a lot of old churches!)

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A lovely view as we came around a bend in the road.
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This church caught my eye as we continued to approach it.
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Entering Martigny-Courpierre, France. The exit is just around the next bend in the road.

We identified that we were in the small commune of Martigny-Courpierre. We pulled over so I could take a moment to look in the church. It was lovely and also had a freshly tended monument to Martigny-Courpierre residents who died in World War I.

After taking this all in, we moved on, and just like that, we were out of Martigny-Courpierre, a commune so small, if you blink you might miss it as you pass through.

The other unexpected gems on this part of our road trip were the fields of sunflowers blooming along the way, as pictured in the cover photo for this piece.

Laon

Our next stop was Laon. Fortified by the Romans, Laon has a history dating back 2,000 years, though not always under the name Laon. This city sits high – around 100 meters – above the surrounding landscape.

We drove up to the city and found public parking near the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Laon and Office of Tourism. From the parking lot, we took in a lovely view of the surrounding countryside. We then visited the Cathedral and the Tourism office.

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The Cathedral Notre Dame of Laon and the town’s tourism office.
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A square outside the Cathedral Notre Dame of Laon.
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Inside the Cathedral Notre Dame of Laon. Please, never let me tire of the feelings of awe and peace I get when I enter cathedrals like this.

Since we had our 13-year-old dog with us, and it was hot, we didn’t stay long or explore much. I did take a quick stroll down a few streets to check out the scenery and found restaurants and shops that begged to be explored.

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A shopping street in Laon, France.
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Restaurants and shopping in Laon, France.

We drove around a bit more on our way out of the town. I left with the impression that Laon, with its rich history yet small size, would be an excellent long weekend destination.

Reims

Finally, we moved on to Reims. Reims is (according to the internet) the unofficial capital of the champagne region in France. There are many champagne producers that offer tours of their vineyards and facilities and hold tastings in the area. We didn’t have time for that, but I did pop in the Terroir des Rois shop and purchased some champagne to take home. It was a cute little shop with a variety of champagnes and other regional food specialties. I tried to ask for recommendations and the lady in the shop was kind and as helpful as she could be without knowing any English, and without me knowing any French. We did the best we could.

We took some time to take in the beauty of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame of Reims, a massively impressive and ornate cathedral that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was undergoing some restoration, so my pictures don’t do it justice.

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The Cathedral of Notre Dame of Reims.
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The Cathedral of Notre Dame of Reims.
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Inside the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Reims.

We sat in the shade in the square outside the cathedral, surrounded by shops and cafes and other people enjoying the afternoon, for a rest before heading home. Like Laon, I could see Reims as being a fun destination for a long weekend or relaxing getaway trip in the champagne region.

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Our view as we were leaving Reims, France.

And thus ended our quick holiday and small road trip though northern France. We didn’t stay in any one of these locations long enough to really experience them, but just enough to recognize that there are great, smaller sized cities and communes in France to explore if you are looking for something other than Paris!

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