The department of Haute-Marne lies to the south-east of the Champagne-Ardennes. It is a land of abundant water with the sources of major rivers, the Marne and the Meuse, rising in the forested limestone upland of the Plateau de Langres. The countryside is a patchwork of pasture and woodland dotted with fortified villages and lakes. Look out for the characteristic Champagne timber-framed churches with pointed gables and wooden porches, called caquetoirs, finely carved wooden interiors and brilliantly coloured stained glass windows. These can be seen in the woodland surrounding the biggest lake, Lac-du-Der Chantecoq which borders the Marne department and is the largest artificial lake in Europe – a paradise for watersports and walkers. To the south you can enjoy the health benefits of the waters at the spa town of Bourbonne-les-Bains.
Towns in the Haute Marne
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Chaumont lies at the centre of the department, a charming small town built on a limestone escarpment with narrow winding streets, turreted stairways and an old fortress keep. The Basilique St-Jean-Baptiste is worth visiting for its superb vaulted interior, staircase and Renaissance galleries. Chaumont’s most dramatic feature is the astonishing 19th century viaduct spanning the valley of the Suize. Langres, to the south is another dramatic sight, a fortified town perched on a hilltop surrounded by ramparts – walking round them is the best way to appreciate both Langres and the surrounding countryside.
Chateau de Cirey-sur-Blaise
Also worth visiting is the Chateau de Cirey-sur-Blaise, where enlightenment writer, Voltaire took refuge after his writing made him unpopular with the French court. A tour of the chateau includes the little theatre where Voltaire’s plays were performed. Joinville to the east is a small village with a huge castle famous for its Grand Jardin laid out in imitation of Fontainebleau. Son et lumiere performances are held here in the summer months.
Montier-en-Der is the home of the National Stud, located in the grounds of an old abbey, much of which has now been restored. In the west of the department is Colombey-les-deux-Eglises, a place of pilgrimage for many being the country home of General de Gaulle, where he died and was buried in 1970. The family house, La Boisserie, is open to visitors and a huge Cross of Lorraine stands in memorial to him.