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Guest Barrie Friend

Visiting Verdun: help required

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Guest Barrie Friend

In April,with seven colleagues, I am visiting Verdun.

When visiting the Somme and areas close to the Channel ports reaching the sites has not been difficult.

However we are exploring the best method of reaching Verdun.

Can you offer any help on this?

We had thought about a cheap flight ( ?Go/Ryan etc) but are not certain of a convenient airport. We would then hire a suitable vehicle for three or four days. Do you know of a car hire company?

What about taking a train, Waterloo to Pris then a TGV or whatever to a station close to Verdun. Again we are not certain which station this would be. We would then hire a vehicle.

Driving from the UK does seem a long trip to make,

From the local tourist web site, it seems that there is plenty of accomodation in the area. again, any insights would be welcome.

We'd be grateful for any help.

regards

Barrie Friend

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paul guthrie

I have not taken a train to Verdun but it has service I believe. Best tip I can give you is stay at Hotel St. Paul downtown. Speak no English but very nice people, restaurant redecorated a few years ago and is excellent, rooms are good enough.

Coq Hardi's restaurant once had a Michelin star but has gone to hell, service no longer good though they wear a tux, food had fallen off too. Excellent Alsatian restaurant very near Coq Hardi.

Town itself is greatly improved over the last few years, river walk quite nice.

You must have a car to visit the battlefields.

Paul Reed has a lot of useful information on his site, Old Front Line.

Actually the drive from the channel ports is interesting but long if you stay off the dreaded 4 lane roads and follow the front line.

It's a geat visit and with good maps it's easy to see the forts which are not open to the public such as Regret and Marie. You will have no real idea what they looked like then from Vaux, Douamount today, believe that, greatly modified by fire but also to make a parking lot etc. See at least Fort Souville. ALso pretty easy to see Tavannes Tunnel which caught fire, killed many French.

Lots to do!

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Steve_McGarry

I can recommend..

Hotel Montaulbain (2 star)

4 rue de la Vieille Prison - 55100 Verdun

Tél. : 03 29 86 00 47 - Fax : 03 29 83 75 70 ... we had double rooms (twin beds) which worked out at around £9 a night breakfast was extra... The owner does not speak very good English so if you don't speak French I would suggest you get someone who does to call and confirm what you want with a fax in French of course.

I too travelled down to Verdun last May with 7 friends. the drive is not that bad ... we stopped off at Cambrai for a couple of hours and had a meal in the square. We used the Coq Hardi bistro ... not the main restaurant in verdun ... that worked out at around £20 a head for a 3 or 4 course meal... from memory. There is a car park behind The Victory Monument and Hotel Montaulbain is about 1 minutes walk down the road from that..

I suppose the bottom line is how much you want to spend!

B)

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Dragon

We have always driven to Verdun, using the autoroute for efficiency as it only takes three and a half hours from Calais. I find that perfectly easy even after a long overnight drive from north west England. Breakfast in Reims, lunch in the Verdun area. I would echo the point that once in Verdun, transport is essential.

I'm won't add anything about what there is to see, as other people have done this better here and elsewhere, and I can't recommend the last place we stayed in, as it was dire. I haven't used the Coq Hardi in Verdun (but it's interesting to read that its standards are deteriorating). However, I wasn't sure how experienced you are and I thought it might be helpful if I mentioned that VFB (who are very reliable) offer the Coq Hardi within a travel-inclusive half board package (free nights in the period including April): www.vfbholidays.co.uk.

Personally I travel independently rather than using packages, but they have their place, especially if people haven't much time for organising a trip, much French or much experience.

I find L'Ossuaire de Douaumont one of the most peculiarly horrible places I've ever been, especially when the windows into the crypt where you can see the skullls and bones are crowded out by tourists snapping photos as casually as if they were recording bodies sunbathing on a beach. And the agitprop of the stained glass windows isn't much more tasteful...

Gwyn

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Tim Birch

Depending on how much time you have a deviation to Vauqouis after you have passed through Reims is worthwhile (its north of the N3 Reims - Verdun Road). It's one of the most impressive examples of the ravishes of mine warfare that can be found on the Western Front. A whole hillside completely reshaped. There are remains of trenches and tunnels there, but for obvious reasons avoid entering those not open to the public.

At the Verdun battlefield, in addition to the sites already mentioned, the Ouvrage de Froideterre which is on Hill 345 (about a mile south-west of staggeringly poignant ossuary and cemetery at Douaumont) is well worth a visit. It is less frequented than the more famous forts of Douaumont and Vaux, but still has intact 75mm retractable gun turrets. Last time I was there it was not open or lit for public visits into the fort, but the doors were not locked and the adventurous could go inside. Wellington boots and everyone being armed with a torch was essential. Care was needed as there is a lot of rusting metal in there.

I am not encouraging anyone to try it, thats a personal decision, and you will probably be trespassing. However, should you decide to, it might be sensible to ensure that your tetnus jabs are up to date! For the student of late 19th early 20th century forts, it's facinating as the counterweight balance mechanisms for the retractable cupolas are still intact, as are the rusting metal ladders climbing up into them. (You climb them at your own risk! But that's not essential as you can see plenty from ground level with a torch).

Again if time allows a visit to the huge and immaculately kept American Meuse-Argonne cemetery at Romagne, about 20-30 miles north-west of Verdun is a very moving experience.

It's worth getting the IGN 1:25,000 scale map ref 3112 ET (TOP 25) "Foret de Verdun". It highlights all the sites, cemeteries and memorials of the battlefield and can be purchased from Stanfords of London www.stanfords.co.uk

I don't know what it will be like in April, probably too early, but last time we were there in mid-summer we encountered major problems with mosquitos in the forests, so take some insect repellent.

Have a good trip.

Tim

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Steve_McGarry

L'Ossuaire de Douaumont..... I too found this the most strangest of places.... BUT a must see ! I am not sure if the ability to see the remains is a French thing or a Catholic thing ... either way it's not an Anglo-Saxon thing !!!! Douaumont fort is also a must... be aware its grim and cold...even in summer. I would also recommend you refer to Paul Reeds "old front line" web site... I don't know if it's just me ..... (I don't think it is!) But the French sector does not have the same emotional pull as the British.... ;)

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Dragon

I would agree with Tim that l'Ossuaire has potential to be poignant.

I was distressed that the crypt seemed more of a spectacle than a place of mourning - on the day I went. People jostling with cameras to photograph the contents of the crypt, kids kicking balls at the windows and walls, people settling down for picnics among the crosses in the huge cemetery. I felt ghoulish even being there, once I knew what the crowds were peering through the windows to see. Naively I had no idea that it would be full of visible human remains.

I suppose it illustrates the attitudes of different cultures. It didn't have the air of sombre, reflective respect I've experienced in German and British war graves and mass burial places.

Gwyn

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Guest Lesley Muir

Hello Barrie,

I travelled to Verdun a couple of years ago via Metz-Nancy airport. You can arrange to pick up a car from Europcar

there, and the surrounding roads are very quiet. I found that helpful, because, being Australian, I needed to get used to

driving with controls on the other side of the car. The other alternative is to travel to Reims by train or bus, and pick up your hire car in the city.

I agree with the previous posts about the behaviour of some tourists at the Douaumont Ossuary, but I still think it's worth seeing, for the architecture as well as the memorial. The French National Cemetery on the site with its 15,000 white crosses was, to me, just as moving.

Two other "must see" are:

The site of the Village of Fleury, destroyed in 1916, with plaques among the regrowth forest marking the location of shops and houses.

The "Fallen Lion" memorial at the crossroads of the D913 and D112 at Chapelle Sainte-Fine, which marks the limit of the German march on Verdun on 23 June 1916.

Best wishes

Lesley

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Hedley Malloch

There are no low cost airlines running out of this part of Northern France, though Ryan go to Charleroi. Car hire is not bad in France. All firms offer complicated and different pricing structures, but by the time you work it all out there is little difference between them so you may as well go with Avis or Herz. One big positive difference between UK and French car hire firms is that the French are far less fussy about minor and knocks and scapes which cost a fortune in surcharges in the UK. You won't have some sharp-suited young man going over your car with an electron microscope when you return it. A Twingo will cost about 300 Euros for 5 days with a second driver and all excesses paid

Take your own car from the Channel Ports to Verdun will take about 4.5 hours by autoroute via (St Quentin and Reims) and cost about 20 euros each way in fees.

You can avoid all tolls, shave off 50 kilometeres and add an hour if you leave the autoroute at Arras and take a cross-country route via Cambrai (a pain to cricumnavigate), Le Cateau, Guise, and Charleville-Mézieres. I strongly recommend this route if you are not pushed for time. There is so much to see en-route.

Good cheap accommodation is in short supply in Verdun. Much depends on your budget, but if you go outside the town there are some good locations offering VFM. There is a small place in Consenvoye offering B&B for £18 for a double room and which has self-catering facilities. I have stayed there and I can recommend it. I can look out the name and phone number. I have eaten at the Croix Blanche at Damvillers; that has rooms and it looked OK.

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Paul Reed

Verdun is a fascinating battlefield, and as Steve suggests with his post, while it doesn't have the same pull for British people, it is important to make a visit and understand what happened; the Somme doesn't make sense without Verdun and vice versa.

As some kind people have already mentioned there is quite a lot of tourist info and battlefield guide info on Verdub on my website.

I would mention the B&B at Marre, which comes highly recommended from my German friends.

Also worth getting is Christina Holstein's new book on Fort Douaumont, which is excellent.

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Guest Barrie Friend

On saturday 30th I posted a request for help on visiting Verdun.

By monday I have had nine replies and I am now sending my thanks to the nine generous spirits who have given so much information to enable me to make a better decision on how and where I will go.

Many thanks

Barrie Friend

ps any further thoughts will be warmly received

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Christina Holstein

There is indeed a station in Verdun but the train from Paris takes about three hours and you have to change in Chalons-en-Champagne. There are plenty of cheap hotels although they are a bit drab - the St. Paul, la Cloche d'Or, the Montaulbain, the Tigre, the Formula 1. There's the Village Gaulois in Marre, which as Paul says is good although dinner takes forever, I wouldn't personally eat or stay at the Croix Blanche at Damvillers, I have a contact (a gendarme) with a couple of gîtes to let to the north of Verdun that I could recommend. As to where to go, you've got to see Ft. Douaumont and that's not just because I've just written a book about it (thank you very much, Paul) but because it's the most important of the forts and it formed the heart of the battle. Froideterre is fascinating and there's a good walk you can do from Thiaumont ouvrage along the ridge to Froideterre via a series of infantry shelters and batteries. You must see the Memorial and the Ossuary, Vaux is full of atmosphere, Souville and Tavanne are ruins and shouldn't be ventured into although the Bussiere gun turret by Souville is unique. There is masses to see on Driant's front if you're prepared to go off the track. In the German rear there's the Krupp gun pit at Duzey and Camp Marguerre in Spincourt Wood - both sites easily accessible to the public these days. You can visit Petain's headquarters in the Mairie at Souilly. You should drive down a bit of the Voie Sacree, just to say you've done it. If you'd like to see an Ouvrage that's a bit different, have a look at La Laufée to the south of Ft. Vaux, try walking from Vaux village up the hillside through Fumin wood to the fort on the top - and read Captain Delvert's notebook before you do it. If you go onto the Left Bank, there's the Butte de Vauquois (already mentioned and open to the public on the first Sunday morning of the month), the Haute Chevauchee, the Abris du Kronprinz, any number of American sites. Then there's the St. Mihiel Salient ... I could go on an on. How many months are you staying there for?

Christina Holstein.

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paul guthrie

The Mairie in Souilly was later Pershing's headquarters during the Meuse Argonne offensive.

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Christina Holstein

I should perhaps have said that if you buy my book you will find information about places to visit, detailed tours of Ft. Douaumont inside and out and also a car tour of the wider area ... but that would have been tooting my own horn and you know what we Brits are like for being modest. Still, you might find it interesting.

Christina Holstein

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Patrick
CROONAERT

A couple of people have mentioned the grimness of the view through the windows of the ossuary at Douamont.A place that makes this look tame by comparison is only an hour or so drive away.

A different war,I know,but I think it could be classified as a "dry run" for the Great War,it's on the 1870-71 battlefield of Sedan.In the village cemetery of Bazeilles is an ossuary from this battle.This resembles a crypt which you can walk into with a naturally lit altar at the end of the passage.As you walk into it,you notice several rooms to your left and right.On your left are the German (mainly Bavarian) remains,which are not visible.They are in stone "coffins" bearing the date 1870 within an Iron Cross.

It's when you look to your right that the "horror" hits home.This is where the French (mainly marines) lie. Behind iron grille doors is what resembles abandoned hospital wards with bodies,fully clothed with boots ,greatcoats ,spats,trousers,etc. Complete skeletons,some with mummified vestiges of skin , hair and fingernails lie in row after row.

Sights such as this may be unpallitable to the Anglo-saxon mind,but wow! it's certainly an effective view into the price of war.

Having travelled to many war sites (mainly WW1) throughout 20 years of battlefield studies,I've got to say that it's this one place that has affected me the most (Bazeilles also has an excellent museum of the battle,by the way.- "the house of the last cartridge")

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