Saturday, July 24, 2010

Center Parcs Aisne #1: The Chemin des Dames marathon

A few years ago, Agnès managed to get the family on a cruise. She knew that being confined on a boat will be challenging for an ulta runner. The first day I went on the upper deck and ran 50 or more laps on the tiny track. The next day, the ship did a stopover at Catalina Island and I "escaped" to do a long run across the entire island!
Anyway, last week, we met with another family to spend the weekend at Center Parcs Aisne, also known as Center Parcs Lac de l'Ailette (Ailette Lake). It was our first experience of this concept which is quite developed in Europe, originating from Northern Europe. A sort of Club Med resort, in land (as opposed to sea shore). Hundreds of cottages, thousands of tourists, mostly families, and many activities offered (albeit for a fee...). A resort without cars for the safety and tranquility of all. The main benefit is the ability for all generations to live independently and that's what we were looking to offer to our teens.

Our vacation this year consisted in another "Tour de France" with quite a few stages: Annecy, Chamonix, Genoa, Monaco, Nice, Sophia Antipolis, St Raphael, Sorgues (near Avignon), Aix-en-Provence, Chamouille (Center Parcs), Sézanne and Fère Champenoise, Paris, Annecy, Geneva... More than 1,000 miles, through the July canicule, phew!

With all these miles in the car, our teens appreciated the 3-day halt at Center Parcs and the independence. As you can imagine, on my end, I was eager to log some miles during that weekend. On Saturday, I left the cottage early afternoon with a high level map of the area describing a 10-mile (out and back) trail to the Vauclair Abbey (Abbaye de Vauclair). The map was showing the nearby Chemin de Dames and that is where I decided to go for a long run, without knowing the distance. Exploring trails and roads this way is really much easier when you have a GPS such as my Garmin 205. For the ones who don't have one, and especially runners staying at this Center Parcs location, this post aims at providing you with directions for a marathon. For the others, with a visit of this area deeply loaded with the history of World War I (the Great War).
Actually, the history of the Chemin des Dames (literally, the Ladies' Trail or Ladies' Path), dates a few century back, to the 18th century, with the daughters of Louis XV. Here is an excerpt of the Wikipedia page:
In France, the Chemin des Dames, literally, the "Ladies' path", is part of the D18 and runs east and west in the département of Aisne, between in the west, the Route Nationale 2, (Laon to Soissons) and in the east, the D1044 at Corbeny. It is some thirty kilometres long and runs along a ridge between the valleys of the rivers Aisne and Ailette. It acquired the name in the 18th century, as it was the route taken by the two daughters of Louis XV, Adélaïde and Victoire, who were known as Ladies of France. At the time it was scarcely a carriage road but it was the most direct route between Paris and the Château de Boves, near Vauclair, on the far side of the Ailette. The château belonged to Françoise de Châlus, former mistress of Louis XV, Countess of Narbonne-Lara and former lady of honour to Adélaïde, whom the two ladies visited frequently. To make the way easier, the count had the road surfaced and it gained its new name.
Shortly after, it played its first military role at the time of Napoléon:
The ridge's strategic importance first became evident in 1814 when Napoleon's young recruits beat an army of Prussians and Russians at the Battle of Craonne.
Before becoming a bloody battle fields for 5 years (1914-1918) where more than 400,000 soldiers lost their lives.
From a running perspective, the trail to the Vauclair Abbey from Chamouille is called La Voie Verte de l'Ailette (the green way/trail of Ailette) and is perfect, flat and wide enough to cross the numerous bikers and hikers. The rest of my run was on asphalt, with quite some traffic on the touristic Chemin des Dames. Which, despite its name, is not a trail anymore, so you need to pay quite some attention to the traffic and run on the left side of the road, against the traffic. Most of the drivers paid attention to me and left a safety distance when crossing but there are still a few nasty one considering roads only belong to cars and horn and don't move an inch, forcing me to jump on the shoulder of the road, in the grass...

The nice part of running in France in general and this area in particular is the variety brought by the crossing of the numerous villages (one every 2 to 5 kilometers) and, on the Chemin des Dames, the monument commemorating the Great War and its casualties.

However, most of these villages while keeping their individual church or city hall (so many monuments to maintain...), have lost their local businesses such as bakeries, coffee and grocery shops so you need to run with enough water and food, something I did not plan on for this run. Out of energy, I had to slow down and was happy to find a small shop at the campground of Pragny-Filain to buy a bottle of Coca-Cola and an ice cream.

I invite you to visit the area, either physically by running this unofficial marathon, or part of it (at least to the Vauclair Abbey), or virtually (without burning too many calories!) by looking through my Picasa photo album. And remember all these soldiers who fought for the freedom we enjoy today and to shape today's multicultural and diverse Occidental Europe. Before all the celebrations which should come around the anniversary of the Great War in a few years now.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Très émouvant
Papa et Maman