Did you know…
…that the Citroen 2CV took its name from the fact that early models had a 375cc engine and were rated at just two horsepower? (Or “deux chavaux”, as the French have lovingly called the car ever since).
The Ferrari F458, by contrast, offers 562 horsepower. (As well as a world-famous emblem of a prancing horse).
I mention this only because, these days, a trip to The French Ardennes allows visitors a very privileged opportunity chance to get up-close-and-personal to both of these rare breeds.
As red-letter-day treats go, this one really does take some beating; and it’s about to get even better in 2014.
Manufactured between 1948 and 1990, Citroen 2CVs were designed primarily for rural areas of France, where farmers still relied on the horse and cart. Rugged, basic, hard-wearing and economical, the deux chavaux ended-up being called “the most original make of car since the Model T Ford, and won a place in the heart of motorists across the whole of Europe.
Now, there’s an entire fleet of these brightly coloured and fully restored classic cars on offer with Retroscapade – a brand new outfit in The French Ardennes, which is determined to make driving a deux chavaux as easy as 1-2-CV…
Set to expand in 2014, the fleet will eventually feature twelve 2CVs, including one 1954 model which would just love to share its own birthday with anyone turning 60 next year!
Everything – instructions, routes, maps, even a starting handle (“just in case”) – is included, with prices starting from just €99 for four hours.
But before I could drive off in my blue 2CV, I first had a date with a red Ferrari.
Bristling with power and energy in the corner of a hanger at the Pole Mécanique des Ardennes, it’s driven by Pascal Michel, the director of the racetrack now looking to offer a wide variety of high-octane fun to holiday makers arriving in this region.
And judging from the amount of adrenalin I manufactured during my brief spell in the passenger seat of this €260,000 thoroughbred, no-one is going to leave here disappointed. This is a €90 heart-thumping, smile-inducing, thrill-giving experience of a lifetime!
Pascal took me on a guided tour of the racetrack complex in the Ferrari, pausing only briefly on three occasions. First, at the start of the start of the Piste Dragster, before going from 0-210kph in a handful of scintillating seconds. Then at the entrance to the Piste Rapide track where the g-force was enough to send my cheeks flapping somewhere around the back of my ears. And finally, at the Drift, where we proceeded to burn rubber for fun.
The experience at Pole Mécanique des Ardennes was the perfect appetizer to the day’s main course: a glorious drive through the Thiérache region of The French Ardennes. (The only way you could possibly feel more French would be to put a string of onions around your neck, wear a black beret on your head, and sing a couple of verses of La Marseillaise! At one set of traffic lights, I swear I even became completely fluent in French).
And just when you think the day can’t possibly get any better, you arrive at the Park Ardennes terre d’adventures for a €25 Segway session through a small section of the famously forested Ardennes. The biggest tip here is to stick it out to the bitter end of the 10-minute induction…and fight the urge to grab the handles if you start to lose your balance. Otherwise, like me, you’ll look like someone attempting a Bronco ride on a pneumatic pogo stick. You only do it the once. And, having then tamed the beast, you’re ready to hit the trail for yet another memorable experience.
Charleville-Mézèries is the region’s capital, and boasts some great accommodation. My berth for two nights was to be Chambres d’hotes Péniche Thor, a hotel boat currently moored on the River Meuse in the centre of the town where host Daniel DuPont offers a warm welcome and double rooms for just €69, B&B.
He also cooks an exceptional thee course evening meal. So after opting for dinner one night at Restaurant la Table d’Arthur, the second night I dined on board the boat.
The emblem of The French Ardennes is the wild boar. You see it everywhere. Quite fitting, really: because when you come back from a trip like this, with so much to tell your family and friends, you’re very likely to become one yourself!
– Railbookers offers tailor made city breaks and holidays to destinations throughout Europe, including Charleville-Meziers. Packages include train tickets and centrally located hotel accommodation with breakfast. For more information or to book, call telephone 020 3327 2405.
– For more details, visit www.ardennes.com