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A rare chance to cruise a little-explored canal route linking the great Rivers Somme, Oise and Aisne in Northern France. With much of the canal route passing through remote countryside we call this our “wilderness” cruise, and with the trees still coming into leaf this should be a great opportunity to watch the birdlife along the waterway corridor.
Our cruise takes us on a course of 110km between St-Quentin and Berry-au-Bac, not far north of Reims. We begin on the Canal de St-Quentin, fed initially by the Somme and then the Oise as we spend our first two cruise days getting as far as the town of Chauny. From here we turn on to the Canal which links the valleys of the Oise and the Aisne, a heavily-wooded area rich in wildlife and also of military history interest as it crosses the French section of the Western Front known as the Chemin des Dames. Along the summit pound of the Oise/Aisne canal we pass through the 2.3km Braye Tunnel before dropping down through a series of locks into the valley of the River Aisne. We then follow the lateral canal of the Aisne for 20km as far as Berry-au-Bac, where we conclude.
Our visits include the magnificent 12th-15th Century Basilica in St-Quentin and the ruins of the remarkable 13th century hilltop fortress of Coucy-le-Château. We also have some free time in Reims and Laon, and make a call at the City-Europe shopping complex in Calais on our travel-home day.
We stay close to the mid-point of our cruise route at the excellent Qualys Hotel at Lac de L’Ailette, set on the edge of a golf course and with all rooms enjoying balcony views over the lake.
Day 1 – Saturday 18 April 2020
Arrive at your leisure.
Accommodation has been reserved for you at this histori hotel Couvent des Minimes, in Lille. Check in is at 1400, so should you wish an early check in simply let us know and we will organise it for an additional cost.
Lille is a vibrant and historic city full of fabulous retaurants, bars and the shopping is great!
The day and evening are at leisure - enjoy.
Accommodation: Couvent des Minimes, Lille, France
Day 2 – Sunday 19 April 2020
After a delicious buffet breakfast we depart hotel for our short drive to the Ypres Salient.
During our day we will have visits to:
Lunch at local restuarant
Late this afternoon we check-in to our hotel in Ypres where there is a short break so you can freshen up.
Dinner is in one of our favourite local restaurants only a short stroll away from our hotel and the famous Menin Gate.
This evening we experience the Menin Gate Last Post ceremony. Walk back to our hotel or explore Ieper and its wonderful nightlife.
Accommodation: Novotel Ieper Centrum Flanders Fields Hotel, Ieper
Meals: Breakfast, lunch & dinner
Day 3 – Monday 20 April 2020
After an early breakfast and checkout we depart in our coach to the battlefield of Fromelles where we visit the tragic battlefield of 19 - 20 July 1916, where Australia incurred the greatest loss in its history.
* VC Corner Australian Cemetery
We then travel on to the Cambrai and our hotel for the night.
After time to freshen up, we head to the canal, where we first expierence Natalia. We are welcomed aboard by the crew offering wine, beer and soft drinks and canapes. We set sail along the St. Quentin canal, cruising silently along the waterways which have seen so much through the years. On board is our local historian who will regale us with stories of the area and people who lived and served in this once sleepy town.
As night falls, the screen descends from the cieling revealing images of the past, before the First World War, continuing through the war years, introducing us to the people and places we will visit. We will be joined by Philippe Gorcynski, owner of our hotel Beatus and historian of the Battle of Cambrai. He will show us photographs and tell us stories of his experiences are he researched the abandoned tank for 6 years and finally began excavation in 1998 and located Deborah. She is not just any old tank, she is the only one that survives form the Battle of Cambrai in October 1917.
It has been a busy day so take time to relax as our "floating lounge" heads for the bank near Masnieres, where music is playing and a barbeque French style awaits.
Our executive coach and friendly driver are there at the end of the night to take us back to our hotel, where you can turn in or head for a night cap in the hotels French "estaminet", (bar), complete with a proper zinc covered bar top.
Accommodation: Hotel Beatus, Cambrai, France
Meals: Breakfast & dinner
Day 4 – Tuesday 21 April 2020
After breakfast at our hotel we visit "Deborah", who we learnt about last night - a rare First World War tank, now housed in her own museum. We then depart for Mont St. Quentin to learn about the bitter battle in 1918 and see the inspiring Mont St Quentin Australian Memorial.
We visit the sites of the American & Australian attacks on the St Quentin Canal line. The mouth of the St Quentin Canal tunnel and the inspiring Bony American Cemetary.
For those who wish to relax and take a pause from the busy schedule and visiting battlefields, relax aboard Natalia as she cruises from Masnieres to Honnecourt. For those interested, there will be a talk on the Louvre gallery in Lens following which the coach will collect those wishing to visit the gallery while others simply take it easy onboard Natalia with a drink to two.
then return to our hotel for a relaxing afternoon before an early dinner (included) in the hotel as it is a very early start tomorrow.
Accommodation: The Grand Hotel, St Quentin, France
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
Day 5 – Wednesday 22 April 2020
After breakfast we leave the hotel with our first stop the famous Wellington Quarry in Arras (La Carriere Wellington) This world famous amazing underground museum is where the Allies launched their audacious attack on 9 April 1917 in the Battle of Arras - at the same time the Canadians launched their successful assault at Vimy 12 miles to the north of Arras. Miles of underground tunnels were carved out by Kiwi tunnellers in the Wellington (Named after Wellington NZ) quarry complex, housing up to 24,00 Allied troops for the attack.
We will then stop in Arras centre for a light *lunch break (*not included) before we visit the amazing Vimy Memorial at Vimy Ridge, and learn how an all Canadian assault on the *9th April (*Vimy Ridge Day) took this impregnable fortress. This date (9 April) is equivalent to all Canadians as Anzac Day is to all Australians. Vimy is an amazing and truly inspirational memorial and sits on top of Vimy Ridge - and is Canadian 'Holy Ground'.
After visiting the Vimy memorial ** we will then return to our hotel for the evening and to prepare for tomorrow's historic Villers-Bretonneux Anzac Day event (Australian National Memorial) and your visit to the newly opened Sir John Monash Centre.
Accommodation: Grand Hotel, St Quentin, France
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
Day 6 – Saturday 25 April 2020 ANZAC Day
Leave the hotel this morning very early at 1am sharp. Security is very strict at the ceremony and we want to arrive with plenty of time for security processing. We anticipate arriving at the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux and cemetery around 2.30-3am so we have time to give you an opportunity to experience the full commemorative programme for the Anzac Day ceremony. It is usually very cold before dawn at the memorial so be prepared and wear layered clothing as the day will change from sub freezing temperatures in the early morning to usually quite a warm day.(You will have a Spirit rainproof poncho/thermal blanket in case it rains). Full details of the ceremony here:
Once the service is over we will then visit nearby Adelaide Cemetery (where our unknown soldier came from) on our way to a well deserved full breakfast at the delightful Le Moulin des Ecrevisses restaurant. After breakfast we head back north to visit the newly refurbished *Franco- Australian (Victoria School) Museum in Villers Bretonneux, then onto Monash's greatest victory at Le Hamel Memorial Park. We then travel north again to Bullecourt for the official DVA centenary service. Here we will enjoy a packed picnic lunch before the ceremony starts at 2pm. This will finish about 4.00 pm then we depart for Arras where our tour ends. (Arras is a 1 hour fast train trip from Paris or Lille). We also suggest that you *stay the night in Arras before you resume your travels the next morning as it is a very long day. (*Overnight accommodation 25 April in Arras is not included)
Meals: Full buffet breakfast
|Cost in EUR||€ TBC pp (2 people sharing room)
€ TBC Single supplement
* Ploegsteert visitor centre
• Highly experienced and knowledgeable military historian and guide throughout
• Executive standard coach used throughout the tour
• Dedicated experienced coach driver throughout tour
• Accommodation in 3 star
• Breakfast daily whilst on tour
• 4 lunches
• Museum entrance fees:
* Special souvenir colour tour booklet