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A winter walk in Foret du Grand Orient (March 2010) [© Steve Marshall/Wild Future Photo]

Things to do, Champagne Lakes & Forests

From wood to water, there are many places and activities to enjoy in this beautiful part of France. Here are some of our top suggestions; for more specific information, please visit the detailed area pages.

 

Woodland walks

One of France's true treasures are its vast oak forests. Stroll beneath through mature woodland beneath veteran trees, keeping an eye out for Wild Boar, Red Deer and Red Squirrels. Take a seat on an old stump and, between the trees, glimpse Black Woodpeckers - Europe's largest woodpeckers - or the bright yellow Golden Oriole.

It's not difficult to get away from it all in the 16,000ha of woodland in Foret d'Orient Regional Nature Park. With much of the forest bordering onto the park's three lakes, walks can also take in the shoreline and flower-filled wet meadows. There are marked trails and also maps available from the Maison du Parc; we recommend Foret Forestiere du Temple for its scale, birdlife and tree species trail.

Salamander Trail, Foret du Temple, Foret d'Orient [© Steve Marshall/Wild Future Photo]

 

Woodland also cloaks the shoreline of much of Lac du Der-Chantecoq and there are fantastic wooded peninsulas that go deep into the lake. We love Cornee du Der for its varied habitats and birdlife and the drive through Foret du Der to La Breche, the place where the reservoir's dyke was breached to extend the lake.

 

Lakeside cycling

The lakes and forests provide a fantastic environment for cycling, with beautiful surroundings and significant investment in good infrastructure.

There are well surfaced cycle paths around parts of Lac d'Orient, Lac d'Auzon-Temple, Lac Amance and on the Route Forestiere du Temple in Foret d'Orient, and along the dyke sections on the west side of Lac du Der. IGN's 'Serie Bleue' maps, at 1:25,000 scale, show tracks and other routes as well plus the roads are relatively quiet.

There is local cycle hire available if you don't want to bring your own!

Great cycleway views across Lac d'Auzon-Temple, Foret d'Orient [© Heather Sohl]

 

 

 

See the Cranes

The Champagne lakes, and especially Lac du Der, host tens of thousands of Common Cranes each autumn and winter as they migrate south from their breeding grounds on the peat-bogs of the Scandinavian forests. From October onwards numbers build up, peaking in November, as the Cranes pass through Germany and France to their traditional wintering areas in Spain, although increasingly some are spending the whole winter in the Champagne region. Starting in February, they begin to return north.

The result is a spectacular movement of these impressive birds throughout the winter and incredible views are possible on the lakes and surrounding farmland throughout the winter period.

Common Cranes (November 2006) [Photo by Lip Kee under CCSA]

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Birdwatching

The Champagne region offers stunning birding, both around the lakes and in the forests.

From November to March, the region offers some of northern France's best birdwatching. Besides the spectacular Common Cranes - see above - the lakes attract a huge number of ducks and wildfowl including divers, grebes, swans and geese. A handful of White-tailed Eagles winter here and Great White Egret numbers are increasing. February and March are best for the six woodpecker species found here, including Black, Middle-spotted and the elusive Grey-headed, before the woodland canopy is in leaf.

Black Woodpecker [Photo by Alaistair Rae under CCSA]

 

Whilst winter will attract the more serious birders, the breeding birds are still a joy even if fewer in number, especially in April and May when the migrants are arriving. The raptors are particularly impressive, with Red and Black Kites, Common and Honey Buzzards, Marsh and Montagu's Harriers, Goshawk and Sparrowhawk. The woodland and scrub are a mass of birdsong - including Golden Orioles and a multitude of warblers - whilst around the fringes of the lakes look for Little Bittern and Purple Heron.

 

History in Troyes

The capital of the Aube department, Troyes has been in existence since Roman times and its old town is said to be the best place to see what sixteenth century Europe looked like.

Amble in the Middle Ages amongst the half-timbered buildings along narrow cobbled streets, including the tiny Ruelle des Chats where the upper floors almost touch. See the magnificent gothic Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul with its 180 stained-glass windows and try the regional speciality andouillettes: tripe sausage - with Champagne, of course.

Place de l'hotel de ville, Troyes [photo by naunasse under CCSA]

 

 

 

Watersports

With such vast waterbodies, parts are zoned for watersports - so if you need a little excitement, why not give them a try?

Dienville on Lac Amance is a good base for motorboats, jet skiing, wakeboarding and waterskiing, whilst Mesnil Saint Pere has kayaking, sailing and diving in Orient lake.

[© Steve Marshall/Wild Future Photo]

 

 

 

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