View of Langres. Photo: Sylvain Riandet

This charming fortified hilltop town in the Haute-Marne department of the Champagne-Ardenne has ancient history and modern thrills in equal abundance. Here’s what we love.

ACTION-PACKED SUMMER

Langres boasts a packed – and eclectic– summer calendar; and this year will be no exception. Between July 11 and August 5, the ‘Festi’Mardis’ concert series will see bands storm the Cathedral’s old cloister for unique performances every Tuesday evening. On Thursday afternoons the Place Diderot will play host to a traditional market, offering an array of fine local fare and wares, all bearing the ‘Made in Langres’ label. This is the ideal way to sample the town’s moreish cheese, honey and, of course, its sirup de cassis. From July 27 to August 19, the Compagnie des Hallebardiers will transport visitors back in time with twilight tours of Langres’s most notable – and some lesser-known sites – every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Clad in capes under the cover of night, participants will be guided along by the crew of actors for a visit unlike any other.

HISTORIC CITY

Gateway to Champagne country, Langres soars proudly from a hilltop promontory with its high ramparts and imposing towers. The town has had many incarnations over the centuries: capital of the Gallo-Roman tribe the Lingones, prosperous medieval town thanks to the influence of powerful Bishops, and fortified Renaissance stronghold under royal tutelage.

Often besieged but never taken, history has spared the picturesque town and the 8km of ramparts encircling it. Within its confines, visitors can take in Langres’s well-preserved medieval monuments, while a vibrant blend of Renaissance and classical architecture is spread along a criss-cross of narrow streets, covered passageways and quaint squares – a lasting testament to a rich past. Langres is a town replete with character, better enjoyed on foot.

Summer fun with the Compagnie des Hallebardiers. Photo: Sylvain Riandet

MEET THE DOUGHBOYS

A hundred years ago, the United States joined the Allied powers in the most devastating war ever waged. Before being sent to the front, millions of American soldiers, or Doughboys, were shipped off to Langres to be trained in US Army intelligence schools. Travel back in time to this little known episode in history through a special exhibition, ‘Laissez-vous conter 14-18: Langres en guerre’, as part of the centenary of the Great War. The free exhibit at the Salle Colson (in the Jardin de la Maison des Lumières) runs from May 13 to October 8.

CLASH OF THE TITANS

Don’t miss ‘Figures de l’Apocalypse’. The new exhibition at the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire presents two contrasting outlooks and bodies of work by contemporary linocut artist Frédéric Voisin and Langres-born Renaissance engraver Jean Duvet – considered the first significant French printmaker. Voisin’s linoleum prints feature sharp lines, with bold and dramatic designs. The Reims printmaker’s unparalleled technique and rich imagery are set against Duvet’s mystical engravings. This unique encounter of the masters is a prelude to the anticipated ‘Langres à la Renaissance’ in 2018. ‘Figures de l’Apocalypse’ takes place at the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire from May 20 to October 8.

DIDEROT’S BIRTHPLACE

The Maison des Lumières is the first French museum dedicated to Denis Diderot, the shining beacon of the Age of Enlightenment. At the heart of a hôtel particulier, dating back to the 16th and 18th centuries, the museum charts the Langres native’s life and work. Philosopher, co-author of the Encyclopédie, playwright, art critic and scientist… every facet of this influential figure is duly celebrated. A large collection of paintings and sculptures by France’s great masters, plus rare manuscripts and mathematical instruments, offer a fascinating glimpse into the advent of science and natural history which defined the century of the Lumières.

For more information, visit www.musees-langres.fr

From France Today magazine

Maison des Lumières. Photo: Sylvain Riandet

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