Dinner was great, we had the Menu de la chasse with wild duck, pheasant and deer and tea with mignardises in the lounge by the fire. The hotel is very charming, but we feel a bit out of place due to our age: most of the other guests seem to be retired.
Alarm is set at 8, but we’re awake sooner and have time to take a walk around the garden before breakfast. The hotel has no wifi except in the lounge and actually not even cell phone reception, so we haven’t been able to upload the pictures or prepare the activities for today. We take off around 9:30 in the general direction of Verdun and find the right address for our first visit when we get back into 4G civilization.
The weather is great, around 20° but warm enough for a tshirt in the sun and the trees are decked in brown and gold, so it’s a perfect day for hiking. We learn some of the history of the front in this area from the visitor’s house at the American Cemetery near Montfaucon and then visit the chapel, looking out over the 14.000 graves. The graves are pristine and the garden beautifully maintained, the central pond has lilies and a multitude of tiny timid frogs that jump away when you get close. We try to find lunch in Montfaucon d’Argonne, but the one bar in town does not serve food so we have a breakfast cookie and herbal drink to tide us over. We climb to the top of the American Monument, where you can see the remains of the church and the pockmarked landscape left over after the fierce battle over this hilltop.
We see the same thing on Hill 304 and Le Mort Homme, on the last one we follow a recently developed educational trail made by French and German students, telling the story of the battle from the point of view of both French and German soldiers, talking about the suffering rather than the politics of war. The contrast between the pictures on the info boards and the actual atmosphere of the woods is very big, but you can still clearly see the trenches and marks from the shelling even now.
Finally we drive to Douaumont, visit the Tranchée des Baîonnettes and walk from there to the Ossuaire de Douaumont. There for the first time we see some crowds, french high school classes visiting the tower, chapel and cloister where the bones of 130.000 unknown French and German soldiers are interred. Right next to it is a French cemetery with 16.000 graves.
Onwards to Verdun for a quick shower before dinner at the hotel. There is wifi, but I’m unable to upload the pictures from the laptop. However I get everything sorted during aperitive, best picture of the day is a close up of a funny purple mushroom about five cm large, the colour was so extraordinary that I spotted it from meters away.