Visit to Laon the lesser-known capital of France

View of Place de Parvis Laon L'Aisne - small @NickHenleySitting high above the Picardie plain with a magnificent 12th century Gothic cathedral, the medieval city of Laon is known as the ‘Montagne Couronnée’ (The crowned city). From the 5th century until the 1789 revolution, Laon was one of the principle cities of the Franks and also the seat of a powerful and influential bishopric.

In more recent times it suffered many invasions and changes of control not least during the Napoleonic wars, The Great War and WW2, yet surprisingly has escaped complete destruction and many buildings remain intact having been protected or sensitively restored.

Today this attractive town of some 27,000 inhabitants features lovely medieval streets winding up from the gates of the city, quiet squares as well as the towering Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Laon. Of the original gates of the walled city only 3 remain and a walk around the ramparts is highly recommended both for the view but also to see the formal parks and gardens and other significant buildings.

A tour of the cathedral is recommended. Built in the 12th century and extended and restored at various times it is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture and the climb to the top affords a fabulous view of the compact hilltop town as well as views for 30 miles in all directions.

Cathedrale_Laon@Horizon_Bleu (11)Situated just 10 km off the A26 Autoroute des Anglais, the main autoroute between Calais and South of France, Laon is well-worth a visit. Here you can also see the important battlefield sites of the Chemin des Dames or take time out along the greenway, a path constructed for walkers and cyclists to enjoy the countryside around Lac de L’Ailette. Besides hotels around Laon there are one or two around the lake including the comfortable Hôtel du Golf de l’Ailette and a spectacularly well-situated Center Parcs both of which are on the lake.

View from Lac de Ailette in Aisne - Hôtel du Golf de l'Ailette @NickHenleyYou should also remember that Aisne region is one of the five departments in the Champagne region, with vineyards in the south of the region closer to Reims which is just 40 miles south from Laon. You don’t have to look far for lovely restaurants and in the case of Laon one of the best is directly outside the Cathedral.

Le Parvis restaurant is a typical regional bistro serving traditional favourites such as Steak Frites and Foie Gras, as well as a wide selection of lovely salads and regional specialities.

Flamiches Picardie au Mariolles - Nord de Calais @NickHenleyI tried the Flamiches Picardie au Maroilles, a Picardie speciality featuring locally produced NOC Maroilles cheese. Washed down with a slightly fruitier white wine recommended by the house, this is a delicious starter. Laonnais Carbonnade de Boeuf frites fraisches - Le Parvis Laon Picardie @NickHenleyFor a main course the Carbonnade de Boeuf was a deliciously rich beef stew served with cinnamon toast and French fries. Le Parvis also has a wide ranging wine list with many local and regional wines and of course if you have something special to celebrate then the local Champagne is available.

Besides stopping off to see Laon, one of the main reasons to stop in the Aisne region is to see the famous Chemin des Dames battlefields. Whilst Laon was protected behind the German lines during the Great War, the Western Front, scene of complete devastation, was just 20 miles south.

The German army, thwarted in their rush to Paris in 1914, retreated to the Craonne plateau and dug-in for the long-term. Here you can visit the famous Caverne du Dragon, The Dragon’s Cave’, a complex of quarries and tunnels occupied by the German army whilst defending the line from 1914 and 1918. It’s an extraordinary visitor centre and museum showing how the quarries were defended in one of the most extreme examples of trench, or should we say, underground warfare.

Caverne_du_Dragon-®A.S.Flament (5)Close by are various viewing points and monuments, spread out along the so-called Chemin des Dames (Ladies way), a steep ridge named after the royal coach road Louis XV had built for his daughters. A tranquil elevated area now, where one can walk the marked trails and see the remains of trenches, it is here that some of the fiercest WW1 fighting took place and thousands of French soldiers died, particularly in the spring 1917 assaults as they attempted to scale the escarpment unprotected from the well-defended German lines.

Plateau-de-Californie-®MathieuFarcy (14)Among these monument is the recently created Memorial to International Rugby Men who died in the war. Inaugurated in 2017 and designed by Jean-Pierre Rives, legendary French rugby captain, the memorial reminds us that the British and French armies brought companies of men to the battlefields from all over the world; as far away as Australia, South Africa and Canada on the British side and from Tahiti, New Caledonia and Morocco on the French.

Useful Links – Aisne Tourist Board based in Laon – The Dragon Cave – Hôtel du Golf de l’Ailette

You may also find interesting:

151 people found this helpful

Share Article:

Nick Henley

Freelance writer

Leave a comment


This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest travel tips on top destinations.

Join the club

Become a member to receive exclusive benefits

Our community is the heart of Silver Travel Advisor, we love nothing more than sharing ideas, inspiration, hints and tips between us.

Most Recent Articles

What’s the Nicholls-Lees’ verdict on HPB’s stewardship of the property portfolio? “First-class,” says Valerie….

Come feel the love on a Princess cruise. You’ll enjoy the MedallionClass experience others simply can’t, and it’s exclusively for everyone. Visit incredible destinations and be involved in the best experiences around each one of them.

Experience more with Princess and connect effortlessly with the world around you, spend time away with loved ones, take a moment for yourself, and fall in love with your holiday of a lifetime, every time.

With over 20 years of experience, Wendy Wu Tours has mastered the art of creating exceptional, fully inclusive tours which showcase the very best of each destination.

Each tour is led by a world-class guide, who will highlight the very best of their homeland, and includes authentic cultural experiences so you are not just seeing the sights, but truly immersing yourself in local life.

Say hello to ease at sea. Ambassador’s purpose is simple: they want to inspire every guest to experience authentic cruising, effortlessly and sustainably. Passionate about protecting our oceans and destinations, their ships comply with the highest industry emission standards and there is no single-use plastic on board.

On your voyage, you will receive the warmest of welcomes from the Ambassador community as you sail upon the friendliest ships afloat.

This is a global co-operative co-owned by local partners using real local experts and guides, which supports local communities, environments and wildlife. It offers travellers quirky places to stay, activity holidays and learning experiences. Not In The Guidebooks gets travellers off the beaten track into local culture with day experiences and longer, immersive adventures.

From wild wellness breaks in Wales to painting in Portugal, sustainable adventures in Mauritius to food safaris in Brazil, this is immersive, exciting travel.

Seabourn’s five intimate ships carry guests to the heart of great cities, exclusive yacht harbours and secluded coves around the world, while two new purpose-built expedition ships will combine exhilarating adventures in remote destinations with the sophisticated amenities of the world’s finest resorts at sea.

From the luxury of all suite accommodations to complimentary fine wines and spirits, and a no tipping policy, Seabourn exemplifies the definition of travelling well.