Chemin des Dames

September 10, 2015

I like to have a good travel guide when I’m off exploring somewhere, whether new or familiar: there’s always something I want to find out more about, and though it’s possible to access information online instantly, a lot of it is very superficial; you can settle down with a good guidebook, flipping back and forwards through the pages, with a finger in at the page with the relevant map on… and so on. You can tell I don’t do it all through my phone.

So I was pleased, as I revisit some of the key sites of the Great War in Northern France, that Michelin have published a new series of guides to various battlefields. They were quick off the mark in the 1920s with a series in both French and English which has apparently been reprinted (by G H Smith of Easingwold if you are interested); the new series is obviously to link in to the centennial of the war, but seems only to be available in French, and is illustrated with pages from the volumes of a hundred years ago.

I found the volume on the Chemin des Dames very helpful, with lots of thorough background explanation and information; key places to visit and things to look out for were well-documented; the book is divided sensibly into a number of sections according to area, and there is a detailed map, in the usual Michelin style, of each area. This is the only weak aspect of the book, really: I think it could usefully have done with more maps, larger scale and more detailed, rather like the town and city plans they provide in their ordinary guidebooks, because many of the monuments, cemeteries and other landmarks one is looking out for are not easy to find, and often I found I’d driven past before I realised where I was…

Nevertheless, the book is good because detailed and carefully produced, which is the case I’ve always found with Michelin guidebooks: they are objective and informative without being patronising or trendy… and, looking forward (hopefully) to a visit to Verdun next year, I have also purchased that guide to prepare myself.

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