advertisement

90km (56 miles) E of Paris; 9.5km (6 miles) SW of Reims

An industrial town on the Marne's right bank, Château-Thierry contains the ruins of a castle believed to have been constructed for the Frankish king Thierry IV. Château-Thierry gained fame for being the farthest point the German offensive reached in 1918. Under heavy bombardment, the Second and Third Divisions of the U.S. Expeditionary Force aided French troops. The battlefields of the Marne are just west of town; thousands of Allied soldiers who died in World War I are buried here. Atop Hill 204 is a monument honoring American troops.

The poet and fable writer Jean de la Fontaine (1621-95) was born here, in a stone-sided house built in 1452. Today, it contains one of France's most visited literary shrines, the Musée Jean-de-la-Fontaine, 12 rue Jean de la Fontaine (tel. 03-23-69-05-60; www.musee-jean-de-la-fontaine.fr). Located a few steps from place de l'Hôtel-de-Ville, it contains a collection of his mementos, editions of his works published over many centuries, and a trio of rooms outfitted with furniture from the 17th through 19th centuries. Each room centers on some aspect of the effect of de la Fontaine on those centuries. Copies of his fables (allegorical barnyard stories depicting the foibles of humans) and contes (short stories a lot racier than the fables) are for sale in the bookshop. The museum is open Wednesday to Monday 9:30am to noon and 2 to 6pm. Admission is 3.60€ for adults, 2.20€ students, and 1.80€ for children 17 and under; it's free to everyone on Wednesday.

If you're interested in World War I, head 8km (5 miles) northwest of Château-Thierry to the Bois de Belleau (Belleau Wood). The Battle of Belleau Wood marked the second clash between American and German troops in World War I and demonstrated the bravery of the U.S. soldiers. After a 2-week struggle, the Second Division of the U.S. Expeditionary Force under Maj. Gen. Omar Bundy took the woods. Though the Germans suffered many losses and some 1,650 prisoners were taken, U.S. casualties were appalling -- more than 8,000 American troops were wounded, killed, or missing. In 1923, the battleground was dedicated as a memorial to the men who gave their lives here. The American cemetery, also known as Le Cimetière de Belleau (tel. 03-23-70-70-90), contains 2,288 graves. You'll also see a chapel that was damaged in World War II. Entrance is free; it's open daily 9am to 5pm.