The purpose of a regional country park is to protect and enhance the natural environment and cultural heritage within it.
Lorraine’s regional country park (Parc Naturel Régional de Lorraine) covers an area of almost 219,400 hectares (11% of the region’s total) within Meuse, Meurthe-et-Moselle and Moselle.
It is divided into two sectors to each side of the Nancy-Metz road :
- The western section is the largest. It lies between Verdun, Metz, Nancy, Toul and Commercy.
- The smaller eastern section stretches from Château-Salins to Fénétrange and Sarrebourg.
Within Meuse, the park covers an area of 77,570 hectares, 35% of the “county”, and includes the following :
- Part of the Woëvre Plain, a wetland dotted with lakes forming the arc of a circle from Stenay to Neufchâteau.
- The Meuse Hills (côtes de Meuse) and their orchards along the western edge of the Woëvre Plain.
- Lake Madine overlooked by the Montsec ridge (butte de Montsec) in the east of the Meuse Hills.
It is a charming area with countless places of interest and tourist amenities open to the public – interpretive footpaths, birdwatching observatories, museums, walking trails, local produce etc.
The park offers a wide range of activities such as special-interest excursions focussing on the environment, heritage, regional lifestyle etc.
There are several walking trails and cycle tracks within the park.
In the heart of the park : the Woëvre Plain and Meuse Hills
The Woëvre Plain and Meuse Hills lie at the centre of the Lorraine regional country park. This is an area of breathtaking scenery consisting of forests, valleys and limestone grasslands. The hills are dotted with orchards, delightful places for a walk. They also provide some top-quality fruit (cherries, apples, peaches, pears etc.), the most famous and most important of all in the Meuse Hills being Lorraine’s golden fruit, the mirabelle plum. Local vineyards produce white, red and grey wines with slightly acidic or fruity tastes.
The Woëvre Plain is a land of water and lakes including Lake Madine and Lake Lachaussée where you can enjoy a wide range of water sports or outdoor sports in general. Some of the lakes have retained their unspoilt character and provide a habitat for birds, amphibians, fish and insects.
There are two regional nature reserves in the Woëvre Plain :
- The Lachaussée regional nature reserve, which is of international interest for its birds since they come here to nest, winter or rest on migratory journeys.
- The Etang d'Amel regional nature reserve is one of the last unspoilt lakes on the Woëvre Plain.
The skies above the Meuse Hills are particularly dark and dazzling, devoid of light pollution from large cities. Moreover, the micro-climate limits the occurrence of fog in autumn and winter. Little wonder, then, that an observatory equipped with an 83 cm Newton telescope was set up in Viéville-sous-les-Côtes.
Lake Madine and its environment
Surrounded by orchards and vineyards on the Meuse Hills, by forests and by wetlands, Lake Madine is a national hunting and wildlife reserve (réserve nationale de chasse et de faune sauvage) and well worth a visit if you are in Meuse. The scenery changes as you cycle round the lake but each view is delightful and the 20-kilometre signposted path itself is enjoyable.
Lake Madine has been classified as a “significant bird conservation zone” (Zone Importante pour la conservation des Oiseaux) with more than 200 species present here, including black-headed gulls, plovers, black terns, osprey, kites, buzzards, falcons etc. An observatory with access for people with reduced mobility has been set up on the shores of the lake. It blends seamlessly into the landscape and provides the best possible conditions in which to observe the birds at any time of year.
Fishing is a real pleasure on Lake Madine from a boat or from the bank, by day or by night. Numerous species of fish of all sizes live here – pike, pike-perch, carp, wels’ catfish, tench, roach etc.
Lachaussée covers more than 300 hectares at the centre of a vast network of wetlands of significant biological interest in the heart of the clay plains of the Woëvre district.
This lake has been naturally colonised by rings of water plants, creating significant reedbeds and areas of shrubs and bushes surrounded by wetlands that are ideal for local fauna. To preserve the ecological features of the area, it has been classified as a Sensitive Natural Area.
For enthusiastic anglers, birdwatchers or nature lovers (there is an educational path running round the nature reserve, including two observatories), Lachaussée Lake is a destination of choice. Meals, accommodation and the sale of local produce are all available at the Domaine du Vieux Moulin.
Every year from mid-October to mid-November, the lake is the setting for net fishing during the Fish Festival (Fête du poisson).