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Verdun France

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Between 1916 and 1918, around 800,000 young French and German men lost their lives in the hills near Verdun, a place that is primarily known for the tragedies of WWI that took place north of here.

When Alsace and some of Lorraine was annexed by Germany in 1871, Verdun became a frontline town and was heavily fortified. The town itself was evacuated during WWI and suffered quite a lot of damage, but not as much as you might expect from such an important outpost.

The Gothic Cathédrale Notre Dame on the hill in the Ville Haute (wester bank of the River Meuse) is still intact, WWI shell damage only served to reveal its Romanesque origins and crypt, and it has some colourful stained glass from the years 1918 to 1939. Memorials worth a mention include the Rodin sculpture of Victory on rue St Paul, at the north end by avenue Garibaldi, which seems to question the sweetness of victory. A useful introduction to the history of Verdun can be found in the Citadelle on rue du Rû (€5.40), 7km of underground galleries that were designed by Vauban in the 1600s and completed in 1838. During WWI they served as shelter and hospitals for soldiers, and now there is an audiovisual display that takes you back to 1916, if that is where you want to go! Behind the cathedral is the attractive bishop's palace, now the Centre Mondial de la Paix et des Droits de l'Homme (€5.34) with exhibitions and conferences about peace and human rights.

Near to the Rodin memorial is the Hotel St Paul, 12 place St Paul (03 29 86 02 16) which is a friendly place to spend the night (€30 40) and also has a good restaurant with traditional menus from €14, or there is the cheaper Hotel Montaulbain at 4 rue de la Vieille Prision (03 29 86 00 47) with rooms for under €30. The riverside is a good spot for finding a crêperie or somewhere to eat, and L'Estaminet, rue des Rouyers, is a terraced bar with a good beer assortment. You can find better accommodation and a wider choice of eateries in Metz or Nancy, however, so aim to stay in one of those towns and make a day trip to Verdun.