You'll want some wheels to explore the area, if only to get to a carpark from which to hike the forest trails. Hire some at Brussels airport or at the train station in Charleville-Mézières (www.europcar.com).
Brussels airport is around two hours from the Ardennes by car. That's at least 30 minutes nearer than Paris Charles de Gaulle, with no painful Paris traffic.
Take the TGV from Paris Gare de l'Est to Charleville-Mézières or Sedan (each around two hours).
France: 33. North-east: 03 (drop the zero when ringing from abroad).
Ordinary Heroes is Scott Turow's novel set against the backdrop of Ardennes and the Battle of the Bulge. A biography of Rimbaud will provide the lowdown on Charleville-Mézière's most famous son. If the delicious Belgian Ardennes pâté inspires you, Stéphane Reynaud's Terrine recipe book is one to pick up post-trip.
Do go / Don't Go
You only have to look at the 50-shades- of-green scenery to realise this region gets a lot of rain. Summer months are driest and warmest - any time between May and September - with July and August being peak visitor season.
Ardennes food is a real rustic romp for the tastebuds. There's Ardennes pâté, white pudding and game terrine for unfazed carniphiles; forest mushrooms (if you can find them); and Orval beer brewed by Trappist monks. Dine on pike and trout from the Meuse, and snack sweetly on gâteau mollet (like brioche, only sweeter). The poster product for the region, however, is bubbly. Traditionally drunk to accompany the coronation of French kings in Reims, champagne rules the surrounding landscape, which is striped with chardonnay vines and dotted with more than 100 champagne houses and around 19,000 smaller growers. Most of the houses offer cellar tours and tastings; try Taittinger (www.taittinger.com), Pommery (www.pommery.com), or Veuve Clicquot (www.veuve-clicquot.com).
You've got more chance of hailing a tractor. Your best bet is to book a cab through your hotel. Sachy Taxi Olivier Philippe, aka STOP, operates out of Florenville (+33 (0)6 83 45 89 70). In Charleville-Mézières, try Allo Taxi (+33 (0)3 24 37 17 17).
Service charges are included automatically on all French restaurant bills but it's usual to leave a few euros for the waiter.
Kayaking kit (ie: stuff you don't mind getting sodden) if you're ready to brave the rapids. And take a picnic rug; why snack indoors when the scenery's this good?
In Charleville-Mézières, buy a joint ticket for the Musée de l'Ardenne at 31 place Ducale (+33 (0)3 24 32 44 60), packed with military and hunting artefacts, and the Musée Rimbaud, which houses collections of poet-related paraphernalia in a former mill straddling the river, on Quai Arthur Rimbaud (+33 (0)3 24 32 44 65; both closed 12 noon-2pm). L'Institut International de la Marionnette at 7 place Winston Churchill (+33 (0)3 24 33 72 50) has a museum that tells the story of the town's puppetry traditions.
Try not to crash the hire car - yes, there really is a giant brown pig on the side of the A34 near Charleville-Mézières. When we say pig, really we mean a wild boar called Woinic. And he's smiling. Perhaps because he has the honour of being the 10-metre-tall symbol of the French Ardennes.
Market days in Charleville-Mézières are Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Load up on peaches for your picnic, and gooey cheese for a mid-afternoon graze. In Florenville on Place Albert, Les Chocolats d'Edouard is a cocoa-scented cave of pralines and truffles (+32 (0)61 50 29 72). If you head as far into Belgium as La Roche en Ardennes, pick up one or two stoneware bowls - the town's most famous export. In Sedan, hand-crafted carpets keep the town's textile-industry past alive; find Le Tapis Point de Sedan on Boulevard Gambetta.
Fairy-tale turrets of purple slate are the icing on the castle at Château Fort de Sedan. Climb the ramparts and peek over a cannon to spy timeless views of the mediaeval town below (www.chateau-fort-sedan.fr).
In the south of the region, the Argonne forest is a beauty pageant of beech and birch. Head to Olizy-Primat to enjoy a walk in the woods, keeping an eye out for orchids and carnivorous plants along the way.
March Florenville hosts a Fête du Chocolat, when there are tastings, cookery demos and contests themed around choccy (www.feteduchocolat.be). May Sedan launches into tourist season with a Mediaeval Festival, when costumes, parades and jousting take the town back to its past. August Gaume hosts a festival of jazz: big band, blues and contemporary (www.gaume-jazz.be). September The second half of the month brings troupes from across the globe to Charleville-Mézières to perform puppet shows - some 50 a day - in the streets and squares.