Its name sparkles with the promise of celebration – Champagne, with its UNESCO listed cellars, domains and vineyards, is a fitting location for the king of wines! Its grand Champagne Houses are the founders of a festive lifestyle best savoured in the heart of the vineyards. But Champagne also has a long and illustrious history. The Cathedral of Reims is where the coronation of the Kings of France took place and the ancient city of Troyes is a marvel of medieval architecture. And its chalky hillsides are dotted with memories of the Great War.
Must-Sees in Champagne
Wine tourism in Champagne
There are 114 wineries and six marked circuits on the Champagne tourist route, making a tour of the vineyards an easy experience. At the end of summer, when the hillsides are full of sweet, ripened fruit, it’s time for the harvest. Watching this stage of Champagne production is a fascinating window into the exceptional knowledge required to create the famous fizz.
Hundreds of grape pickers are mobilised and the first step to creating Champagne is meticulously conducted: harvesting of the delicate bunches of grapes is done carefully by hand. It’s captivating to watch the procedure as you witness the birth of the bubbles at:
But to fully appreciate the mysteries of Champagne, you need to go underground. In Reims an astonishing network of cellars is carved into the Hill of Saint-Nicaise. Here, six of the grand Champagne Houses store tens of millions of bottles, maturing in racks in medieval chalk pits like underground cathedrals. Take a tour to discover how Champagne is created, view the cellars and of course, enjoy a delicious tasting. At Vranken-Pommery, the annual exhibition of contemporary art makes the visit even more memorable.
Gastronomy in Champagne
When you visit Champagne you need to make time to enjoy the scrumptious regional products. Those with a sweet tooth will love the legendary pink biscuits of Reims and croquignoles, a sort of crunchy cupcake. In the Ardennes, cacasse à cul nu (which translates to naked derriere!), is a fricassee of potatoes with small pieces of bacon, a traditional dish of the poor in days gone by (its name is inspired by the lack of meat), whilst boudin blanc de Rethel (white pudding), preferably served with a sauce made from locally grown truffles, is deliciously refined. Cheese lovers won’t be disappointed with local cheeses like creamy Chaource with hints of hazelnut, and Barberey, also known as Troyes Cheese, its rind washed in Champagne and matured in wood ash.
Champagne, a region of art and history
It’s not all about walks in the vineyards, this region is full of historic sites. The UNESCO classified Cathedral of Reims is a model of Gothic art. 25 monarchs were crowned in this remarkable building which boasts a wealth of superb carvings. The treasures of the Cathedral are kept in the Tau Palace next door, the residence of former archbishops. Here you can see unique artefacts used in coronations, including the sumptuous coat of Charles X, the last King to be crowned there.
Though Reims is the city of the Kings of France, Troyes is one of the most historic cities of Champagne. At its heart you’ll discover a plethora of beautiful half-timbered houses. Inspired by medieval architecture, most were rebuilt in the time of the Renaissance after a great fire in 1524, including the wonderful Maison du Boulanger and the Cour du Mortier d'Or.
In Sedan, marvel at another wonder of the Middle Ages: perched on a rock overlooking the River Meuse is the largest medieval fortress in Europe: 35,000 square metres (41,859 square yards) spread over an astonishing seven floors. The fortress was converted into an internment centre by the Germans during World War I.
At the Memorial at Dormans, dedicated to the Battles of the Marne, an ossuary is the resting place of the remains of more than a thousand soldiers who fell during the two bloody battles of 1914 and 1918. Another must-see is the Centre d’Interpretation at Suippes. Its rich collection offers visitors an interactive and humanist account of the conflict, from the start of World War I to daily life for civilians and soldiers including life at the Front.
Lift your spirits and enjoy the spectacular natural beauty of Champagne with a hike in the Ardennes Regional Nature Park. The views of the meandering River Meuse are superb from the top of Mont Malgré-Tout, a sight which inspired the writer George Sand to pen a book of the same name.