The region of Champagne is world famous for its sparkling wine along with its beautiful countryside and vine covered rolling hills that are steeped in history. The region is adorned with Abbeys, ancient towns and Castles and Champagne also boasts six Villes d'Art et Histoire (Cities of Art and History) and five UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Champagne region also has links to the famous French leaders of Charles de Gaulle and Napoleon Bonaparte. The best way to immerse yourself in the culture and history of the region is to travel along the Champagne Trail lined with green vines that are tended by growers cultivating Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunière and Chardonnay grapes since the 1600’s.
The historical city of Reims is immersed in Champagne history along with its famous 13th Century Cathedral. This magnificent landmark was used for the coronation ceremonies of French Kings, beginning in 1223 with Louis VIII. The most celebrated was the coronation of Charles VII on 17th July, 1429 who was escorted here by Joan of Arc. The last King of France to be crowned at the Reims Cathedral was Charles X in 1825. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims is a masterpiece of High Gothic architecture with rich sculptural decoration including six stained glass windows by Marc Chagall. Reims has been awarded the title of Ville d'Art et d'Histoire (City of Art and History), because of its remarkable Cathedral and other cultural sites. The UNESCO Listed Palais du Tau is an exquisite 17th Century Neoclassical Palace that was formerly the residence of Archbishops, now housing a Museum of the Cathedral's Treasury items.
No visit to Champagne would be complete without visiting the Avenue de Champagne in Épernay where several iconic brands have their headquarters. You could class this as Champagne’s spiritual home, with extravagant expressions of the wealth that the industry brought these winemakers in the 18th-19th Centuries. There are more than 200 million bottles of Champagne situated beneath this street and the first Champagne house on this Avenue to open its doors in the 19th Century to the public was Moët & Chandon.
Troyes is the historic capital of the Champagne region. It has a charming Old Town (Vieux Troyes), which reveals its rich heritage and perfectly preserved half-timbered houses from the medieval and Renaissance periods. Listed as a Ville d'Art et d'Histoire, Troyes has many outstanding monuments, including the 1208 Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul with its elaborate Gothic Cathedral adorned with an exquisite rose window and a richly decorated ‘Beau Portail’ doorway. Troyes also houses the Musée Saint-Loup (Museum of Archaeology and Fine Arts) displaying masterpieces of European painting from the 14th-19th Centuries and the Musée d'Art Moderne (Museum of Modern Art) with its excellent collections from 1850-1960 including works by Degas, Matisse and Picasso amongst others.
Some of the most beautiful villages in the Champagne region that are full of old world charm, include Châlons-en-Champagne with its lovely mix of historic Churches, half-timbered houses and lush gardens. This Ville d'Art et d'Histoire boasts remarkable monuments like the 12th-13th Century Collégiale Notre-Dame-en-Vaux a UNESCO Listed World Heritage Site with the largest set of bells in Europe and stunning 16th Century stained glass windows.
Langres is another Ville d’Art et d’Histoire, this medieval walled town dates back to antiquity and stands on the edge of a plateau overlooking a verdant landscape. Langres' well preserved fortifications extend for more than three kms, including the Gallo-Roman Gate and soaring towers that create a formidable impression from afar.
The largest fortified medieval Castle in Europe is found in Sedan, a Ville d'Art et d'Histoire in the foothills of the Ardennes Mountains. Built in the 14th-15th Centuries, the enormous Château Fort de Sedan features bastions, ramparts and towers that defended the fortress from invasions.
Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises is where Charles de Gaulle and his family lived. His private home ‘La Boisserie’ can be visited and is surrounded by a leafy park. The Mémorial Charles de Gaulle is dedicated to the remembrance of the respected French statesman. The most impressive feature of the memorial is the Croix de Lorraine (Cross of Lorraine), 44 metres high and built out of pink granite stone from Brittany. The cross was created to fulfill the wishes of General de Gaulle and to memorialise his life. The gravesite of Charles de Gaulle can be found in the cemetery of the Eglise Notre-Dame in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises.
Built on a rocky outcrop surrounded by forests, Chaumont is a historic town offering sensational views over the valleys below. Chaumont was the former residence of the Counts of Champagne; the lower rooms of the Château des Comtes de Champagne now houses the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire de Chaumont, with a collection of history and fine arts.
Charleville-Mézières is a dual town that spans the Meuse River. Charleville was founded in the 17th Century, with the Place Ducale at the centre of the town, while Mézières is more modern. Due to its rich cultural heritage, Charleville-Mézières is listed as a Ville d'Art et d'Histoire with an archaeological and historical collection at the Musée de l'Ardenne, which tells the story of the town and the region, from the Roman era through to today. Charleville-Mézières is also famous for its Puppet Theatre.
Sitting perched on a hilltop in a woodland landscape Hierges is one of the regions prettiest medieval villages that artists have fallen in love with. Dominating the village is the Château de Hierges with its ancient towers and Renaissance façade.
Beaulieu-en-Argonne sits on a plateau with breathtaking views overlooking the nearby landscape. The villages name translates to 'Beautiful Place' due to its location in the heart of the Argonne Forest. It is listed as one of France's four star (the highest distinction) 'Villages Fleuris' (Flowering Villages) because of the colourful potted flowers that decorate the town.