Just an hour east of Paris, Champagne is one of the great historic provinces of France. Known in the 9th century under Charlemagne for its agricultural riches, it became famous for its produce and celebrated fairs. Today, though known of course for its eponymous sparkling wine, and despite lying en route from the UK to the south of France, Champagne is one of the least visited regions in France, an undersung gem waiting to be explored.
Naturally, bubbly looms large on the list of attractions for visitors to the region, with Epernay, a lovely town on the chalky hills southwest of Reims, the undisputed champagne capital of the world. Here, you can enjoy tastings at the home of several champagne producers, including Moet & Chandon and Perrier-Jouet. Smaller producers can also be visited between the pretty towns of Bar sur Aube and Les Riceys. Champagne can also be tasted at the celebrated Taittinger cellars in Reims, the largest town in the Champagne. A bustling university city, Reims has all the feel of a busy regional capital, with a fabulous old town and magnificent 13th century cathedral, one of the greatest gothic buildings of northern France. Largely made up of undulating hills and pretty farmland, Champagne’s landscape rises in the north towards the densely wooded, river-riven walker’s paradise of the Ardennes, with the Plateau de Langres in the south home to the fortified Roman hilltown of Langres, sometimes known as the Carcassonne of the North – without the crowds.
Luxury hotels in the Champagne region include Hostellerie La Briqueterie near Vinay and the Domaine Les Crayeres in Reims, two of our favourite hotels in France which are both elegant and comfortable hotels in superb locations.
Due to its proximity to the north coast of France, the Champagne region can easily be incorporated into a self-drive touring holiday of the Northern Vineyards or can be used as a stopover en route to the French Alps and Lakes.
Champagne cellar visits in Reims, Epernay and in vineyards along the Aube; the old town of Charleville Mezieres, capital of the Ardennes department; Charles de Gaulle’s country residence and burial site, Colombey les Deux Eglises; Reims, with one of the finest medieval cathedrals in France, once the coronation place of French kings, now with one of the best son-et-lumieres in France; Reims’ magnificent Roman triumphal arch; Lac du Der, the biggest reservoir in Europe, one of the most important migration routes for Europe’s waterfowl, sheltering vast flocks of cranes, passing through in their thousands in spring and autumn; the fortified hilltown of Langres, ‘Carcassonne of the North’, minus the crowds; la foret d’Orient near Troyes and Montagne de Reims, both Regional Natural Parks; river trips along the Seine, the Marne, and the Aube; the 13th century gothic cathedral of Troyes, with its spectacular stained glass windows; autumn wine festivals.
With the most extensive rail network in Western Europe, France is a great country to explore by train. The nationally owned SNCF (Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer) runs fast, efficient services between the main towns. Buses cover the rural areas, but services can be rather sporadic, with departures often at awkward times. To visit Champagne’s cellars – the main reason for being here – by far the best option is to rent a car.
Flight time from London is approximately one hour to Paris. It’s about an hour from Paris to Reims by car. To avoid traffic jams, don’t travel around Paris at peak hour or return on a Sunday afternoon/evening. Paris’s airports is served by a variety of airlines from the UK, including Brtitish Airways, Air France, KLM. Alternatively, Eurostar runs an extensive daily timetable of departures between London’s St Pancras International and Paris and Lille. Reims is located at a crossroads on the European motorway network between Paris and Strasbourg on the A4-E50 and between Calais, Troyes, Dijon and Lyon on the A26-E17.
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Paris Airport Main airports are in Paris, Bordeaux and Lyon, with scheduled and low cost airlines flying into the country from all over the UK. Currency Euro (£1 = Euro 1.24) Size Roughly 600 miles wide and 700 miles long Population 66 million Average temperature Varies dramatically, from about 8 degrees in winter in Brittany to 26 degrees in summer in Corsica, with snow on the Alps and Pyrenees year-round
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