The Champagne Region

About 100 miles East of Paris


The Champagne region is about 100 miles east of Paris, and of course well known for Champagne, the sparking wine, but there is much more to the region. Although it may not be the prettiest region in France, and the weather does tend to be on the cold side, Champagne is a friendly and easy going area full of history, with beautiful hillsides covered with vines, and within easy daytrip reach of Paris either by car or train. Of course many people spend several days in Champagne and visit over and over as well.

This is an extremely important historic area in part due to it's proximity to Paris. The Huns were defeated there, the Nazis surrendered there, an enormous number of French Kings were coronated there, and it was even ruled as as independent country from 950 to 1316 by The Counts of Champagne. Historically important places often are fascinating to visit, and even though the Province of Champagne was heavily damaged in World War I and II (and before hand by numerous wars), much was restored, and there is much to see.

It is at the northern limit of wine production, and even in July, the average temperature in only 66 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius). The yearly average temperatures are only 50 degrees F or 10 degrees C. It's not just Champagne's northern positioning but also its altitude that makes it relatively cold, and cellar tours will always be cold regardless of the weather outside. Bring a jacket! There are five wine producing districts legally defined by French Law:  Aube, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne, Montagne de Reims, and Vallée de la Marne.

Commercial centers, and centers of Champagne production, are the towns of Reims and Épernay. There is not a lot to do in Épernay other than visit Champagne Houses and it pretty much shuts down at night so not many people stay there.

Reims, sometimes written Rheims in English, has fewer Champagne Houses to visit but  more places to stay as well as plenty of restaurants, bistros, wine shops, and nightlife. Reims is also much more interesting to walk around. There is plenty to do in Reims. Although you can take the train easily from Paris to either, if you do not have a car you probably will want to stay in Reims. The countryside is another popular option for lodging for those with transportation.

Troyes is another historic capitol of Champagne, but doesn't get as much interest as there are no Champagne Houses there. It is however fascinating with a lively center, plenty of Gothic Churches, museums, places to stay and eat, and visiting the old city just may be the best way to see what Europe looked like in the Middle Ages . You can take the train from Paris although it isn't direct and you must switch in Mulhouse, Alsace, and there are also buses from Reims.

Some of the top things to do in La Champagne are:

1) Visit one or more Champagne Houses. Some of their tours, and cellars, are simply amazing even if you do not like wine, really. In Reims, 2000 year old chalk Greco-Roman cellars that go as far as 300 feet deep and are simply amazing include Ruinart and Pommery (these two may be the most breathtaking) as well as Tattinger, Veuve Cliquot, and Charles Heidsieck. Some amazing ones in Épernay include Champagne de Castellane which also has museums and a butterfly garden with hundreds of different types of butterflies flying freely, Moet and Chandon with their great multilingual tours and over 18 miles of cellars, and Champagne Mercier which even has a train ride through its cellars as part of their tours.

2) The Cathedrale Notre Dame in Reims, whose construction began in 1211. You can climb the tower and get great 360 degree views all around.

3) Wandering randomly around in the old city of Troyes, as mentioned above, and experiencing the Middle Ages complete with half-timbered houses with walls and floors at their own strange angles. These are houses with wooden frames filled in with various materials such as torchis, a traditional mix of clay, sand, chopped straw, lime and sand, as well as materials like brick, chalk, and plaster. Much of the old city is a car free zone as well, adding to its charm.

4) The Memorial Charles de Gaulle in Colombey-Les-Deux-Eglises which has gorgeous views of the country side and exhibits highlighting Charles de Gaulle.

5) The multiple Champagne Routes through the Countryside such as the Champagne Routes of the Marne (the Montage de Reims Champagne Route, Vallee de la Marne Champagne Route, and Cotes des Blancs Champagne Route) and the Cotes de Bar Champagne Route. The countryside is beautiful, with charming villages, family wineries, and hillside vineyards.

These are just a few suggestions of things to do and see in the Champagne Region. I could easily spend several days just in Reims visiting Champagne Houses, and wandering around the city, eating, drinking, and enjoying the sites.