More to Champagne than the drink

By | Category: Travel destinations

Reims Cathedral

There are thousands of champagne houses within a relatively small area, there is good food and, with a choice of activities, this all combines to make the Champagne area of France a place to visit, whatever your interests.

A short train ride from Paris, Reims (the more old-fashioned name is Rheims) the capital of the region was where, up until 1825, the Kings of France were crowned. Its majestic thirteenth century Gothic cathedral with flying buttresses and decorated façade was built specifically for this reason. Damaged in WWI, along with a large portion of the city, the cathedral has since been restored. The city’s restoration included wider boulevards, and the preservation of art-deco buildings. Tours of the latter can be arranged via their tourist office.

The region is known as the European capital of stained glass, and at the rear of the cathedral a trio of three stained glass windows have been painted by Marc Chagall. On the south side of the cathedral the Palace of Tau, the Archbishop’s Palace was formally the kings’ residence. Within what is now a museum are many of the statues that once decorated the outside of the cathedral. The palace, together with the cathedral, are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The Chagall windows in the cethedral

If you are in Reims in summer, don’t miss the illuminations beamed onto the cathedral. As Frederic described in Just about Travel a few years ago, the sight is one that leaves a lasting impression.

Many of the champagne houses, both the large ones and those run by private families, are open to visitors. There are 220 kilometres of sign-posted itineraries. On the outskirts of Reims, deep under the ground, in what was once chalk quarries, are the cellars of Veuve Cliquot, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On three levels and covering twenty-four kilometres on a tour, I learnt how the champagne was made with, depending on the house, a variation of three grapes chardonnay, pinot noir and meunier.

Another factor, I was unaware of when buying champagne was that the beverage when sold has already been aged, and is therefore ready to drink. Unless a vintage, it would not benefit from being kept. For lovers of champagne, which I am, a bonus is that a glass of champagne doesn’t cost a fortune. Expect to pay from €3 to €6. For anyone fancying a different type of holiday, grapes are harvested by hand from mid-September to early October. For more about the champagne houses, click here.

Also in the region, but fortunately saved from the ravages of the world wars, is the medieval town of Troyes. Its historical centre, with cobbled streets and timber-framed houses date from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. An on-going renovation programme preserves the buildings as they were originally. In the galleried Mortier courtyard, the buildings had been completely rebuilt by craftspeople who have replaced the timber in exactly the same place and position as when it was built. In the Ruelle de Chat (the Cat Road) the tops of the buildings lean towards each other. This apparently allowed the local cats to hop from one side to the other. Large stones strategically placed along the cobbled passageway were originally placed there to protect the buildings from carriages that passed by.

Troyes

The town encourages dog owners to visit, producing a leaflet available at their tourist office with all the information owners would need when visiting. This includes names of hotels and restaurants that welcome them. In the Ruelle des Chats, the pet friendly La Mignardise, is situated in one of the half-timbered 16th century houses, and when I ate there, had a three course menu which included wine and coffee for €25.

An additional reason for visiting Troyes is that this is the place Parisians come to buy clothes and items for their homes, are the designer shopping outlets on the outskirts of the town.

Essoyes

One of my favourite artists is the Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir. In the village of Essoyes, (website only in French) where his wife was born and where he and his family spent their summers, I was able to see how the great painter lived, and was inspired. At the Renoir Cultural Centre a film in English gave me an insight into his life whilst the space outside was hung with copies of his paintings. Renoir’s grandparent’s home, where he and his family spent their summers, recently came into the hands of the local council, and is currently being renovated. The interior is being reconstructed to be as it was when Renoir and his family lived there. Its opening is planned for June 2017. His studio at the end of the garden is already open to visitors, and I could see the place where he painted many of his works.  He is buried in the local cemetery.

On the borders of a proposed new National Park, between Champagne and Burgundy and scheduled to open in 2018 at Orges is the Moulin de la Fleuristerie.  (The website is only in French.) In the ancient mill, a paddle wheel still drives old-fashioned machinery. Its owners have preserved the craft of making decorative flowers for top French designers with clients that include the House of Chanel. In the grounds, gîtes can be rented with the bonus that anyone staying is invited on a tour. Otherwise, it is only during July and August that the mill is open to visitors when Annette Geoffroy demonstrates how she creates and makes the designer flowers.

Renoir’s studio

Being an area of wine production, the countryside is covered in vineyards, and ideal for hiking and cycling. Near Troyes, the Orient Forest with its 106 ponds and 23,000 hectares of forest has two natural reserves, and is part of the French humid zone. Depending on the time of the year, more than 250 species of birds can be seen there. A multitude of activities include wind and kite surfing, fishing, and boating.

London to Reims which includes Eurostar, and a change of trains in Paris takes 4 hours 13 minutes /Troyes 4 hours 43 minutes and fares are from £90 for standard class return per person by Voyages SNCF.

For more abut the Champagne-Ardennes area of Fance, click here or go to www.champagne-ardenne-tourism.co.uk

For more about Natasha’s trip to Champagne click here or go to https://barkbitetravel.wordpress.com/2017/03/04/stylish-3-hotel-in-champagne/

 

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