Champagne in North East of France is a spectacular region not just for its sparkling wines but also for its long and colourful heritage. Right since the times of Emperor Charlemagne, Champagne has been hosting Europe’s most popular Fairs. Champagne has had its tryst with some of the most popular French personalities ever. The legendary Joan of Arc was born here while General De Gaulle was buried in this region. Apart from an unforgettable experience of touring the Cellars and tasting the bubbly, Champagne also offers medieval churches, mansions, museums and designer factory outlets for shopping.
The first vines were planted in Champagne during the Roman Age. The legacy was continued in the Middle Ages by wine growing monks. One problem during that time was that the barrels containing Champagne could not hold on to the effervescence and the bubbles escaped. Then Dom Pérignon, a Benedictine monk from the Abbey of Hautvillers perfected a technique by which the effervescence of Champagne was retained in a bottle. He is popularly referred to as the spiritual father of Champagne! By early 20th Century the current pressing and vinification processes was formalized. Today, the Champagne growing areas in north eastern France are under the administrative region called Champagne-Ardenne.
Troyes, Reims, and Epernay are the most popular centers in the Champagne region.
Troyes used to be the capital of the Counts of Champagne, erstwhile rulers of this region. For many years, Troyes used to host Trade Fairs where standards of weights and measures like the Troy Weight used to be set. The 2 most famous structures of Troyes are the Church of Saint Urbain and 13th century Cathedral of Saint Pierre. It was fascinating to note that the borders of Troyes actually resemble the cork of a Champagne bottle!
Reims has a rich cultural heritage. It was built by the Romans over the Gaulish settlement of Durocortorum. It served as the political and spiritual capital of France for many years. In fact, Reims served as the coronation site for French Kings till the nineteenth century. It was also the site where the German Armies surrendered during the World War II. La Musée de la Reddition, the Surrender Museum has the table where the surrender was signed.
Notre-Dame de Reims, a 13th century Cathedral is a must visit at Reims. It was damaged during the World War and got renovated by the American Philanthropist John Rockefeller. Considered one of the most impressive Gothic buildings of Europe, it has beautiful stained-glass windows, a soaring stone roof and the famous statue of Smiling Angel.
Mumm Champagne House is the most famous Champagne Cellar here. You get to see a film on how grapes are treated to make Champagne. The guide takes you through 15 miles of Cellar housing 24 million bottles of Champagne!
Evenings are best spent in Reims’ at the Place Drouet d'Erlon, which is dotted with bars, cafes and shops. If you happen to be at Reims’ on a first Sunday of a month, then head to Parc de Expositions for some great bargains in antiques and bric-a-brac at the Flea Market.
Founded in the 5th century, Epernay has some of the most prestigious vineyards in the world. The most famous street in Epernay is the Avenue de Champagne which houses all leading Champagne manufacturers like Moët et Chandon, Perrier-Jouët, Mercier and De Castellane. The cellars are a sight to watch holding 200 million bottles spread over 60 miles! The most spectacular experience is coming down the panoramic elevator leading to the Mercier vaults. The best way to get around Epernay is on the Cute Little Tourist Train that takes you around the City in an hour.
Langres is a lesser known but very charming hill town in the south of the Champagne region. Often referred to as Carcassonne of the North, Langres has a set of remarkable stone buildings dating back o the 13th century. Langres has been a fortified city right since Roman times and is refreshingly not packed with tourists.
Bottles of Champagne come in a wide variety of sizes and each is a classic. Quart 20cl, Demi 37.5cl, Imperial 75 cl, Magnum 2bottles (1.5 litre), Jeroboam 4 bottles (3 litres), Methuselah 8 bottles (6 litres),
There are only 3 types of Grapes permitted in Champagne. Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot meunier are the privileged trio.