Everyone has heard of Champagne, thanks to the most revered of all sparkling wines. However not everyone is familiar with the region that this effervescent liquid gold comes from, despite the fact that its name is known all over the world. The gentle rolling hills, temperate climate and chalky soil around Epernay proved ideal for making this sparkling wine, with a process which was brought to the area by monks from the south of France.
Chalôns-en-Champagne is the capital of the region, despite its small size. Explore the Saint-Etienne cathedral, part of which dates back to the 12th century, and which features some remarkable stained glass windows. The much larger university city of Reims is the cultural and historic focal point of the region. This city has its own splendid medieval cathedral: Notre-Dame de Reims is a Unesco World Heritage site, and this imposing edifice is where the kings of France were crowned in days gone by. You can learn more about the coronations and see all kinds of royal artefacts and tapestries at the nearby Palace of Tau. Reims is also the commercial centre for the champagne industry. Barrels of champagne age in the cool cellars and passageways carved out of the chalk which lies beneath the city. The grands marques, or major champagne houses, are mainly based in Reims, and most offer tasting sessions and tours of their cellars, such as at the Caves Veuve Clicquot.
In the remarkably well-preserved historic city centre of Troyes you can see many traditional style half-timbered houses. The city also boasts a 13th century gothic cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, with its magnificent stained glass windows.
If you’d like to get off the beaten track, stop by the fortified hill town of Langres, which is a real hidden gem: a treasure trove of historic stone buildings. Try the local cheese of the same name, which is bathed in champagne during the aging process.
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