Here’s your handy guide to France’s Champagne-Ardenne region.
When one hears of the Champagne-Ardenne region of France, one may easily associate champagne (the drink) with it. But did you know that the region offers a whole lot more than just fancy sparkling wine? This region is also where almost all of France’s monarchs were crowned. Charles de Gaulle even referred to it as home.
Champagne-Ardenne also boasts beautiful scenery, well-preserved medieval towns, a fantastic theme park, several Villes d’Art et Histoire (Cities of Art and History), and UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Interested to know more? Keep reading.
In this article, we’ll share with you the best things to do in Champagne-Ardenne, France.
1. Visit Champagne Houses in Epernay
A visit to the Champagne-Ardenne region would not be complete without visiting the iconic Avenue de Champagne of Epernay.
This kilometer-long boulevard is lined on both sides with iconic champagne houses, meticulously built over many generations since the 17th century. Some were constructed as corporate headquarters, while others were built as the own residence of the proprietors.
Möet et Chandon, arguably the world’s most popular champagne brand, is also one of the oldest. As you step into its courtyard, you are met with a statue of Dom Perignon. The house offers four packages ranging from €25 to €48. The standard trip includes an hour tour of their cellars and a glass of champagne in their private tasting area.
Mercier, another major producer of champagne, can also be found in Epernay. Excursions at this champagne house will let you see hundreds of champagne bottles in different states of maturation.
There are also champagne houses outside Avenue de Champagne that are worth your visit! One of them is Champagne De Castellane. This maison stands out because of its spectacular pastel Art Nouveau buildings and its enormous Neoclassical tower. De Castellane has wine cellars that are nearly 6,000 meters long.
2. Revisit the History of Champagne in Reims
Reims — a city full of history, art, and sparkling wine — is one of the six cities listed as Villes d’Art et Histoire (Cities of Art and History) in Champagne-Ardenne.
The most iconic landmark of the city is the UNESCO World Heritage Site Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims, or simply Reims Cathedral. This 13th-century high gothic church was where French kings from Louis VIII to Charles X were crowned.
After the coronation ceremony, the banquet would take place at the nearby Palais du Tau (Tau Palace). This 17th-century Neoclassical palace houses the cathedral’s treasury. The Tau Palace used to be the former residence of archbishops, too.
Another must-visit religious and historic building in Reims is the Abbey of Saint-Remi, a medieval basilica that houses the relics of Saint Remi. It also houses the famous archaeological and art museum, Musée Saint-Remi.
While you’re in Reims, you might also want to visit the well-preserved 3rd-century Roman arch, Porte de Mars.
Aside from exploring the history of Champagne (the region), you can also get a glimpse of the history of champagne (the wine).
Reims is home to several world-class champagne houses, including Veuve Clicquot, Ruinart, Taittinger, G. H. Mumm, and Champagne Pommery. These champagne houses offer wine tours in their crayères (ancient chalk quarries where wines are aged for centuries). Of course, they also have champagne tastings!
Across Champagne Pommery’s estate is the Villa Demoiselle. This Belle Époque architectural masterpiece features exquisite Art Nouveau and Art Deco interiors.
Check out this article to learn more about the champagne houses in Reims.
3. Travel Back to Medieval France in Troyes
Another Ville d’Art et Histoire is this little town tucked away in the southern reaches of the Champagne region: Troyes. It is well-known for its art galleries, timber-fronted houses, cobblestoned roads, and Gothic churches.
The Troyes Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Pierre Saint-Paul) is a Gothic masterpiece. The spectacular west facade dates back to the mid-16th century, while the 114-meter-long interior is lit with stunning stained-glass windows from the 13th to 17th centuries. Another highlight is its Baroque organ and tiny treasury with enamels. Joan of Arc and Charles VII stopped here on their route to Reims in 1429.
The Maison de l’Outil et de la Pensée Ouvrière is a museum that displays the many instruments used for manual crafts in the 18th and 19th centuries, before mass production. The tools were all collected by the founder of the museum.
The Musée d’Art Moderne de Troyes provides an engrossing overview of French art from the mid-19th century through the 1960s. Among the well-known masters whose works may be found here are Bonnard, Degas, Matisse, and Picasso.
The Apothicairerie de l’Hôtel-Dieu-le-Comte is an 18th-century apothecary with a vast collection of vintage ceramic jars and over 300 painted medicine boxes.
4. Enjoy the Beautiful Countryside in Langres
With its magnificent scenery of trees and lakes, nature lovers seem to love Langres. There are several activities available in the vicinity, including fishing, boating, and hiking. Langres is perched on the side of a plateau, looking out over a lush environment. If you just have an hour or two, the best thing to do is stroll around the ramparts and take in the view of the Vosges Mountains and the Marne Valley.
This medieval town is also a Ville d’Art et d’Histoire. Its history stretches back to ancient times, as shown by the Roman gate inside the ancient fortifications. There are also historic churches, exquisite Renaissance buildings, and winding medieval roads.
It was also the birthplace of Diderot, the 18th-century Enlightenment philosopher. The Musée d’Art et Histoire has a section dedicated to Diderot, which includes his encyclopedias and several other first editions of his works.
The 12th-century Cathédrale Saint-Mamme is also worth a visit. It was renovated in 1760, although parts of the old Romanesque elements remain inside the Gothic sanctuary. The facade is characterized by two massive towers and columns that exemplify Ionic, Doric, and Corinithian styles.
5. Visit the Château Fort De Sedan
Sedan, another Ville d’Art et d’Histoire in the Ardennes Mountain foothills, is home to Europe’s biggest fortified medieval fortress. The massive Château Fort de Sedan, constructed in the 1300s to 1400s, has bastions, walls, and large towers that protected the stronghold against attacks. Its ramparts could hold four thousand men.
The château is open to the public all year and features a café, restaurant, museum, and hotel. There’s also a store selling locally manufactured food and regional items like stationery, books, and jewelry.
One more reason to visit is their cultural activities. The Château Fort de Sedan organizes a Medieval Festival in May. In December, the château entertains tourists with Christmas celebrations and music.
The town also features two interesting churches. First is the Eglise Saint-Charles, which was previously a Protestant church but was converted to a Catholic church in 1685. The other one is the Synagogue de Sedan, which was constructed largely from local stone.
6. Watch Puppet Shows in Charleville-Mézières
Charleville-Mézières, a double town on the Meuse River, is a suitable starting point for visiting the northern section of the Champagne-Ardenne region. Charleville was established in the 17th century, and Mézières is more contemporary. Charleville-Mézières is designated a Ville d’Art et d’Histoire due to its rich cultural legacy.
The magnificent 17-century Place Ducale sprang from the local duke’s jealousy of Paris’s Place des Vosges.
Arthur Rimbaud, a French poet born in Charleville, is buried in the local cemetery. There is a museum (Musée Arthur Rimbaud) dedicated to the famed French poet’s life and work.
7. Learn More About the Life of Charles de Gaulle
The Mémorial Charles de Gaulle is a tribute to the respected French leader. Following his death in 1970, a 44-meter-high pink granite Cross of Lorraine was constructed on a hill near Gaulle’s home village of Colombey-Les-Deux-Églises.
The permanent display in the memorial tells the narrative of Charles de Gaulle’s life and emphasizes his most significant historical events, such as the Second World War and the foundation of the 5th Republic of France. There are also audio guides available throughout the museum.
La Boisserie, his private residence, is a lovely villa surrounded by a verdant park. Tourists are welcome to visit the home and wander around the grounds.
8. Climb the Verzenay Lighthouse
The Phare de Verzenay (Verzenay Lighthouse) sits on a hilltop near the village’s eastern boundary. The lighthouse has exactly 101 spiral steps leading to the top, which rewards visitors with unrivaled 360-degree views of vine, fields, and woodlands.
The lighthouse was used as an observation tower during World War I due to its proximity to the front line, but it fell into ruin after the war. In 1987, the people of Verzenay’s Grand Cru village seized the building back and gradually repaired it over the following decade.
The Sillery sugar mill, visible on the horizon, transforms 16,000 tonnes of beets (a key crop in the area) into 2,600 tonnes of sugar! Stop by the tasting room for a glass of fizz after brushing up on the seasonal steps in Champagne production at the museum.
9. Have Fun at Nigloland
Get your thrills at Nigloland, one of France’s most popular amusement parks. From animal-themed rides to puppet performances with the theme park’s hedgehog mascot, this amusement park offers thrills and entertainment for guests of all ages.
The majority of the attractions are geared for children under the age of 10, although older kids may expect a good selection of roller coasters and thrill rides, including the new Donjon de l’Extrême — the country’s tallest drop tower at 100 meters. Adults may unwind by strolling around Nigloland’s vast woodland and floral gardens, too.