Champagne, east of Paris, is one of the great historic provinces of France. As far back as the times of Emperor Charlemagne, in the 9th century, it was one of the great regions of Europe, a rich agricultural area that was famous for its fairs.
Today, thanks to the sparkling wine to which the region has given its name, the word Champagne is known worldwide.
The region is essentially made up of areas of relatively flat agricultural land and other areas of gently undulating hills. The hills are higher and more pronounced in the north of the region – the area of the Ardennes – and in the south, known as the Plateau de Langres.
The central part of Champagne has vast expanses of cereal production, while north of Reims, vegetables and sugar beets dominate the landscape. In the north of the Ardennes department, you’ll encounter wooded hills and valleys. The famous vineyards of Champagne lie on the chalky hills to the southwest of Reims, and around the town of Epernay.
Reims, a university city, has the feel of a bustling regional capital. The old city is dominated by its 13th century cathedral, one of the great Gothic cathedrals of northern France and a UNESCO world heritage site. Badly damaged during World War I, it has been painstakingly restored to its past glory.
The city also is home to some of the major Champagne producers, including Taittinger, and cellar tours are available.
However, for perhaps the most enjoyable cellar visits and sparkling wine tasting, many visitors prefer the smaller town of Epernay, 15 miles south of Reims. Located in the heart of “Champagne Country,” Epernay is home to many of the most famous producers, including Moet & Chandon and Perrier-Jouet. Since the town is small, it’s quite easy to visit a number of Champagne houses or cellars on foot.
One other Champagne-producing area, quite distinct from the Reims-Epernay vineyard corridor, lies to the south in the Aube department, between the towns of Bar sur Aube and Les Riceys.