The Champagne-Ardenne is an area of northeastern France which is home to
1 342 363 inhabitants and sits on 25 606 km2. Located approximately 1h30 of Paris, it shares a border with Belgium and is composed of 4 districts: The Aube (10), the Ardennes (08), Haute-Marne (52) and the Marne (51).
This area has a remarkable historical heritage that dates back to the Neolithic era. There are also a number of tombs and cemeteries from Gallic times, as well as echoes of the Gallo-Roman period such as the site of Andilly-in-Bassigny. Rheims, in particular, was the largest and most populous city north of Rome and was an important cultural crossroads for this period. Its magnificent cathedral, classified now as an historic landmark by UNESCO, where Clovis was baptized at the dawn of the Middle Ages. This began Rheims Cathedral’s long tradition as the site the consecration of French kings up until Charles X.
From 12th to the 14th century, the area knew a period of luxury and plenty due to its markets and fairs. The medieval city of Troyes, with its paved lanes and its half-timbered houses, still bears the earmarks of these prosperous times, when traveling merchants came from afar to trade rich silk textiles and objects of silver and gold in a pervasive carnival atmosphere. The area’s wealth required a good deal of military defense in the form of castles, citadels and fortified towns, as today’s fascinating ruins of Montcornet, Linchamps Sedan and Day still attest. The area’s religious heritage is well documented, since each village had its own its church. Whether fortified like a castle as was the church in Thiérache, Roman in style like those of Vignory and Machault, or Gothic like the splendid basilica Saint-Urbain de Troyes, each one has its own unique character. Cities as Châlons-on-champagne preserve rare jewels religious architecture, such as the Cathedral Saint-Etienne (St. Stephen’s Cathedral), Notre-Dame-en Vaux, named a national historic monument by UNESCO, the Saint-Alpin church and St. John’s church. And even the small rural churches have special charms and personalities that vary according to times of their birth, such as the amazing wood-paneled churches of Mathaux, Chauffour-lès-Bailly or Soulaines-Dhuys.
The Champagne-Ardenne area was also the scene of great destruction during the Hundred Years War, religious wars through the ages and, more recently, two world wars. Rheims and its cathedral made history yet again by hosting the ceremony of reconciliation between Germany and France. Nevertheless, the dual nature suggested by the name of the area has less to do with its history than with its geography. The administrative district was created from the fusion of two regions: the Ardennes, Champagne. The landscapes vary from North to the South and East to West. The North is occupied by the ancient land mass of the Ardennes, flaky metamorphic rock plates whose altitude varies between 400 and 700 meters, covered mainly by forest land. The Meuse and Semoy rivers run through the area, winding through in steep valleys, overlooked by vertiginous cliffs. The northern landscape is also characterized by the green meadows and fertile hedges of Thiérache, as well as the tall woods of Argonne.
In the west, the Champagne-Ardenne is bordered by the tertiary plateaus of Tadernois and Brie. The heart of Champagne’s vineyard country extends from here to the marshy plains in the south, the base of the Mountain of Rheims and Côtes des Bars. The production and export of Champagne trumpeted the reputation of the province to the whole world. The chalky earth gives a special, unique flavor to this rare, golden and gently sparkling wine whose name is synonymous with celebration. The “Champagne route”, in which approximately 80 local vintners take part, makes it easy for visitors to explore the secrets of this refined beverage.
In the central area, the ground is calcite and arid. The vast chalky plains were drained of the lime that makes up the crumbling hills of the east coast. The area became reforested and today grows crops of various grains and beets.
In the south and the east, the terrain changes. The clay-rich ground is moist and dotted with ponds. From the calcareous rock plate of Langres to the thick forests of Argonne, the area is wooded and good for raising livestock. The Marne, the Aube, and the Meuse have their sources here, giving the south of Argonne the name of “land of the lakes”. Water (100 km2 of lakes and other bodies of water) and forest (3000 km2) make up most the area giving rise to a large diversity of fauna and a flora as well as many leisure activities. With three artificial lakes tailor –made for water-sport enthusiasts, river-filled valleys with spectacular scenery, more than 635 km of inland waterways, and approximately 10 000 hectares of other lakes and bodies of water, the Ardenne Champagne region is an the place to go for all kinds of water-based sports and activities. In the same way, the remarkable natural richness of the area is perfect for exploration and all kinds of excursions, especially given its two Parcs Naturels Régionaux. (Natural Reserve Regional Parks) or PNR.
The PNR of the Eastern Forest, created in 1970 and which sits on 70 000 hectares, is a protected area which comprises a mosaic of unique landscapes representative of the area: the rich, moist land of Champagne on one side and Champagne’s chalky terrain on the other, as well as a set of characteristic rock plateaus, plains and valleys. This amazing territory which harbors immense reservoir lakes within its deep forests, gives visitors a vast sampling of varied fauna and the typical architectural heritage of the Champagne region.
The other great national preserve, the PNR of the Mountain of Rheims, created in 1976, extends over 50 000 hectares between Rheims and Epernay and offers a panorama of gorgeous landscapes from forests to vineyards. Situated on the highest promontory of Ile –de-France, it’s made up of small villages and hamlets, and it preserves a singular animal, vegetable and mineral heritage. Along a 3 km trail visitors can discover one of these marvels, unique in all of Europe: the ancient beech trees of the forest of Verzy.
The area Champagne-Ardenne offers visitors a whole panoply of landscapes, historic buildings and original sights across its changing and varied landscape. Whether one considers its green valleys and majestic forests or its famous bubbly namesake, Champagne-Ardenne boasts many delightful riches indeed.