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Champagne-Ardenne is a rural region of France bordering Belgium and geographically the hub to most of Europe. The area is famous for producing Champagne, the exclusive premium sparkling wine that can only be produced from Pinot noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier grapes grown in the region according to appellation law and expensive secondary fermentation in the bottle. The leading manufacturers have cleverly linked their luxury champagne to nobility and keep prices high by limiting production and supply of champagne.
The four departments that make up Champagne are: Aube, Ardennes, Haute-Marne, and Marne. For family holidays the entire region offers many different ideas being bordered by Belgium in the north, by self catering in Lorraine in the east, by cottages in Franche-Comté and gites in Burgundy in the south, and Paris and Picardy in the west. Nord Pas de Calais is where most British holidaymakers arrive by cross channel ferry for their gite in France or holiday in Northern France. There are many interesting towns and cities as well as vineyards to explore from your last minute Champagne cottage break accommodation.
Reims is the capital of Champagne and the crossroads of many European routes. Although Reims suffered during the world wars, the architectural preservation is remarkable. The UNESCO world heritage sites, namely Notre Dame Cathedral, Saint Remi Basilica and Museum and Palace of Tau are unmissable, along with the military history museums like the Surrender Museum and Fort de la Pompelle Museum.
Just south of Reims is the Grand Montagne area where 10 of the 17 “villages viticoles champenois” that can legally call themselves Champagne Grand Cru. Ludes is one of the villages accounting for 9% of all champagne production, the head office of the Champagne Houses, Canard-Duchêne is here. It is easy to take a Champagne tour from your self catering cottage base in Champagne, but advisable to join an organised day tour if your whole party wish to partake in “degustation!”
Swish Epernay is 25km south of Reims, and a great base for your Champagne tasting holiday. There are 100km of cellars below the streets containing 200m bottles of champagne, liquid gold indeed. A short break in Epernay can be combined with self catering near Paris or a day trip by train to Paris or even Disneyland Paris, after all the Champagne area is probably of more interest to adults than children.
Troyes, the city of 10 churches and cathedrals built between the 13th and 20th centuries, is rich in medieval and industrial architecture. The former Episcopal Palace houses the Modern Art Museum and the Saint-Loup Museum houses a wide variety of collections, such as fine arts, archaeology and natural history.
Taking a break from cultural touring for the all-important French lunch is essential. Champagne Ardenne is well known for its “cuisine du terroir” gastronomic heritage with game and wild mushrooms featuring widely. Troyes andouillette (sausage), is often considered an acquired taste! After such rich food, round off your meal with Brie, perhaps the most familiar of French soft cheeses, originating from adjoining Seine et Marne, or Biscuits de Reims.
An amusing mnemonic to remember the bottle sizes for your wedding or champagne function is: My Judy Really Makes Splendid Belching Noises - My (Magnum 1.5 litres) Judy (Jeroboam 3 litres) Really (Rehoboam 4.5 litres) Makes (Methuselah 6 litres) Splendid (Salmanazar 9 litres) Belching (Balthazar 12 litres) Noises (Nebuchadnezzar 15 litres). Santé!