France Grand Est – Champagne, Ardennes
The Ardennes forms a distinct massif eroded by two main rivers and valleys, the Meuse and the Semoy. It is a region rich in dense forest which is especially appreciated for its long hiking trails.
Only 2% of French wines are from the Champagne region, but it is arguably the most prestigious. Wines have been produced locally since Roman times, but it was Dom Perignon who in 17th century utilized the first double fermentation of wine to make it sparkling. This same process is still utilized today with the use of sugar cane and yeast. Champagne is a branded and blended wine and its vineyards extend over 74,000 acres. The prestige of the local names are due to the expertise of the master-blenders. More than 300 million bottles of Champagne are produced each year.
Reims could be a day round trip from Paris, or a hub from which to visit the region for a few days. Built on the banks of the River Vesle, Reims cathedral the place where the Kings of France were crowned. It is the center of the Champagne wine industry where most of the great Champagne Houses have cellars open to visitors. The Cathedral Notre Dame is one of the great 13th century French cathedrals, with more than 2300 sculptures, new stained glasses by Chagall, and the world famous Smiling Angel on the North portal. Also worth a visit are the 12th century Basilica of St Remi, the Fine Art Museum, and the Foujita Chapel.
Should you prefer a small community rather than a big town, then Epernay could be your choice. The mile long Avenue de Champagne offers visitors the opportunity to sample from the large number of Champagne Houses. It could also be the overnight base for touring the region.