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Active Champagne 2020

07 April 2020

The region of Eastern France stretches from the outer reaches of Paris to the borders with southern Belgium, Luxemburg and Germany.  Within this extensive region, there are five distinct destinations to discover: Alsace, Ardenne, Champagne, Lorraine and the Vosges Massif.

The easily accessible area of Champagne is full of uncluttered nature spots and beautiful countryside, renowned for rolling hills and sweeping acres of vineyards.  One can exercise just as easily, however, in exploring the array of fascinating towns with each having something different to offer. There are new and interesting ways of touring around and enjoying the sights.

So, when we are able, once again, to enjoy the great outdoors here are some ideas of what we could do in-between imbibing!

ON THE TOWN! (Just a few ideas)

Image courtesy of Châlons-en-Champagne - Active Champagne

Image courtesy of Châlons-en-Champagne

Take CHALONS-EN-CHAMPAGNE, a panoply of ways to visit is on offer. There is an electric scooter rental from the tourist office so that may be undertaken – an hour’s exploration at one’s own pace. This is a safe and easy way to explore the town as well as being quiet, ecologically friendly and practical.

For those with little time to spare, the tourist office has devised a “quick visit” tour picking out 19 points of interest to discover. Each point corresponds to a site and is the subject of an information panel which one may read in a few minutes.

Images courtesy of Chalons-en-Champagne

Nicknamed the “Sparkling Venice”, Châlons-en-Champagne can also be explored via its numerous waterways. L’Eau’d’yssée takes the visitor around the historical heart of the city. A unique guided tour by local pilots is sometimes accompanied by their personal assistants, the majestic white swans. The boat ride, organised by the Tourist Office, allows the visitor to discover many remarkable elements of the architectural and natural heritage of the town.

At night, the atmosphere is no longer the same. The darkness comes to completely change the perception of sounds and of things. Enjoy Métamorph’eau’ses, a sound and light show on the water, unique in Europe.

Images courtesy of CRTCA - Active Champagne  Images courtesy of CRTCA - Active Champagne

Images courtesy of CRTCA

Otherwise try EPERNAY – THE capital of bubbly – of magnificent champagne. The wonderful champagne houses, for the most part, are situated on the main thoroughfare – the magnificent Avenue de Champagne…

…and the best way of exploring this district is on foot – using the mobile app of the same name of course (in French and English) – to admire the grand nineteenth century buildings housing the main champagne businesses, famous throughout the world. Whether classic or Renaissance in style, all are opulent indeed and since 1994 classed amongst the 100 sites remarquable du goût in France.

There are hundreds of kilometres of tunnels in the chalk caves underneath the town.  Most famous is 7 bis Avenue de Champagne, the Town Hall, which was once the home of Monsieur AUBAN-MOET, built in 1858 and donated to the town in 1919.  9 Avenue de Champagne is Le Jardin de l’Orangerie des Etablissements MOET ET CHANDON, designed in 1807 by the artist Isabey.

13 Avenue de Champagne is the Château PERRIER – built in cut stone by the original M.Charles himself in the Louis XIII style.  In 1940, this building as the headquarters of the British army, and then of the Nazis between 1942 and 1944 followed by the Americans after the liberation by General Patton.

Image courtesy of CRTCA - Active Champagne

Image courtesy of CRTCA

From here the visit can be enlarged to Include the rest of EPERNAY– still on foot – and including The Gabrielle Dorziat Theatre on Place Mendès – a rarity in the Italian Style inaugurated in 1902.  It holds 600 spectators. One masterpiece is the cupola by M. Clairin who was a friend of Sarah Bernhardt. Opened as the Municipal Theatre it was renamed in 1987 after the French comedienne Gabrielle Dorziat who was born in Epernay in 1880.

Image courtesy of CRTCA - Active Champagne
Image courtesy of CRTCA

For the even more adventurous there are 20 walking loops around Epernay that go through the vineyards and attractive countryside surrounding the town.

Image of Troyes courtesy of D Le Neve - Active Champagne

Image of Troyes courtesy of D Le Neve

The old capital of Champagne, TROYES, is a real gem waiting to be discovered. Troyes has an exquisite historical centre of beautiful half-timbered houses with corbelled roofs, mullioned windows and timber and cob walls. This is the city of romance par excellence, with narrow paved streets, hidden courtyards, beautiful squares and gardens, fountains and numerous statues of romantic figures.

One rather unique activity includes drawing, technology and exercise. It is called ‘GPS drawing’.  It is a marvellous idea by Johann Bescond whereby the visitor follows the roads, streets, alleys, lanes and byways of the town, at the same time making a recognisable shape on a map or GPS in doing so.

Another really unusual activity in Troyes is geo-coaching which is described as ‘a mixture of a high-tech treasure hunt and an orienteering course’.  Armed with a hiking GPS device, criss-cross through the maze of mediaeval alleyways and little-known areas of Troyes, answer the questions and solve the puzzles. Visitors will encounter the multiple treasures to be found – the beauty of the city, the joy of shared experiences. It is open to everyone – to spot every possible clue that could help decrypt the GPS coordinates, solve the puzzles and find the “geocaches” (boxes containing items that may be exchanged and a log book). Then leave a comment, place an object in the box, and replace.  Once home, share with the community (known as “logging your visit”).

Image courtesy of G Raskin

Gateway to Champagne REIMS is a bustling market town with an attractive and lively centre. Largely rebuilt in the 1920’s and 1930’s after extensive damage during the First World War, the architecture of Reims today bears many fine examples of the Art Deco style. The town also owes it appeal to the international acclaim of champagne, with many of the prestigious champagne houses having their headquarters here.  There are a couple of things to assist visitors in 2020.

The Reims Pocket Guide for 2020 is now published in several different languages including English and outlines the main attractions of each of the sights of the city – monuments, museums, champagne houses and so on.

New for 2020 is the Reims City Pass … for your mobile phone – this is the first time an app has been available …and so easy to download and use by just presenting at each attraction visited to obtain the various benefits for the visitor.

 

OUT OF TOWN! (just a few more ideas)

Champagne, like much of Eastern France, is great for outdoor activities of all sorts – not just for tastings of the magical nectar! There are signposted footpaths, hiking sheets for circular walks in Champagne (all downloadable) and many kilometres of dedicated cycle paths as well as motorbike itineraries and a wealth of water sports on the various lakes.

Images from top left clockwise of National Park of France:  Ph.Lemoine - CIN Auberive / Rémi Allabert / Auberive MDT 0584 / David Meier / Auberive MDT 0580 / GIP - Active Champagne

Images from top left clockwise of National Park of France:  Ph.Lemoine – CIN Auberive / Rémi Allabert / Auberive MDT 0584 / David Meier / Auberive MDT 0580 / GIP

 

Exploring the Forest – 11thNational Park of France

Nestled between the south of Champagne and the north of Burgundy is the 11thNational Park of France. The area of the Trois Forêts and the Langres plateau has been named the newest national park. It is unique in France as it is the only one to incorporate two regions and is dedicated to the forest itself and its inhabitants. It is the largest National Park in the evolution of metropolitan France with over 3,000 hectares, 50 million trees, 100 marsh areas, 700 kilometres of rivers, 2000 kilometres of footpaths and therefore a panoply of activities may be undertaken.
Exploring the Lakes
Albeit mostly man-made, the lakes of Champagne offer an attractive stopover for migratory birds, thus interesting for twitchers, and for many other leisure pursuits besides – from fishing to sailing, paddle-boarding to swimming.  There are eight main lakes, four near to Langres in the south of the region, three in the Orient Forest and then the largest man-made lake in Europe – the Lac du Der in the Haute Marne.
The magnificent gray cranes of the Lac du Der - Image courtesy of Christine Tomasson - Active Champagne
The magnificent gray cranes of the Lac du Der – Image courtesy of Christine Tomasson

 

The Lac du Der – The Lac du Der is the largest man-made lake in Europe, spanning 11,800 acres (4,800ha). Completed in 1974 the Der was created to control the flow of water in the Marne and Seine rivers. Different areas of the lake are reserved for different types of activities: nature, non-motorised water sports, and motorised sports.

Three marinas and six beaches have also been created around the water’s edge. For those who prefer dry land, there is a path all-round the lake for cycling, walking or rollerblading and over 300 miles of sign-posted tracks in the area. A casino by the lake opened in 2014 and offers a bar and restaurant open seven days a week in addition to the usual gaming facilities.

Lac du Der by bike - ARTGE - Active Champagne
Lac du Der by bike – ARTGE
Exploring the Vineyards – One exceptional itinerary to explore by bike is the Cycle Route of the – Marne Valley which stretches the length of the Canal of the Marne from Damery to Condé-sur-Marne. This will show you parts of the Champagne area that are recognised by UNESCO, villages where one can meet the local wine makers and experience a personalised wine tasting, stop in a pretty picnic area or stay over in one of the lovely little accommodation choices especially selected for their bicycle amenities from ‘la Champagne à vélo, Accueil Vélo’.

Click here for the best choice of active itineraries in the Marne.

Image courtesy of ARTGE - Active Champagne
Image courtesy of ARTGE
Travelling to Champagne and Eastern France:The main gateway to Champagne is Reims, an easy 2.5-hour drive down the A26 motorway from the ferry and Eurotunnel terminals in and around Calais. For rail travel, take the Eurostar from London to Paris Gare du Nord, and then a direct TGV from Paris Gare de l’Est to central Reims (45 minutes). Charles de Gaulle airport has a 30-minute TGV service to Champagne-Ardenne TGV station, just south of Reims.

Image courtesy of Jupiter Images
Note to editors: Part of Eastern France, Champagne is as varied and refined as the famous wine that it produces.A land of kings and counts, of Cistercians and crusaders, of monasteries and masterpieces, artists and philosophers – the history and heritage of Champagne is embedded in that of France and is linked to the present by the inscription of its vineyards, houses and cellars on the UNESCO World Heritage list.