31 August 2020
Photo credit: Phovoir
The region of Eastern France stretches from the outer reaches of Paris to the borders with southern Belgium, Luxemburg and Germany and encompasses five distinct destinations: Alsace, Ardenne, Champagne, Lorraine and the Vosges Massif.
Easy to reach by car from the UK, this area offers beautiful countryside and interesting towns as well as fine wines ranging from champagne in the west to the reds, whites and rosé produced on the banks of the Meuse and Moselle rivers and the Grand Cru wines of the Alsace Wine Route further east.
Photo credit: G Raskin
The Champagne and Ardenne areas are rich with monuments, cathedrals, museums, fortresses and other places of culture and heritage. Many are familiar already with the magnificent cathedral of Reims, probably one of the most famous religious buildings in the land. Epernay, capital of Champagne, Troyes – inextricably linked with the Knights Templar, for example. From the unfortunate heritage of the First World War to the myths and legends of the Celtic past of the Ardenne, there is a panoply of culture and heritage to discover.
These places have had some fine inhabitants that have contributed enormously not just to the history of the area but indeed that of France and beyond. Renoir lived in Essoyes, Napoleon Bonaparte in Brienne-le-Château, Voltaire in Cirey-sur-Blaise, Diderot was born in Langres, Rimbaud in Charleville-Mezières and Charles de Gaulle lived much of his life in Colombey-les-Deux–Eglises.
Here we are looking at some of the new and less well-known attractions and the more unusual ways of exploring one of the most fascinating holiday destinations in France.
Photo credit: Reims Tourism
Photo credit: CIAP – s.ortega-dubois
New in the Ardenne very soon – the ‘Centre d’Interprétation de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine’, Sedan – now belonging to the ‘Ville d’Art et d’Histoire’ brand. (Centre for the Interpretation of Architecture and Heritage.)
Built at the foot of the largest fortified castle in Europe, Sedan is witness to the history of France. Sedan was an independent principality until 1642. The town was a refuge for the Protestants in the religious wars. It was also the birthplace of Marshall Turenne and in its Golden Age of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, was a world-renowned centre for the production of sheets. The buildings in the middle of the site have been declared ‘a remarkable heritage site’ – witness to an extraordinary military, religious and industrial history.
‘La Maison du Patrimoine’ has been installed in the old shower block. The ‘Centre d’Interprétation de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine’ comprises of an exhibition area, reception, an activity centre, heritage service … so a fully interactive space for this ‘Ville d’Art et d’Histoire’.
Photo credit: Atelier Manufacture Vincent-Petit by Flavie Vincent-Petit
New in the Aube – Reopening of ‘LA CITÉ DU VITRAIL’ in Troyes – the Stained-Glass Centre – Spring 2021
Whilst enjoying a trip around Aube-en-Champagne, it’s hard not to be impressed by the wonderful array of stained-glass windows in the area, unique in Europe. Astoundingly there are more than 200 churches with more than 9000m² of windows, exhibiting a complete picture of stained glass of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Whether civil or religious, this fantastic array is witness to the savoir-faire of this technique though the ages, still perpetuated to this very day.
Unique in France, ‘La Cité du vitrail’ will definitely be a centre of excellence for all things stained glass. The exhibition space is an enormous 3000m2, in which one may immerse oneself in the artefacts, each with a short explanation of the essence of their importance and finest features. The goal is to make this art form understandable and accessible to all.
Photo credit: Frenak + Julien Architectes
New in Epernay:
Champagne Wine and Regional Archaeology Museum
One of the most stunning buildings along the mansion-studded Avenue de Champagne in Epernay is the magnificent Château Perrier. Founded in 1852 as a sumptuous residence, reception venue and headquarters for the Perrier-Jouët Champagne House, the château is a remarkable architectural feat and is classed as a ‘Historical Monument’. Each side has a different architectural style, inspired from some of the most famous buildings and palaces in Paris, with exceptional interior floors and sculptures.
Photo credit: Frenak + Julien Architectes
Closed in 1998 for security reasons, the building has undergone extensive restoration and refurbishment, and is due to reopen later in 2020 as the new Champagne Wine and Regional Archaeology Museum. It will house one of France’s largest collections of archaeology and a remarkable exhibition on the history of champagne, with over 100,000 objects on display.
Photo credit: Châlons-en-Champagne
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. Otherwise opt for a guided tour – with small groups of up to five people touring the historic centre of the town – Petit Jard, cirque, Préfecture, Halle du Marché, Eglise Notre-Dame-en-Vaux etc.
Photo credits: Châlons-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 visions.
Enjoy Métamorph’eau’ses, a sound and light show on the water, unique in Europe. This concept has been developed since 2015 and has become something quite spectacular. New for 2020 is the underwater projection at the Seven Mills Bridge which has been entirely reinvented.
City in my Bag – les Visitbox
Les Visitbox is an award winning concept where participants learn about the town through a mini-competition for two to six participants, discovering all the best addresses and points of interest. Each box contains a map and twelve cards developed by a local team, passionate about their home, and wanting to share their knowledge and enthusiasm in the most fun way. City in my Bag won the Trophée de l’Innovation du Tourisme in July 2018.
Château de Condé en Brie : some of the most sumptuous seventeenth and eighteenth century decor is on display here, by some of the most prestiguous artists of the period – Watteau, Boucher, Oudry, … commissioned by the Bourbons, the Princes of Savoy and the Marquis de la Faye.
The Shell Cave – something rather different and unexpected in the town of Epernay – what remains of an ancient tropical sea dating back 45 million years. There is an amazing giant snail fossil and a ‘Campanile giganteum’ on display.
Oeuilly Eco-museum: This is a seventeenth century house, typical of the region and bursting with objects, furniture and day-to day- bits and bobs from the nineteenth century. It is like stepping back in time. There is even a distillery from the period and a barrel maker too.
Photo credit: Hallebardiers
Langres : Hallebardiers Summer Festival– 13 July – 31 August 2020
Langres is classified among the top 50 most gorgeous towns in France and features the longest ramparts in Europe – over eight kilometres surrounding the city. It is somewhere to really take time to explore carefully as the interior can only fully be appreciated by exploring the tiny alleys and ‘ruelles’ where one finds stately Rennaissance houses, ancient nunneries, private mansions, hidden cloisters and the religiouss area underneath the Cathedral of Saint-Mammès. The town is encircled by undulating hills and fields of luscious countryside – vast panoramas so appealing when seen from the city walls.
In the summer the heritage of Langres is presented in a unique way by the Hallebardiers Company. Three different presentations – all new this year – take place every evening, and in which the public take part. These are presented in the streets by the professional comedians and actors, involving the public, all dressed in coloured capes, adding to the colour of the festivities with the action taking place around them. Each presentation is very different from the other but all are intended for the audience to experience the town in an original way and are full of fun and good humour.
Photo credit: Abbaye d’Auberive, Langres Tourism
Abbaye d’Auberive – Exhibition June – September 2020
The Cistercian Abbey of Auberive was founded by Saint Bernard in 1135 – the 24th ‘daughter’ of Clairvaux. Rebuilt in the eighteenth century by the monks, it was taken over by the state in the Revolution to become a cotton factory and holiday retreat. In the nineteenth century it was transforned into a women’s prison (where Louise Michel was incarcerated) and then later it became a farm housing delinquent children.
With over 2,500 pieces, the Abbey is now of prime cultural significance, having one of the finest private art collections of contemporary expressionist figurative art in France. Each annual show covers around 1,200 m2. This summer the show comprises a ‘pêle-mêle’ of artists, whether standards of the Abbey or newcomers exhibiting for the first time. This mixture is the essence of the Abbey – the very foundation of the collections and presentations here. Enthusiasts will revel in works by Gérard Barthélémy, Nicole Bayle, Nicolás de Jesús, Sam Le Rol, Eugène Leroy, Popovitch Ljuba, Satish Multhalli, Margaux Salmi et Vladimir Velickovic among others. There will be a retrospective too of Marion Heilmann, alias Leonard Lamb, who died last year. She worked near here for over twenty years, particularly on her signature piece that was heavily influenced by William Blake and ‘l’art brut’.
Photo credit: Rue de Vesle by Carmen Moya
Reims – Balade Art Déco
Photo credit: D. Le Névé
Troyes – what to do and see
Photo credit: D. Le Névé
Photo credit: Olivier Gobert
Priced at 3€ per booklet, each tour takes approximately: two to three hours.
Photo credit: CDT Aube
The Churches of Aube en Champagne
Free guided tours – June – September 2020
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 the Ardenne take the A26 south to exit 14 (Juvincourt-et-Damary), the D925 east via Roizy, then pick up the A34 to Charleville-Mézières (3.5 hrs).
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) or Charleville-Mézières for the Ardennes.
Charles de Gaulle airport has a 30-minute TGV service to Champagne-Ardenne TGV station, just south of Reims. The nearest airport for the Ardenne is Belgium South Charleroi, 100km to the north of Charleville-Mézières and there is a direct train connection to Paris Gare de l’Est taking 1 hour 45 minutes.
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.
The Ardenne is an ideal destination for lovers of the outdoors, nature and activities such as hiking and cycling., The Ardennes is named after the hilly plateau, “The Ardenne Massif” and encompasses parts of Belgium to the north and Luxembourg to the east. It’s renowned for the natural beauty of its landscapes and offers many magnificent panoramas. There’s steep sided valleys carved by swift flowing rivers such as the Meuse, extensive forests, rolling hills and rocky peaks.