Champagne Pilgrimage

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Champagne Pilgrimage

A VERY NICE DROP

France's wine regions have a long and fascinating history, and this combined with their stunning scenery puts them high on the bucket list for many Australian travellers. The Champagne-Ardenne region - located in the country's north-east - is world-famous for its wine, however not everyone knows about its magnificent architecture, inspiring gastronomy and local artisan scene, as well as its strong focus on enjoying the great outdoors. Plus, it's only a stone's throw from Paris - there's a high speed high link from the City of Lights to Reims, with the journey taking as little as 45 minutes.

A sizeable 4% of France's total vineyard area is accounted for by the grape-growing area of the Champagne appellation, which encompasses 34,000 hectares. The vines are mainly concentrated in the Marne area around the city of Reims and the town of Epernay, but they also extend into the Aisne, Haute-Marne and Seine-et-Marne. Only wines exclusively originating and produced within that area, on premises dedicated to Champagne wines, are legally entitled to use the name Champagne.

The Champagne appellation is spread across 319 villages, of which 17 traditionally rank as Grand Cru and 42 as Premier Cru. There are more than 300 Champagne Houses in the region, making the drop under their own label and handling every step of the winemaking process from start to finish.

A trip to Reims and its surrounding areas gives guests the opportunity to see these prestigious champagne producers and visit their traditional limestone cellars.

Among the big names is Moët & Chandon Champagne, which produces approximately 26,000,000 bottles of champagne each year and even holds a Royal Warrant to supply champagne to Queen Elizabeth II. Another standout among the champagne houses is GH Mumm, which every year welcomes 60,000 tourists, with Australians representing its fifth strongest international market.

MAGNIFICENT HERITAGE

Its champagne houses may be the best known aspect of Champagne-Ardenne, but the region's array of churches, cathedrals, basilicas, abbeys and half-timbered houses make for a historically enchanting visit. Reims is home to three World Heritage listed sites - one of these being the Cathedral of Notre Dame - coronation site of the kings of France. This masterpiece of Gothic art with its 2300 statues has helped put the city on the tourist map.

In the towns of Troyes and Bar-sur-Seine you'll find the distinctive half-timbered houses, which date back as far as the late 15th century. And there are many more architectural gems scattered around the region, just waiting to be discovered.

Champagne-Ardenne is also famous for its chateaus, such as that located at Le Domaine »Les Crayères, a verdant seven hectare property built in the early 20th century by the De Polignac family. This magnificent manor is also a luxury hotel offering two Michelin star restaurant dining, with up and coming head chef Philippe Mille working his magic in the kitchen.

As any gastronome will tell you, good food and good wine naturally go hand in hand. In this region you'll find the freshest of local fare - game and truffles plucked from the woodlands, farm-reared meat and poultry, plus cheeses and biscuits made by skilful local producers. Meanwhile, the many artisans of the region produce hand-crafted goods that visitors can see for themselves by visiting their centuries-old workshop - from seeing the natural pigments at France's last remaining colour mill to checking out the fine china and wickerwork being crafted.

A REGION IN BLOOM

Champagne-Ardenne's breathtaking natural beauty goes well beyond its expansive green vineyards - this is a place of elegant gardens and parks, forests and meadows, and even glimpses of local wildlife. The region is known as France's number one Region in Bloom - as visitors will see for themselves when they take in the floral splendour of places like Le Grand Jardin and the Gardens of Mon Moulin. This is a region made for exploring at your own place - whether that's on foot, on a bicycle, or on horseback. It's also home to several navigable waterways including sections of the Seine, so you can even rent a houseboat or small barge and head off down the river.

And for those with a thirst for adventure, there are options aplenty, from zipping through the air in a microlight at the foot of the Langres plateau, to climbing the La Roche Bernard rock face and gliding along the rivers of the Ardennes in a canoe.