Champagne Country Travel Guide
Vineyards in the Champagne wine region of France. © Rob & Lisa Meehan
Legend has it that the Champagne region of France should be forever indebted to Dom Pérignon, the blind Benedictine monk who in the 17th century accidentally discovered how to create bubbly, or sparkling wine, in the cellar of an abbey at Hautviliers. Ever since then champagne has been synonymous with celebration and opulence, with corks popping at great occasions all over the world. It is believed that during the Renaissance the only thing Henry VIII of England and François I of France could agree on was a penchant for champagne, and it is recorded that Napoleon, a friend of Jean-Rémy Moët, took a case or two with him to every battle, except Waterloo.
Visitors on the trail to discover the delights and origins of the world's most celebrated sparkling wines should head for Epernay in the centre of the Champagne region, where it is possible to visit vineyards and cellars (known as maisons) of the top producers, including the famous Moet et Chandon caves.
Champagne and the Ardennes have been the scene of many conflicts over the centuries, most recently during both 20th-century World Wars, in which many towns and villages were destroyed. Still worth visiting, though, are the cities of Amiens, Reims and Laon, which retain their magnificent medieval cathedrals; the lovely town of Troyes; and the historic village of Jouarre with its beautiful Benedictine abbey. This region of France also sports numerous war memorials and soldiers' cemeteries, which are places of pilgrimage for many foreign visitors whose forefathers died fighting here.