15 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Champagne
Champagne offers an escape to a peaceful and historic region of France. The picturesque countryside of vine-covered hills, idyllic valleys, and pristine woodlands is graced with ancient towns, castles, and serene abbeys. The region's impressive cultural heritage comes, in part, from the legacy of the Counts of Champagne and the region's prosperous trade during the Middle Ages. Champagne boasts six cities listed as "Villes d'Art et Histoire" (Cities of Art and History) including remarkable towns such as Reims and Sedan, as well as five UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Champagne region also has links to the famous French leaders Napoleon Bonaparte and Charles de Gaulle.
The historic city of Reims is famed for its magnificent 13th-century cathedral, which for centuries, was used for the coronation of French Kings. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims is a masterpiece of High Gothic architecture. With its harmonious unity of form and rich sculptural decoration, the cathedral is one of the grandest in Europe. The large statues and reliefs covering the exterior are fine achievements of medieval sculpture, while the immensely proportioned interior has an awe-inspiring atmosphere of solemnity. Most of the original stained-glass windows have been lost, however there are six stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall.
Adjoining the cathedral is the Palais du Tau, the former palace of archbishops. The palace now displays original statues from the cathedral, 15th-century tapestries, and other items from the cathedral treasury. The Musée des Beaux Arts has an excellent permanent collection of paintings, drawings, art objects, tapestries, and furniture from the 16th to the 19th centuries. On the large town square of Place de la République is the imposing Porte de Mars, a Roman triumphal arch from the 3rd century. South of the square stands the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), built from 1627 to 1630. Reims is listed as a "Ville d'Art et d'Histoire" (City of Art and History) and is an easy 45-minute trip from Paris by high-speed train.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Reims
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The old capital of the Champagne region, Troyes boasts magnificent historic buildings and splendid churches from the Middle Ages when the Counts of Champagne influenced the town. Listed as a "Ville d'Art et d'Histoire" (City of Art and History), the city has a charming medieval quarter, including quaint half-timbered houses on the Rue des Chats. The Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul, founded in 1208, is a marvelous example of Gothic architecture. Visitors are awed by the exquisite rose window and the richly decorated "Beau Portail" doorway. Opposite the cathedral is the Musée Saint-Loup (in a former abbey) with a collection of archeology and fine arts. Dating from the 13th century, the Eglise Sainte-Madeleine exemplifies Flamboyant Gothic style. The church was rebuilt in the 16th century with a Renaissance tower and vibrant stained-glass windows. The Eglise Saint-Urbain was built between 1262 and 1286 by Pope Urban IV. Illuminated by many windows, the interior is bright and inspiring. To the right of the choir is the Vierge au Raisin (Virgin of the Grapes), a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture. The Musée d'Art Moderne, in the former Episcopal Palace, has an exceptional collection of modern art from 1850 to 1960. Highlights include works by Bonnard, Cézanne, Degas, Gauguin, Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso, and Vuillard.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Troyes
Châlons-en-Champagne boasts splendid churches and lovely gardens. In 1147 Saint Bernard launched the Second Crusade in Châlons. The town's most important building is the Early Gothic Eglise Notre-Dame-en-Vaux, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The church was built in the 12th and 13th centuries with four soaring towers. In the choir are 16th-century stained glass windows called the "Troyes Windows," noteworthy for their intricate details. Attached to the church is the Cloître de Notre-Dame-en-Vaux, which now houses the Musée du Cloître. The museum displays Romanesque and Gothic sculpture, including objects of art, columns, and capitals, that once decorated the cloister, revealing the architectural splendor of the original building. Another exquisite example of Gothic architecture is the 13th-century Cathédrale Saint-Etienne with an awe-inspiring interior that offer a sense of harmony. The cathedral also has fine stained-glass windows and a rich treasury. Another must-see sight a few kilometers away from Châlons-en-Champagne is the Basilique de Notre-Dame de l'Epine, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is listed as a "Ville d'Art et d'Histoire" (City of Art and History).
This remarkably well-preserved fortified town is listed as one of France's "Ville d'Art and d'Histoire" (City of Art and History). Proudly standing on the edge of a plateau high above the landscape, Langres is surrounded by more than three kilometers of immense ramparts. The old walls and seven soaring towers create a formidable impression from afar. The city's history dates back to antiquity, and the Gallo-Roman gate within the old walls is a testimony to this heritage. Langres also boasts many historic churches throughout the town and elegant Renaissance houses (especially on Rue du Cardinal Morlot). Tourists may walk along the ramparts, to enjoy views of the Marne Valley that extend to the foothills of the Vosges Mountains. The town also delights visitors with its winding medieval lanes and ancient passageways (covered porches). The town's Cathédrale Saint-Mamme was built in the 12th century and combines Romanesque decorations with the grandeur of a spacious Gothic interior. Another worthwhile tourist attraction is the Guy-Baillet Museum, which displays a rich collection of fine arts and archeological treasures including the Bacchus Mosaic from the 2nd century. Langres also appeals to nature lovers with its lush countryside of woodlands and lakes.
At the foot of the Ardennes Mountains, the town of Sedan boasts the largest fortified castle in Europe. The castle is an enormous fortress of 35,000 square meters. Built in the 14th and 15th centuries, the Château Fort transports visitors to a bygone era. The castle features bastions, ramparts, and numerous towers typical of medieval architecture. Visitors may take a tour of the Château Fort, which includes a museum that displays scenes of daily life in the Middle Ages. The more modern Palais des Princes was constructed in the early 17th century when the Princes of Sedan found the ancient fortress to be too austere; the palace's luxurious style reflects the elegance of that period. The town also has two interesting religious buildings: The Eglise Saint-Charles, originally a Protestant church, was converted to a Catholic church in 1685 when the Edict of Nantes was revoked. Another historic monument, the Synagogue de Sedan, was designed by the architect Mazuel and built from local stone with a delicate rose window. Sedan is another "Ville d'Art et d'Histoire" (City of Art and History).
6 Charles de Gaulle Memorial, Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises
This memorial is dedicated to the remembrance of the revered statesman, French President Charles de Gaulle. Through educational documents and explanatory notes, the permanent exhibit tells the story of Charles de Gaulle's life and highlights the most important historical events such as the Second World War and the establishment of France's 5th Republic. The Memorial is in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, the charming village where the de Gaulle family had a home. Charles de Gaulle had a particular fondness for this area of the French countryside. The memorial features the Croix de Lorraine (Cross of Lorraine), a monumental cross that is more than 44 meters high. Created in 1972 by architects Marc Nebinger and Michel Mosser, the cross was built out of pink granite stone from Brittany. Tourists can also opt to visit Charles de Gaulle's family home of La Boisserie, which is included on the De Gaulle Journey tour along with entry to the memorial. This historic home provides an insight into the private life of the de Gaulle family. The dining room, drawing room, and office are on view and appear exactly as they did when Charles de Gaulle lived here. It is also worth visiting the parish church in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises where Charles de Gaulle was buried in the cemetery.
Address: Mémorial Charles de Gaulle, Colombey-les-deux-églises
This remarkable town was built in the 10th century on a steep, rocky hillside offering sensational views of the valleys below. Chaumont was the former residence of the Counts of Champagne, although there are few remaining vestiges from this period. The Château des Comtes de Champagne has not survived except for its dungeons. Other noteworthy sights in Chaumont include the 13th-century Basilique Saint Jean-Baptiste, the Chapelle des Jésuites built in 1617, and the 18th-century Hôtel de Ville. Chaumont is also distinguished by its many towers. During Christmastime, traditional nativity scenes create a festive ambience. The Musée de la Crèche has a wonderful collection of 18th-century Neapolitan nativity scenes, each unique work of art features many tiny figures and sumptuous details.
Listed as a "Ville d'Art et d'Histoire" (City of Art and History), Charleville-Mézières is a dual town that straddles the Meuse River, consisting of Charleville, founded in the 17th century with the elegant Place Ducale at the center of the town, and the much newer town of Mézières. There are some remains of ancient fortifications on the west side of the town. Charleville was the birthplace of the poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) who is buried in the town's cemetery.
9 Château la Motte Tilly
In peaceful gardens bordering the Seine River, the Château de la Motte Tilly perfectly exemplifies the French Neoclassical style of the 18th century. Visitors may tour the château to see the Reception Salons, with their refined decor, and the Private Apartments including the bedrooms. The vast and tranquil gardens have been restored to resemble their original design created by Count Rohan-Chabot. A notable attraction of Château de la Motte Tilly is the Orangery where exotic plants such as orange and pomegranate trees were grown in the 18th century. The garden also has picturesque terraces for taking leisurely walks.
Address: Château de La Motte-Tilly 10400 La Motte-Tilly
Surrounded by an idyllic countryside of lakes and forests, the town of Brienne le Château is most well-known for its association with Napoleon Bonaparte. The illustrious French general spent five years here when he attended the Ecole Militaire (military academy) from May 1779 to October 1784. Housed in the former military school, the Musée Napoleon now displays memorabilia from Napoleon's school years. In addition, the museum documents the battles of the "Circuit Napoléon 1814" (the French Campaign of 1814) with an extensive exhibition of maps and engravings. There is also a statue of Napoleon in front of the building. Besides the military museum, the town's other noteworthy site is its majestic 18th-century château. Other impressive historic buildings include the Eglise Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul, the Hôtel-de-Ville (Town Hall), and La Halle (the Market Hall).
11 Abbaye Notre Dame d'Auberive
At the border of the Champagne and Burgundy regions, the Abbaye Notre Dame d'Auberive was founded in 1135 by twelve Cistercian monks. This serene abbey is surrounded by a six-and-a-half hectare park including the Conservatoire de la Pomme (Apple Conservatory). The monastery has a fascinating history; it became prosperous during the 13th century, endured the suffering of the Hundred Years' War in the 14th century, and the Thirty Years War in the 17th century. The abbey is now open to the public for tours and has a cultural center that organizes music concerts and art exhibitions.
Address: Place de l'abbaye, 52160 Auberive
12 Château de Cirey-sur-Blaise
The famous French author Voltaire spent 15 years here (from 1734 to 1749). The château served as a place of refuge when Voltaire was threatened with imprisonment for publishing the "Lettres Philosophiques" ("Philosophical Letters"). His friend, the Marquise du Châtelet, one of the great female intellectuals of the time, offered shelter to Voltaire at this lovely château. In the peaceful Blaise Valley, the Château de Cirey-sur-Blaise was built during the reign of King Louis XIII and completed in the 18th century. The château is now listed as a historic monument and is open to the public. Tourists can visit the château to see the library, dining room, chapel, salons, and kitchen. Especially interesting is the "petit théâtre" (small theater) where Voltaire staged some of his dramatic productions.
Surrounded by the lush Argonne Forest, the quaint hilltop village of Beaulieu-en-Argonne sits on a plateau with sensational views of the surrounding landscape. The name of the town translates to "beautiful place." Beaulieu-en-Argonne is listed as one of France's 4-star "Villes Fleuri" (Flowering Villages) because of the colorful potted flowers that decorate the town. The village also boasts a 12th-century Benedictine abbey built on the site of a monastery from the 7th century. The abbey building now houses an art gallery open to the public.
14 Abbaye de Clairvaux
Built more than eight centuries ago, the Abbaye de Clairvaux is an important historic monument with a rich religious heritage. The former Cistercian abbey offers a tranquil retreat in an area of peaceful valleys and dense forests. The abbey was operational until the French Revolution when parts of it were confiscated. In 1808, Napoleon converted the ancient monastic buildings into a prison. The Ministères de la Justice et de la Culture has helped to restore the abbey and open it to the public as a tourist destination. The abbey is worth visiting to appreciate the architectural splendor and natural beauty of the surroundings.
Address: Rue de l'Abbaye Clairvaux, Clairvaux sur Aube
Perched on a hilltop, Hierges enchants visitors with its ancient castle ruins that are visible from a distance. The tiny village of Hierges was an important medieval community. Only four square kilometers, the village now has about 210 residents. The castle ruins are the most important tourist attraction. According to local legend, the castle was built in one night by a fairy named Melusine. The village also has a 16th-century church that is worth visiting.
Other Places of Interest
Château de Chacenay
This elegant château has an exquisitely decorated interior and is surrounded by pleasant gardens. The château is open to the public for guided visits and has a superb manuscript museum. The museum includes a fascinating collection of manuscripts from great thinkers and heads of state including Einstein, Poincaré, De Gaulle, Nixon, and J.F. Kennedy. The château is also a hotel that offers accommodations for tourists.
Address: 1 Rue du Château, Chacenay
Château du Grand Jardin
Built during the Renaissance, the Château du Grand Jardin exemplifies classic 16th-century French architecture. The château is renowned for its exquisite formal gardens that are adorned with classical sculptures and filled with fragrant flowers.
Address: 5 Avenue de la Marne, 52300 Joinville
Château de Montaubois
Set on a gorgeous property including four hectares of parkland, the Château de Montaubois takes visitors into the privileged world of a French castle. The château has been converted to a luxury hotel with plush modern accommodations and is also open to the public for guided visits. Visitors can tour the main reception rooms and halls of the château, the medieval garden, and a Baroque chapel that has been fully restored. The guided visit also includes a video about the restoration of the château.
Address: Route de Domery, Signy l'Abbaye
Château de Reynel
This quintessential medieval château is surrounded by parkland on a steep hill, which was an advantageous position during the Middle Ages in defending against the Holy Roman Empire. The château features enormous round towers typical of medieval architecture. Damaged during the Hundred Years' War and Thirty Years' War, the castle was beautifully restored in the 18th century. The château is now open to the public and hosts art exhibitions. Visitors enjoy seeing the picturesque grounds and getting a taste of castle life during the Middle Ages.
Address: 1 Grande Rue, Reynel
The ancient fortified town of Rocroi is northwest of Charleville-Mézières, about three kilometers from the Belgian border. The town is famous for its unique military architecture created in 1555 during the reign of King Henry II. The town was designed as a pentagonal star-shaped citadel, protected by two layers of fortified defense walls. At the center of the town, the Place d'Armes is lined with elegant historic houses.
Saint-Amand-sur-Fion is a typical medieval village with quaint half-timbered houses and a beautiful historic church. The Eglise Saint-Amand is a marvelous accomplishment of 12th-century Romanesque architecture. There are also later Gothic additions, including the 13th-century Gothic choir known as "la Merveille de Saint-Amand" (the Marvel of Saint Amand). The church exterior is designed with a porch, typical of the Champagne region. The interior has a large central nave, which offers a sense of spaciousness in the sanctuary. The brightly illuminated interior also features exquisite stained-glass windows and an impressive crucifix in the choir.