Champagne Region Attractions
Champagne extends to the east of the Ile de France, between the upper Oise (near St-Quentin) and the Yonne (near Sens), approximately as far as the upper Meuse. The former province includes the present-day départements of Marne, Haute-Marne, Aube, Yonne and Ardennes. The main industrial towns in addition to Reims are Châlons-sur-Marne and Troyes.
The western part of Champagne, round Reims, Epernay, Châlons, Ste-Ménehould and Vitry-le-François, is known as Champagne Crayeuse ("Chalky Champagne"), a region of dry soil consisting of permeable chalk which during the First World War was also called "Champagne pouilleuse" ("lousy Champagne"). The gently undulating plain, widely used as pasture for sheep, gives only scanty yields.
The adjoining region known as Champagne Humide ("Wet Champagne") forms an arc to the east of Ste-Ménehould and Vitry. It consists of sandy and clayey strata of the Lower Cretaceous and is a wooded and well watered cattle-rearing region with many individual farms. In northeastern Champagne are the Ardennes, a gently rolling and well wooded region with hills rising to just over 500 m/1,640ft through which flow the Meuse and the Semois. The Ardennes are noted mainly for their forests of beeches and firs and their abundance of game. The region can be explored either on foot or on horseback; horses can be hired in Charleville-Mézières.
Much of the history of France has been written in Champagne. When Caesar conquered Gaul in 57 B.C. he made the chief town of a Belgic people, the Remi, a local capital under the name of Durocortorum, since eight trading routes met here. After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the early fifth century the Frankish king Clovis was baptized by Archbishop (St) Remi in Reims in 496, establishing the city as the place of coronation of the French kings. In subsequent centuries authority lay in the hands of the Archbishops of Reims and the Counts of Champagne.
During the Middle Ages Champagne, within which important trade fairs were held (dealing mainly in luxury wares like silk and spices), enjoyed great prosperity - a prosperity which was reflected in its architecture. In 1147 St Bernard launched his call for the Second Crusade in Châlons. The region's prosperity began to decline in the 13th century as a result of the increasing centralization of authority and the devastation wrought by the Hundred Years War. In 1361 Champagne finally came under the control of the French crown.
In 1429 Joan of Arc crowned Charles VII in Reims. Two leading 18th century figures, the philosopher Denis Diderot (1713-1784) and the Revolutionary politician George-Jacques Danton (1759-1794) came from Champagne. In 1792 French Revolutionary forces won their first victory at the mill of Valmy.
The economic revival which began in the 19th century was interrupted by the three wars with Germany. Like Lorraine to the east, Champagne saw much fighting during these wars. Notable events in the 1870-1871 war were the battles for Sedan and Metz (in Lorraine). The fighting round Reims in the First World War has left its mark in the remains of trenches and numerous military cemeteries. The Maginot Line is a relic of the Second World War.
The Route du Champagne runs through the famous Triangle Sacré du Champagne.