Champagne Country - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Champagne Country

Champagne Country

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 a 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.

Information & Facts

French is the official language.

The Euro (EUR) is the official currency in France. Currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and some large hotels, though you will get a better exchange rate at the ATMs. Major credit cards are widely accepted, as are travellers cheques, particularly in major tourist destinations. Foreign currency is not accepted.

Local time is GMT +1 (GMT +2 between last Sunday in March and last Sunday in October).

Amiens is the ancient capital of Picardy and lies on the River Somme, 75 miles (121km) north of Paris and 65 miles (105km) south of Calais. Walking around the maze of narrow streets, divided by canals, visitors will feel that this is a city past its prime, nevertheless there are a couple of sites worth exploring. The city's centrepiece is the Gothic cathedral, built between 1220 and 1270, and is one of France's finest. The interior contains wonderful examples of medieval masonry and woodwork; 126 slender pillars hold up the vast structure and the stalls are decorated with thousands of carved figures. Like most great churches it has been added to and restored over the centuries. The nearby Musée de Picardie displays the history and art of the region from prehistoric times through to the present day, along with exhibits from the Roman, Greek and Egyptian empires. The art collection includes European paintings and sculptures from the 16th century including works by El Greco, Fragonard, Guardi, and Tiepolo.

Château-Thierry is an industrial town 55 miles (89km) east of Paris on the River Marne. The surrounding countryside was the site of many great battles during both World Wars and a number of monuments and cemeteries mark the bravery of thousands of Allied soldiers who fought to liberate France and who now lie interred under her soil. The town is also known as the home of the famous poet and fable writer Jean de la Fontaine (1621-95); the Musée Jean-de-la-Fontaine is one of the most popular literary museums in the world and contains a collection of his personal effects, memorabilia and a number of editions of his works.

Epernay, along with Reims, is one of the great centres of champagne production; dug into the chalk beneath the town are more than 200 miles (322km) of cellars and tunnels containing champagne from the surrounding area including such great brands as Moët et Chandon, Pol Roger, Mercier, and de Castellane. Having been ravaged by war over the centuries, few old buildings remain in the town, but visitors come here to visit the great champagne houses rather than the architecture. Both Moët et Chandon, the world's largest producer of bubbly, and Mercier give guided tours of their cellars in English throughout the day. They are both situated near each other on Avenue de Champagne. Castellane also has daily tours from March to December.

A visitor's first impression of Reims (pronounced Rhance) is of a sprawling industrial town peppered with concrete apartment blocks, the result of World War I bombs and later disastrous town planning. However Reims is an ancient Roman city and the birthplace of the French nation - it contains one of the most impressive Gothic cathedrals in France, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims ,where dynasties of French monarchs were crowned starting with Clovis, first king of the Franks. The neighbouring Basilique St-Rémi is even older and, half Gothic, half Romanesque in style, includes the old royal abbey which is now a museum documenting the history of the town. Most visitors come to Reims not so much for history but for the hedonistic pleasure of visiting the cellars of its great champagne producers. This is the home of the world's best bubbly. The best of the best is to be sampled at the Maison de Pommery, which has more than 10 miles (16km) of tunnels extending 100ft (30m) down into the chalk below its Gothic superstructure. Move on to Mumm, which contains 25 million bottles of slowly fermenting champagne in their vaults, and then Taittinger and Veuve Clicquot. All give a guided tour of the cellars and champagne making process, followed by a tasting.

Those who are tired of fighting off the summer crowds in Champagne country find a refreshing alternative in the quaint old town of Troyes, a little off the tourist track and therefore exuding plenty of genuine French appeal. In the beautifully restored city centre, sporting quaint narrow streets, Renaissance mansions and pretty old houses, stands one of France's most magnificent Gothic cathedrals. The city also boasts a private collection of art housed in the old Bishops palace, the Musée d'Art Moderne that displays works by Bonnard, Degas and Gauguin.

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