A region whose name is likely to set the taste buds tingling. The home of Champagne, the wine of kings and the king of wines. It must not be forgotten that this superb wine, best known of all French wines has been consumed by the famous from time immemorial. 24 Kings of France were crowned at Reims cathedral and only champagne was served at the ‘sacre’ of Louis XIII. His father Henry IV liked to add to his titles, ‘Sire d’Ay’, Ay being one of the villages where Champagne is made and where he had a ‘pressoir’! With 31,000 hectares under production, the lion’s share of which are in the Marne, followed by the Aisne and Aube, the contribution of the Haute-Marne and Seine-et-Marne’s is almost only symbolic. The area is also famed for its Ardenne patés based on game and wild boar, boudin blanc, pig's trotters from St Ménehould and the smoked ham from the Ardennes.
Dom Pérignon, born Pierre Pérignon in 1640, was by the age of 28 cellarmaster at the Benedictine Abbey of Hautvillers. With an incredible nose for wines and a rare instinct for blending wines, he is often attributed with being responsible for the creation of the champagne method although records indicate that sparkling wines had been created at an earlier stage. It is, however, likely that he taught blending in the champagne region and introduced the reinforced bottles sealed with Spanish corks to contain this bubbling elixir. The first record of the production of sparkling fermented wine was a century earlier at Limoux in 1531 at the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Hilaire so maybe Dom Pérignon’s expertise had some guidance from there.
The region benefits from fertile plains, forests full of game and yet this now peaceful land has been the subject of many invasions over the years, most of them halting on the banks of the Meuse, Marne or Aube. There are many battlegrounds from the World Wars as well as the last fortress on the Maginot Line. Here there is much for hikers, ramblers and bird watchers to see, especially in the Bocage Champenois where over 40,000 cranes can be seen during migratory seasons. In addition, there is horse riding, cycling, sailing and watersports at the many lakes, canal cruises and hot air ballooning. There are 108 villages and towns with the ‘flower’ award and many beautiful Châteaux and historic buildings including those of medieval Troyes, the Château de la Motte-Tilly, the half-timbered houses and canals of Châlons-en-Champagne and many others. For information on specialised visits to the Champagne Ardenne see www.francecharisma.co.uk Copyright: Sarah Francis.