Set in the heart of the Champagne-Ardenne region in north east France, Châlons-en-Champagne is the capital (préfecture) of the Marne department. Formerly called Châlons-sur-Marne, in 1998, the city reverted to its original name and in 2007 was classified a “City of Art and History”. It has long been a major economic hub in northern Europe having a strategic location on the river Marne. It is famous for its hillside vineyards which produce the finest champagnes and for the rolling countryside which surrounds the town. With picturesque views of the Marne and its many tributaries, Châlons is often referred to as ‘Little Venice ’ and there has always been an artistic energy to the city. Approximately 46,000 people live here and are known colloquially as the Châlonnais. Châlons-en-Champagne is rich in history and, like their celebrated wine, the welcome is friendly and bubbly !
Book Hotel in Châlons-en-Champagne
Châlons-en-Champagne has two thousand years of history. It owes its name to the Gallic people of Châlons who settled 16 kilometres northeast of the present city. By 20 BC the Romans had established a road network throughout ancient France (Gaul) including the Via Agrippa, the main route connecting Milan to Boulogne-sur-Mer, crossing the Marne at Châlons.
From the 9th century, Châlons became a prosperous market town trading agricultural produce with neighbouring regions. Outside the narrow Gallo-Roman walls surrounding the town, a square was created called the Place du Marché au Blé (the Corn Market) between the Nau and Mau rivers which is known today as the Place de la République. Throughout the Middle Ages, the local industry was based on the manufacture of high quality woollen goods which sold all over Europe and was a major source of income at the Fairs of Champagne. During the 18th Century the city was extended with the ramparts being replaced by boulevards forming the shape of the town which we see today. Construction included 17 religious institutions and some outstanding architectural masterpieces.
The increasing importance of Paris as the centre of commerce changed the dynamics of trade throughout northern France but Châlons retained its links due to its location and good transport routes. During the French Revolution, the historic name of Châlons-en-Champagne was changed to Châlons-sur-Marne as the name ‘Champagne’ reminded the bourgeoisie of the feudal system which they hated.
In 1856 Napoleon III created a military camp at Mourmelon and from 1870 several infantry, artillery and cavalry districts were built. By World War I, Châlons was one of the main French garrison towns but, despite being close to the enemy front line, the city was not damaged. However, World War II saw several districts completely destroyed which led to a major rebuilding programme.
Châlons-en-Champagne retains many testimonies to its cultural heritage, particularly with reference to its religious and civil history. The Cathedral of Saint- Etienne includes parts of the Romanesque building created in the 12th century. It was mainly rebuilt in Gothic style and two additional structures (in Baroque style) were added in the 17th Century. Notre-Dame-En-Vaux Collegiate church is listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO and has a carillon (peal) of 56 bells – one of the largest in Europe. It has beautiful 16th century stained glass windows and in the museum there are the remains of remarkable sculptures and statues which used to decorate the former cloister. Behind the church lies Maison Clémangis, a fine example of a magnificent timber-frame and cob walled house. The Cirque is the old town circus completed in 1899 where the National Centre of Circus Acts is housed.
For those visitors interested in the architectural history of the city, there are several buildings and monuments to see including the church of Saint-Alpin, the oldest church in the city rebuilt in 1170; Porte Sainte-Croix (the Holy Cross Gate) which is dedicated to the Dauphine Marie Antoinette; the Toussaints Abbey; the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall), the steps of which are guarded by four stone lions; St Mary’s Convent and La Maison de la Petite Juiverie which is currently the Tourist Office. Le Couvent des Dames Régentes is a 19th century convent and seminary which today houses the School of Arts & Industry. Many historic houses line the streets particularly in the Rue de Chastillon, the Rue de la Marne, the Rue Gobet Boisselle and the Rue des Cordeliers. A beautiful synagogue and a Protestant temple can also be found in the town.
Right in the heart of the city, the Jard Park is divided into three gardens which are the favourite green spaces of the local people, offering a natural environment in which to relax and enjoy the view. The Grand Jard, a French-style formal garden is linked by a footbridge to the Jard Anglais situated on the banks of the canal, and The Petit Jard has a landscaped garden with an arboretum.
One way of discovering Châlons-en-Champagne from a different perspective is to take a guided boat tour on the Nau and Mau rivers, passing under one of the oldest bridges, the Mariner’s Bridge, constructed in 1560 with 3 unequal arches. There are also superb walks along the banks of the Marne enabling the visitor to take in the history of the river as well as the flora and fauna. Châlons has 13 small rivers which thread their way through the town and their quiet riverbanks are popular with hikers and anglers alike.
A visit to the region would be incomplete without a guided tour of the Mercier Champagne Cellars. The cellars are a labyrinth of rooms 30 metres below ground and to reach them a laser-guided automatic train takes you 18 km to the vaults where vintage bottles are stored. Your guide will explain the detailed process of how this very special champagne is made and, of course, you have the opportunity to taste the final product. There are several other champagne producers in the Châlons area, including the Cave Joseph Perrier which is situated underneath the Gallo-Roman chalk pits with galleries where millions of bottles of champagne are stored. An experience not to be missed.
Châlons has a history of lively cultural events and every summer the Festival des Musiques d’Ici et d’Ailleurs (Festival of Music from Here and Elsewhere) is held over a period of 7 weeks with 300 artists performing at numerous concerts and, Les Furies, a circus and street theatre festival is held in June.
Accommodation & Restaurants
Hotel d’Angleterre, located near the Grand Jard gardens and the Notre-Dame de Vaux, is an excellent hotel with first class facilities. It offers both a brasserie, Les Temps Changent, and Restaurant Jacky Michel featuring regional cuisine prepared with local and seasonal products. The Hotel Aux Armes de Champagne, located in L’Epine, 7km from Châlons, is set in the land of vineyards and has an excellent bar, gourmet restaurant and terrace. There are plenty of good hotels, apartments and B & Bs, many of which are in historic buildings with attractive accommodation in the heart of the city. Whether the visitor is planning a tour of the vineyards, a family holiday or a relaxing short break, there is a wide choice of places to stay.
Les Caudalies restaurant is in a 19th century residence full of interesting object d’arts including Eiffel style glassware with sumptuous decorations dating from the early Art Nouveau period – a feast for the eyes ! Dining here is a memorable experience with an appetising menu and fine wine list to complement chef’s specialities. Le Renard, in the Place de la République, is a bistro-type restaurant in contemporary surroundings where you can enjoy seafood and delicious dishes in an jolly atmosphere – a perfect place for an informal meal.
Châlons-en-Champagne is an area with gourmet delicacies in abundance. Emmanual Briet in Rue Porte Lucas stocks many specialities including their prize winning chocolate, teas, Armagnac and wines. LeTrou pastry shop and tea lounge is worth a visit to see (and taste) the creative genius of Mr. LeTrou, his delicate, irresistible pâtisseries are famous throughout the region. Try also Fossier fine biscuits, made from a traditional recipe dating from 1756, in the newly opened boutique in Avenue Maquis des Glières.
By car: Châlons-en-Champagne is located at the intersection of two major routes: the A4 motorway, going from Paris to Strasbourg towards Reims and Metz and the A26 motorway, going from Lille to Lyon, towards Reims, Troyes and Dijon.
Distance from Coquelles – 4hr 17min – 398km (Approx)
By rail: The Châlons-en-Champagne railway station is served by the TGV network with frequent trains to Paris. It is also connected to the Champagne-TGV station near Reims with trains going to Lille, Nantes, Rennes and Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Office de Tourisme de Châlons-en-Champagne
3 quai des Art
Tel: 03 26 65 17 89