A combination of cosmopolitan cities and isolated countryside means there’s no shortage of experiences in this delightful region.
The World Puppet Theatre Festival in Charleville-Mézières is the big one. Staged every two years, it attracts the best puppeteers from all over the world, who display their skills in theatres, public halls, courtyards, private rooms and on street corners. The next festival is in September 2017 (pull a few strings to get there).
There are two other festivals well worth visiting: every May, the huge castle in Sedan hosts a medieval festival where locals dress up as knights and buxom wenches to indulge in a bit of jousting, military processions and banquets. Then from 22-23 October, the medieval castle of Château-Thierry hosts Champagne et Vous, where 30 winemakers of the Marne Valley let you taste their produce. Each evening is accompanied by shows and exhibitions, with food and music.
Wolves are the stars at the Parc Argonne Découverte wildlife park, near Vouziers, where you can see them roaming their enclosure, almost as if they were in the wild. There are also raccoons, birds of prey and Nocturnia, where you can see bats and hedgehogs.
In Châlons-en-Champagne there’s a whole lattice of criss-crossing rivers and canals, with boat trips available. After the sun goes down you can join one trip called Métamorph’eau’ses which treats you to light and sound shows projected onto the waterway tunnels and the passing buildings. For a tranquil trip through the countryside, Blue Nautic offers five eco-friendly electric boats, which glide silently along the Marne River. Or you can opt for one of their three canoes, which are even eco-friendlier!
At the Jardins de Viels-Maisons you’ll discover how French garden designers have had a go at emulating the classic English-style garden. It’s a resounding success, with roses, rhododendrons, water cascades, a romantic garden, a herb garden and a huge sundial. (June to September).
Another garden visit is Les Jardins de Mon Moulin in Thonnance-les-Joinville. Open from May until early October.
Does champagne taste better at altitude? You can find out at the Perchingbar near the town of Verzy. Here, after climbing suspended footbridges up to a tree-house six metres above the ground, you can sample the finest bubbly while sitting in white leather swing seats and enjoying great views across the plains of Champagne.
On Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, there’s a bustling indoor market in Reims’s Halles where you can find the best of all the local produce.
Vinotilus offers a variety of different ways to immerse yourself in Champagne country – from introductory trips of a few hours to three-day guided tours. You can explore on foot or by horseback, and they even have outings for lovers of champagne and sailing! A similar service is offered by Dionysos which currenly offers intimate half-day sightseeing tours, covering the history, wine and gastronomy of the region.
Pairing great food with champagne isn’t always easy for us Brits. Fortunately the champagne experts at Au Piano des Chefs have set up a range of gastronomic courses at various kitchens, champagne houses and al fresco in the vineyards in and around Reims and Épernay. Ticket prices start at €55 per person.
From France Today magazine