The Champagne region is a dreamy countryside of vine-covered rolling hills, idyllic valleys, and pristine woodlands. Steeped in history, the landscape is graced with ancient towns, castles, and serene abbeys. The impressive cultural heritage comes, in part, from the legacy of the Counts of Champagne and the region’s prosperous trade during the Middle Ages.
Champagne boasts six cities listed as “Villes d’Art et Histoire” (Cities of Art and History), as well as five UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Champagne region also has links to the famous French leaders Napoleon Bonaparte and Charles de Gaulle. Find the best places to visit with our list of the top attractions in Champagne
The historic city of Reims is famed for its glorious 13th-century cathedral, once used for the coronation of French Kings. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims is a masterpiece of High Gothic architecture with rich sculptural decoration. The immensely proportioned interior has a harmonious unity of form and an atmosphere of solemnity. Most of the original stained-glass windows have been lost, however, there are six stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall.
Reims has been awarded the title of “Ville d’Art et d’Histoire” (City of Art and History), because of its magnificent cathedral and other cultural sites: the UNESCO-listed Palais du Tau, former palace of archbishops (now a museum of the cathedral’s treasury items); the Musée Saint-Remi collection of archaeology in the UNESCO-listed former Abbey of Saint-Remi; the Musée des Beaux-Arts collection of European art from the Renaissance era through the Art Deco period; and the Porte de Mars, a 3rd-century Roman triumphal arch found at the Place de la République. Reims is one of the top day trips from Paris, an easy 45-minute trip by high-speed train.
The historic capital of the Champagne region, Troyes has a charming old town (Vieux Troyes), which reveals its rich heritage. Perfectly preserved half-timbered houses (from the medieval and Renaissance periods) are found throughout the town. Wonderful examples of half-timbered houses are on the Rue Klébert, the Rue Emile Zola, and the Ruelle des Chats.
As a Ville d’Art et d’Histoire,“ Troyes has many outstanding monuments, such as the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul, founded in 1208. This marvelous Gothic cathedral is adorned with an exquisite rose window and a richly decorated “Beau Portail” doorway.
After visiting the cathedral, tourists can explore two nearby museums. The Musée Saint-Loup (museum of archeology and fine arts) displays masterpieces of European painting from the 14th to 19th centuries, while the Musée d’Art Moderne has an excellent collection of modern art from 1850 to 1960 including works by Bonnard, Degas, Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso, Seurat, and Vuillard.
Other must-see sites include the 12th- to 13th-century Eglise Sainte-Madeleine, which is renowned for its precious rood screen, and the Eglise Saint-Urbain, which has a dazzling Gothic interior illuminated by colorful stained-glass windows.
Full of old-world character, Châlons-en-Champagne is a delightful mix of historic churches, half-timbered houses, and lush gardens. This Ville d’Art et d’Histoire boasts remarkable monuments. The 12th- to 13th-century Collégiale Notre-Dame-en-Vaux is a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site with the largest set of bells in Europe and stunning 16th-century stained-glass windows. Also not-to-be-missed, the 13th-century Cathédrale Saint-Etienne has an awe-inspiring Gothic interior, which offers a sense of grandeur and harmony. Châlons-en-Champagne’s oldest church is the Eglise Saint-Jean, which dates to the 11th century.
The museums of Châlons-en-Champagne also give a sense of the city’s rich cultural heritage. The Musée du Cloître de Notre-Dame-en-Vaux has a collection of sculptures, columns, and capitals from the cloister. The Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie has a fabulous collection of 15th- to 20th-century paintings, while the Musée Garnet presents decorative arts in one of the oldest houses in the town.
A worthwhile detour (eight kilometers away) is the UNESCO-listed Basilique de Notre-Dame de l’Epine, a marvel of Gothic architecture with an amazing variety of gargoyles on the exterior.
Another “Ville d’Art et d’Histoire,” this walled medieval town stands on the edge of a plateau overlooking a verdant landscape. Langres’ well-preserved fortifications extend for more than three kilometers, with soaring towers that create a formidable impression from afar. The city’s history dates back to antiquity, and the Gallo-Roman gate within the old walls is a testimony to this heritage. Tourists can walk along the ramparts to admire views of the Marne Valley and the foothills of the Vosges Mountains.
Other discoveries awaiting tourists include the town’s historic churches, elegant Renaissance houses, winding medieval lanes, and atmospheric passageways (covered porches). The Cathédrale Saint-Mamma, dating to the 12th century, has retained many Romanesque elements within its Gothic sanctuary. An overview of the town’s heritage can be seen at the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire de Langres, which has an exceptional collection of archaeology and fine arts, including paintings by Charles Brun and Eugène Delacroix.
Langres also appeals to nature lovers, with its beautiful countryside of woodlands and lakes. There are many things to do in the area, such as fishing, boating, and hiking.
The largest fortified medieval castle in Europe is found in Sedan, a “Ville d’Art et d’Histoire” in the foothills of the Ardennes Mountains. Built-in the 14th and 15th centuries, the enormous Château Fort de Sedan features bastions, ramparts, and towers that defended the fortress from invasions. Open to tourists year-round, the site has a museum, boutique, café, and restaurant.
In May, the Château Fort de Sedan hosts a medieval festival. Other memorable things to do include watching the equestrian arts during the summertime Chivalry Tournament and following a costumed guide on a nighttime “Torchlight Tour.”
In the early 17th century, the Princes of Sedan found the ancient fortress to be too austere and uncomfortable. The more refined Palais des Princes, built-in 1614, became the new residence of the Princes of Sedan. The Palais des Princes is not open to the public, but tourists may admire the Classical-style facade.
The town also has two interesting religious buildings: the Eglise Saint-Charles, originally a Protestant church and converted to a Catholic church in 1685 when the Edict of Nantes was revoked, and the Synagogue de Sedan, built from local stone with a delicate rose window.
6. Mémorial Charles de Gaulle in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises
The Mémorial Charles de Gaulle is dedicated to the remembrance of the revered French statesman. Through educational documents and explanatory notes, the permanent exhibit tells the story of Charles de Gaulle’s life and highlights the most important historical events, such as the Second World War and the establishment of France’s 5th Republic. The memorial features the Croix de Lorraine (Cross of Lorraine), a monumental cross more than 44 meters high, built out of pink granite stone from Brittany. The memorial also has a boutique and a café.
The memorial is in Colombey-Les-Deux-Eglises, the village where Charles de Gaulle lived with his family. His private home, called La Boisserie, is a charming house surrounded by a leafy park. Tourists can visit the house and take a walk through the park.
Charles de Gaulle had a particular fondness for this area of the French countryside. The gravesite of Charles de Gaulle is found in the cemetery of the Eglise Notre-Dame (parish church) in Colombey-Les-Deux-Eglises.
Spectacularly built on a rocky outcrop surrounded by forests, this historic town offers sensational views of the valleys below. Chaumont was the former residence of the Counts of Champagne; the lower rooms of the Château des Comtes de Champagne now house the Musee d’Art et d’Histoire de Chaumont, with a collection of archeology, history, and fine arts.
Further evidence of Chaumont’s prestigious past are the 13th-century Basilique Saint-Jean-Baptiste; the Chapelle des Jésuites, built-in 1617; and the Renaissance houses with towers (30 in total) that punctuate the cityscape of Vieux Chaumont (Old Chaumont).
During Christmastime, the town has a tradition of decorating with nativity scenes. The Musée de la Crèche (Museum of the Nativity) has a wonderful collection of 18th-century Neapolitan nativity scenes. Each unique work of art depicts the Holy Family with many tiny figures, sumptuous details, and vibrant colors. The Nativity Museum is one of the best places to visit in France to admire traditional nativity scenes.
Charleville-Mézières is a dual town that straddles the Meuse River. Charleville was founded in the 17th century, with the Place Ducale at the center of the town, while Mézières is more modern. The archaeological and historical collection at the Musée de l’Ardenne (at the Place Ducale) tells the story of the town and the region, from the Roman era through the Merovingian period. Because of its rich cultural heritage, Charleville-Mézières is listed as a “Ville d’Art et d’Histoire.“
Charleville was the birthplace of the poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891), who is buried in the town’s cemetery. The Musée Rimbaud (at Quai Rimbaud) is devoted to the life and work of the celebrated French poet. Charleville-Mézières is also famous for its puppet theater and has an Institut International de la Marionnette (Institute of Puppet Theater) at the Place Winston Churchill) with a puppet collection. It also offers workshops. In September, the town hosts the Festival Mondial des Théâtres de Marionnettes (Puppet Theater Festival).
9. Château la Motte Tilly
n an enchanting natural environment, the Château de la Motte Tilly is an expansive estate with a beautifully manicured 60-hectare park, classified as a “Jardin Remarquable” (Remarkable Garden). The vast and tranquil grounds have been restored to resemble their original design, featuring formal French gardens; English-style gardens; and an Orangery, where exotic plants such as orange and pomegranate trees were grown in the 18th century. Built-in 1754, the château perfectly exemplifies the Neoclassical architecture of the 18th century. Visitors may take a guided tour of the château to see the exquisitely decorated interior and then take a walk through the gardens.
10. Abbaye d’Auberive
Founded in 1135 by twelve Cistercian monks, the Abbaye d’Auberive endured both the Hundred Years’ War and the Thirty Years War. Seemingly undisturbed by the outside world, the abbey is enclosed by a 6.5-hectare park filled with shady trees and fragrant roses.
The most unique feature of the park is the Conservatoire de la Pomme (Apple Conservatory), three orchards of heirloom fruit trees. Many rare apple varieties are found here, such as the Caville Aromatique and the Belle Fille de Bourgogne. The abbey is open to the public for self-guided visits and also hosts music concerts and temporary art exhibitions.
11. Château de Cirey
The famous French author Voltaire spent 15 years here (from 1734 to 1749), during which time he wrote several comedies and tragedies. The château served as a place of refuge when Voltaire was threatened with imprisonment for publishing the “Lettres Philosophiques” (“Philosophical Letters”). His friend, the Marquise du Châtelet, one of the great female intellectuals of the time, offered shelter to Voltaire at this lovely château in the peaceful Blaise Valley.
The château is now listed as a historical monument and is open to the public from May through September for guided tours of the interior to see the library, dining room, chapel, salons, and kitchen. Especially interesting is the “Petit Théâtre” (Little Theater), where Voltaire staged his dramatic productions. The park surrounding the château is also an inviting place to wander at leisure.
Perched on a hilltop in a landscape of woodlands, Hinges is one of the region’s prettiest medieval villages. Many artists have fallen in love with the village’s charm, found in its cobblestone streets and quiet pastoral surroundings.
Tourists are sure to be enchanted by the village’s fairy-tale castle, a Renaissance château with turreted towers visible from a distance. The Château de Hierges is open for guided tours from June through September. The castle tours depart from the village church, the 16th-century Eglise Saint-Jean-Baptiste which has noteworthy Renaissance-era stained-glass windows and paintings.
13. Abbaye de Clairvaux
Built more than eight centuries ago, the Abbaye de Clairvaux offers a tranquil retreat in an area of peaceful valleys and dense forests. The former Cistercian abbey was operational until the French Revolution when parts of it were confiscated. The abbey has been renovated and is open to the public for guided tours. Visitors will appreciate the architectural splendor and natural beauty of the surroundings. Music concerts are occasionally held in the abbey’s chapel. Twice a year (in June or July and in November), the abbey hosts a market of artisanal products made by monastic communities.
14. Musée de Napoleon in Brienne-le-Château
The town of Brienne-le-Château is most well-known for its association with Napoleon Bonaparte. The illustrious French general spent five years here when he attended the Ecole Militaire (military academy) from May 1779 to October 1784. Housed in the former military school, the Musée de Napoleon now displays memorabilia from Napoleon’s school years. In addition, the museum documents the battles of the “Circuit Napoléon 1814” (the French Campaign of 1814) with an extensive exhibition of maps and engravings. A statue of Napoleon stands in front of the building.
15. Château de Chacenay
Entered through a drawbridge, this majestic medieval château is surrounded by ancient ramparts. Guided visits (daily except Tuesdays in June, July, and August) allow tourists to see the château’s interior, which has been restored with authenticity and attention to detail. The château also has a Manuscripts Museum, which includes a collection of historical documents from great thinkers and heads of state, including Einstein, Poincaré, De Gaulle, Nixon, and J.F. Kennedy. The château’s extensive grounds feature pleasant gardens and include the 12th-century chapel.
16. Château du Grand Jardin
Built during the Renaissance, the Château du Grand Jardin exemplifies classic 16th-century French architecture. The château, listed as a historical monument, is renowned for its formal gardens, which are adorned with sculptures and filled with fragrant flowers. Music concerts and other cultural events are held at the château throughout the year. During summertime, the château offers thematic tours of the gardens.
17. Château de Montaubois
Set on a gorgeous property including four hectares of parkland, the Château de Montaubois takes visitors into the privileged world of a French castle. The château has been converted to a luxury hotel (open May through October) with plush guest rooms featuring traditional decor. Accommodations include a “petit déjeuner” (breakfast) served in a lovely salon. It’s also possible to take a guided tour to see the interior of the château; the medieval garden; and a Baroque chapel, which has been fully restored. The guided visit also includes a video about the restoration of the château.
18. Château de Reynel
This quintessential medieval château is nestled in a romantic setting on a wooded hillside. The location provided an advantageous position during the Middle Ages in defending against the Holy Roman Empire. Renovated in the 18th century, the château (listed as a historical monument) is open to the public for guided tours from June through September. Visitors enjoy seeing the elegant interior, which displays a superb collection of paintings.
The scenic grounds, with expansive lawns and shady trees, are also a joy to explore. Terraces in the garden provide views of the valley below, with a few lakes visible in the distance.
Saint-Amand-sur-Fion is a typically medieval village with quaint half-timbered houses and an important historic church. The Eglise Saint-Amand (open to visitors by appointment only) is a fine accomplishment of 12th-century Romanesque architecture. There are also later Gothic additions, including the 13th-century Gothic choir known as “la Merveille de Saint-Amand” (the Marvel of Saint Amand). The bright, spacious sanctuary is illuminated by stained-glass windows.
Beaulieu-en-Argonne sits on a plateau with breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. The name of the village translates to “beautiful place,” fitting of its bucolic setting in the heart of the Argonne Forest. Beaulieu-en-Argonne is listed as one of France’s four-star (the highest distinction) “Villages Fleuris” (Flowering Villages) because of the colorful potted flowers that decorate the town.