The Champagne Region lies 80 miles (128 km) east of Paris and is one of France’s most historic regions, first mentioned around the time of Emperor Charlemagne in the ninth century. It is a region made world famous for its sparkling wines; thanks to its undulating landscapes, chalky soil and cool, dry climate, conditions are ideal for growing the pinot noir, chardonnay and meunier grapes that are the only ones allowed in champagne production.
Champagne’s biggest city is elegant Reims, where 34 French kings were crowned in the Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame. Its piazzas and Art Deco mansions are home to many a grande marque champagne house and several big names in the French fizz world – Taittinger, Lanson, House of Mumm, Piper-Heidsieck, Pommery, Veuve Clicquot – age their champagnes in cavernous crayères (chalk cellars) beneath the city streets; these are all open for tours and tastings.
The champagne capital of Epernay is 19 miles (30 km) south of Reims and is HQ of Moët et Chandon (closed until 2016), Perrier-Jouët and Mercier; from here the Champagne Region spans around 300 villages, including Hautvillers, where Dom Pérignon, the Benedictine monk regarded as the grand-daddy of the champagne world, is buried. The rolling vineyards of the region are dotted with Romanesque churches and united on the Route Touristique du Champagne, which wends its way through the plateau land of Reims Mountain National Park, home of several more champagne vineyards.