The town of Epernay is entirely surrounded by vines. Walk down the Avenue de Champagne, with its magnificent mansion façades and opulent middle-class homes occupied by famous Champagne Houses, and you can see why Epernay competes for the title of ‘Capital of Champagne’.
The surrounding area offers a choice of routes. To the east lies Aÿ (high Gothic-style church and wood-frame houses, including one that is reputed to have served as Henri IV’s fermenting room; also Mutigny (view); Avenay-Val-d’Or (12th and 16th century church); Louvois (castle once owned by a minister of Louis XIV); and the rich, fashionable market towns of Bouzy and Ambonnay.
Several villages to the south deserve a mention: Pierry (for Frère Oudart cellar and its 18th century mansions including one formerly owned by Jacques Cazotte, a man of letters who regularly entertained some of the most famous writers, philosophers and artists of his time); Chavot (for its church and view); Brugny (for its castle); and Saint-Martin d’Ablois (for its strange steeple and Sourdon water source).
On the Côte des Blancs, you find villages that each combine a charming rural setting with an elegant church (Cuis, Cramant, Avize and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, home of Léon Bourgeois, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1920 and Founder of the League of Nations). In the neighbouring village of Vertus, birthplace of leading 14th century French poet Eustache Deschamps, the church features a crypt and is surrounded by ancient ramparts.
Near Bergères-les-Vertus, the view from the top of Mount Aimé is impressive. This enormous hill has been the site of prehistoric settlements, followed by a Gaul camp then a Roman camp, an immense fortress and a pyre on which the Champenois Cathares were burnt at the stake in 1239.
To the south, the Marne flows through Orbais-l’Abbaye (magnificent 13th century abbey church), Etoges (17th century castle), Villevenard and Coizard-Joches (menhirs, dolmens, caves and Neolithic tombs), the marshes of Saint-Gond (prehistoric site and 1914 battleground) and eventually reaches the busy town of Sézanne (impressive 15th and 16th century churches).
Nearby is the forest of La Traconne that extends to the south and west amidst tranquil countryside that was so dear to Marcel Proust. The region of Vitry-le-François is equally attractive, especially for its wooded countryside that is typical of northern France, its churches and wood-frame houses and the Lake of Der-Chantecoq. On the way, stop at Châlons-en-Champagne to visit its many churches, the museum of the cloister of Notre-Dame-en-Vaux, several 17th and 18th century mansions and, outside the town itself, the Basilica of L’Epine (dating from the 15th and 16th centuries).
Meet the winemakers – Growers, Champagne Houses and Cooperatives – and learn first-hand what makes Champagne wines so special. Use the details here as the basis for your travel plan, so you visit different production areas in turn and taste the wines made by different wineries.
Pick your winery of Epernay & region
These hosts – sometimes called ‘greeters’ – are local people passionate about the area where they live. It is their pleasure to share that passion with visiting tourists – to take them to their favourite places, show them the things they love best, and talk about them in convivial gatherings. All free of charge.