Champagne & Burgundy

This corner of France probably contains more famous wine-producing regions and districts than any other. Wherever you go, a familiar name pops up. Of course, Champagne is probably the most famous of them all. Next door, Lorraine is the exception to the rule, and then in the far corner we find Alsace. A little further south, the next big name in wine is Burgundy (in English) or Bourgogne (in French).

Champagne-Ardennes borders Belgium in its north, and is of course the home of one of the world's most famous drinks. Epernay in the Marne department is one of the best places to go for all things related to champagne wine. Visitors can tour the champagne houses, including those of some of the more well-known marques such as Moët et Chandon and Mercier, and have a taster. There are also lots of smaller champagne producers. Many of these are based down just one street! This is named ‘Avenue de Champagne'. Reims has a few points of note. The monument ‘Porte de Mars' (or Mars Gate) is one of four Roman gates there, from around the 3rd to the 4th century, which is made up of columns and three archways. Place Cardinal-Luçon has a statue of Joan of Arc. Reims also used to have a Formula 1 Grand Prix and the spectre of races past still remains, with various pit buildings alongside the road, largely intact with sponsors' names adorning them. A whimsical Formula 1 fan would enjoy wandering about there. For at least fifteen centuries, Saint Rémi has been the patron saint of this city, and the Saint Rémi Basilica is just a mile from the Cathédral Notre-Dame de Reims. The cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The town Troye has one of France 's best-reputed mediaeval centres, but also some good museums- the Museum of Tools and Workmen, the Museum of Fine Arts and Archaeology and the Museum of Modern Art.

Lorraine borders Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. The main point of attraction for visitors may be the impressive citadel in Bitche. This was built on the site of previous defence constructions, and resisted invasions three times through the 18th and 19th centuries. A film is shown in the citadel of its history. The sculpture garden in the town's path is also worth looking around.

Bordering Germany and Lorraine, Alsace is France's smallest region, but by no means insignificant. For one thing, its capital is Strasbourg, centre of European Parliament, and with an appealing historical side. Strasbourg was the first city to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cathedral has a distinctive high spire, and a museum (Musée de l'Oeuvre Notre Dame). Around this location, there is a quarter called ‘Little France', with some magnificent Renaissance-style buildings. The Place de la République, Place Kléber, Rhine Palace and many bridges are also notable points. You may be aware of what is known as the Alsace wine route. Just over 100 miles long, it follows just alongside the eastern side of the Vosges mountains; 50 ‘grand cru' wines are produced en-route.

Burgundy is a great wine region, and divided into the following departments: Côte d'Or, Nièvre, Saone-et-Loire and Yonne.

Moving clockwise from the north-east, we start with Côte d'Or. The department's name stems from the colour of the leaves in the region's vines. Montbard is a 3* 'ville fleurie' with an attractive orangerie (stone and glass greenhouse-style of building). Alésia, where Julius Caesar is said to have had the final battle with the Gauls is now classified as a French 'Grand Site'. Dijon is of course known worldwide for its mustards, and is quite lively and reasonably sizeable, with a lot of its central core made up of mediaeval buildings. Under rule of the Duke of Burgundy, it used to be a particularly important city, and the Duke's Palace is a place many choose to visit. Wine lovers may well know the Route des Grands Cru. This is a 60-kilometre route which passes through around 33 villages and towns, and many of the best Burgundy appellations.

In Saone-et-Loire, the town of Autun features some ancient Roman remains, including an amphitheatre, the Temple of Janus and an unusual pyramid. Cluny Abbey has a fair amount of historical significance, as alongside Rome, the town had a large religious influence. The museum of art and architecture is quite insightful for such history.

Nièvre's highlight for most is the Morvan Regional Park, designated as a regional park in 1970, to help preserve the wonderful countryside around here. This is a popular cycling destination. In the departmental capital Nevers, the 15th century Ducal Palace has many statues, as well as a museum of ceramics.

In Yonne, Chablis is an established wine-producing town; wine has been produced there since 854 when monks arrived, and it now produces some quality light whites. Vezelay is classed as one of the 'most beautiful villages in France' and the abbey of St. Mary Magdalene has some wonderful vaults. Having fallen into disrepair in the 12th century, it was restored a couple of centuries ago. The town of Avallon, with its remaining fortifications, is worth a visit. The village of Montréal offers wonderful views of the surrounding countryside from its 'belvedere' (viewpoint).