For a region with much to pop its cork about, Aube-en-Champagne is one of the least well-known parts of France.
But its soft, undulating landscapes, vine-laden valleys, wide green solitudes, medieval towns and historic architecture are a very persuasive argument for broadening one’s horizons.
This is a peaceful place of natural harmony, a setting to please everyone, a perfect antidote to the brouhaha of mainstream France.
How to get to Aube-en-Champagne
Only four hours from London by Eurostar, and less than two hours by car from Paris, Aube-en-Champagne, surrounded by the other départements that make up the Champagne-Ardenne region.
It takes its name from a major river, which parallels the Seine before finally joining it. The motorways that pass through the area (the A5 from Paris and the A26 from Calais) make this an eminently accessible region.
Central to the area is the town of Troyes, the historic capital of the Champagne region.
It is surrounded by the Plaine Champenoise and Nogentais to the north and north-west, Les Grands Lacs to the east, the Côte des Bars in the south-east, and the Pays d’Othe and Chaourçois more or less to the south.
What is Aube-en-Champagne like?
The overall landscape is very varied and probably best known for the production of champagne, though most of the champagne comes from the Côte des Bars.
Aube-en-Champagne is a place of attractive villages, valleys and undulating countryside alternately covered with forests and vineyards that bear the fruit grown to make Champagne.
In contrast, the Pays d’Othe is a region of lush green fields and dense forests, a bucolic landscape dotted with fruit orchards.
The Grands Lacs of Aube-en-Champagne hold more than 5,000 hectares of man-made lakes, originally created to regulate the flow of the Seine and the Aube rivers.
These, today, centre on the Forest of the Orient, so named after the Crusading knights who lived, and are said to have buried their treasures, there.
Everywhere, the countryside is dotted with beautiful villages for which ‘quaint’ is not so much a cliché as an understated way of life.
They fit comfortably into their surroundings, here and there agreeably ramshackle like lovable old rugosities, but all of them oases of calm, untroubled rurality.
It’s almost as if the last few centuries have passed by unnoticed, so laid back in fact that you might wonder if anyone actually lives here. It is quite beguiling, and a haphazard tour of the numerous country lanes instantly transports you into another, utterly tranquil world.
What is Grand-Est in France?
Grand Est, previously Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne- is an administrative region in north-eastern France. It superseded three former administrative regions – Alsace, Champagne-Ardenne, and Lorraine – on 1 January 2016, because of territorial reform which was passed by the French legislature in 2014.
Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine was a provisional name, created by hyphenating the merged regions in alphabetical order.
Its regional council had to approve a new name for the region by 1 July 2016. France’s Conseil d’État approved Grand Est as the new name of the region on 28 September 2016, effective 30 September 2016.
The administrative capital and largest city is Strasbourg, which is also the administrative centre of the region, and the seat of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the European Court of Human Rights.
Grand Est covers 57,433 square kilometres (22,175 sq mi) of land and is the sixth-largest of the regions of France.
Grand Est borders four countries – Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and Switzerland – along its northern and eastern sides. It is the only French region to border more than two countries. To the west and south, it borders the French regions Hauts-de-France, Île-de-France, and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté.
Grand Est contains 10 departments: Ardennes, Aube, Bas-Rhin, Marne, Haute-Marne, Haut-Rhin, Meurthe-et-Moselle, Meuse, Moselle, Vosges.
The region is bordered on the east by the Rhine which forms about half of the border with Germany.
Other major rivers which flow through the region include: the Meuse, Moselle, Marne, and Saône. The main mountain ranges are the Vosges to the east and the Ardennes to the north. There are 7 nature parks as of 2018.
Grand Est is rich with architectural monuments from the Roman Empire to the early 21st century.
Gothic architecture is particularly conspicuous, with many famous cathedrals, basilicas and churches, such as the cathedrals in Reims, Strasbourg, Metz, Troyes, Châlons, and Toul.
Reims in Grand-Est
Perhaps better known for its champagne, Reims (pronounced ‘Rance’, more or less) is also renowned for its magnificent cathedral, where French kings were traditionally crowned.
If you visit Reims enjoy the refined atmosphere of the Champagne Houses as well as the town centre which offers both the elegance of its Art Deco facades and a relaxed atmosphere.
This laid back and friendly atmosphere prevails in the streets and on the café-terraces and the town has a program of many and varied cultural events. It also has a green environment where nature is queen, which helps to contribute to the excellence that is Reims.
Like everywhere else, the Industrial Revolution radically changed the appearance of the town, which increased from 30,000 to 120,000 inhabitants within a century.
Rich mansions replaced the half-timbered houses. Some of the first international air meetings took place in Reims at the beginning of the 20th century. Reims is in fact one of the birthplaces of the aeronautics.
Things to do in Reims
Worthy of a visit are the:
Saint Remi Basilica (place Chanoine Ladame)
Notre Dame Cathedral (place Carindal Lucon)
Saint Remi Museum (53 rue Simon)
Palais du Tau (2 place du Cardinal Lucon)
The Palais du Tau in Reims is the former Episcopal residence of the Archbishop of Reims, but better associated with the coronation of no fewer than 32 French kings, from the 11th century to Charles X in 1825.
Both the palace and the neighbouring cathedral are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Its splendour evokes memories of great coronations, while its sculptures, tapestries, costumes, ornaments, and collections of gold and silver create an exceptional collection, dating from the Middle Ages.
Reims is justifiably famous for its markets all of which are open from 6am-1pm:
Monday: Saint Thomas, avenue de Laon
Tuesday: Saint Maurice, place and rue Saint Maurice; and at Jean Moulin, place Jean Moulin
Wednesday: Chatillons, parking Georges Hodin, and Croix du Sud, Esplanade Paul Cézanne
Thursday: Carteret, boulevard Carteret, and Luton, place Luton
Friday: Wilson, boulevard Wilson
Saturday, Croix Rouge, rue Pierre-Taittinger, and Boulingrin, place du Boulingrin
Sunday: Jean Jaurès, avenue Jean-Jaurès, and Sainte Anne, rue de Louvois
Reims flea market is held at the Reims Exhibition Centre (except in August), and at the Boulingrin Place in September.
Colombey les Deux Eglises Champagne
Found on the edge of the Champagne region, bordering Burgundy and Lorraine, Colombey, today a village of fewer than 700 souls, has long been a halt on the route from Paris to Basle.
But in recent times it rose to fame through its most illustrious citizen, Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle, the 18th President of France, who lived in the village at La Boisserie from 1934 until his death in 1970.
De Gaulle is buried in the cemetery in Colombey, in a humble grave with the inscription “Charles de Gaulle 1890-1970”.
In addition, a 145ft (44.3 m) high Cross of Lorraine was built at the western exit of the village, commemorating his distinguished wartime role as commander of the Free French Forces.
A memorial museum was inaugurated in October 2008 by Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel.
This joint Franco-German act marked the 50th anniversary of talks in Colombey on 14 September 1958 between Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer, as part of the process of post-war reconciliation.
In his Memoirs, De Gaulle lovingly described this Champagne region: “steeped in sadness and melancholy… former mountains drastically eroded and resigned… quiet, modest villages whose soul and location has not changed for thousands of years…”.
In Mémoires de guerre, he wrote: “Silence fills my house. From the corner room where I spend most of the day, I embrace the horizon towards the setting sun.
“No house can be seen over a distance of 15 kilometres. Beyond the plain and the woods, I can see the long curves sloping down towards the Aube valley and the heights rising on the other side.
“From a high point in the garden, I behold the wild forested depths. I watch the night enveloping the landscape and then, looking at the stars, I clearly realise the insignificance of things”.
During WWII, La Boisserie was severely damaged by the Germans. General de Gaulle only returned with his family in May 1946 after repairs. It has not changed since that time and the public is encouraged to visit this home, where the great leader spent much time thinking and writing.
The public is allowed into the downstairs drawing room, full of mementoes, books, family portraits and photographs of contemporary personalities, into the vast library and the adjacent study where General de Gaulle spent many hours, and the dining room.
April–September daily 10am–1pm, 2–6.30pm
Rest of the year daily except Tue 10am–12.30pm and 2–5.30pm.
Mid-Dec–Jan. Tel: 03 25 01 52 52
Inaugurated on 18 June 1972, the memorial overlooks the village and surrounding forests (including the Clairvaux forest where St Bernard founded his famous abbey in the 12C) from a great height of 397m.
May–September daily 9.30am–7pm
24–25 and 31 Dec and Jan.
Tel: 03 25 01 50 50.