Champagne country. I think of Shirley Valentine, one of my all-time favorite films and characters. Shirley was talking to the wall, you see. I think all of us can imagine a moment or two, when we felt the wall might listen better than people.
“Do you know what I’d like to do, Wall? I’d like to drink a glass of wine in the country where the grape was grown. Sitting by the sea, just sipping wine and watching the sun go down.” — Shirley Valentine
Now that’s a girl after my own heart … yet, I shall one-up Shirley. I’d like to drink a glass of champagne by a river in France, and I know just the place to enjoy that moment. During our planned trip to Champagne country, Châlons-en-Champagne definitely makes the itinerary. Referred to as “Little Venice” and sometimes, perhaps more fittingly as “Sparkling Venice”, the lovely small city enjoys an interweaving of canals and rivers – the Marne, Nau and Mau.
As the capital of the Marne department and the Champagne-Ardenne region in northeast France, Châlons-en-Champagne embraces renowned architecture – including the remarkable The Notre-Dame-en-Vaux Church – half-timbered houses, lovely gardens and one of the oldest museums of France. Combine the city’s religious and historic heritage with the natural riverfront benefits, and you have a city well worth toasting!
The Romanesque and Gothic Notre Dame church is a UNESCO World Heritage site and part of the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compestela. As well the church enjoys pride of ownership of a 56-bell carillon, one of Europe’s largest.
Now, turning back to my original Shirley thought, the city also is home to the prestigious Joseph Perrier Champagne House. “Perrier, Madame? Mais oui!” Overlooking the Marne River, the Perrier vineyards naturally include the three traditional champagne grapes – Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay – and, hopefully, a little spot along the river for a genuinely pleasurable taste of this classic champagne.
If not, no problem. We’ll find a shady spot, where the river and bubbly can flow together. Along the way, we might also take one of the barge excursions on the Mau and Nau Rivers that follow silent tunnels under the heart of Châlons. We also will escape to the Jards, as the local gardens dating back to the 16th century are called. The large, small and English Jards spread across raised walkways to keep the Marne at bay. Interestingly, the horrid storm of December 1999 that decimated many of the oldest trees of France uprooted many of the city’s trees. Over a five-year period, the city restored trees and shrubs to those garden areas.
In spite of Châlons-en-Champagne’s Capital status, the city really is small by comparison to Reims. We plan to move along for a stay there or in Epernay, as we enjoy more champagne … and talk to more walls! Le joie de vivre!
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