The Champagne Region of France

Chalons, Lac du Der and Troyes

Chalons-en-ChampagneClose your eyes and picture Champagne, a flute of corn coloured bubbles, rows of bright green vines, the town of Rheims with its Gothic cathedral and Epernay with the Avenue de Champagne carving a broad furrow through the centre of town. Champagne is very much my tipple of choice and to quote Bette Davies, “There comes a time in every woman’s life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne.” However, there are lesser known parts of the region waiting to be explored and other activities that perfectly compliment the popular champagne routes and tastings as I was to discover earlier in the year.   

Seemingly every city with a canal (Bruges, Stockholm, even London Paddington to name but a few) is named as the ‘Venice of the North’. I can now add the ‘sparkling Venice’ to canal cities I’ve visited.

Canals in Chalons-en-ChampagneChalons-en-Champagne is a city crossed by canals and makes a good base for local exploration. Not content with the usual boat trips to explore the canals, Metamorph’eau’ses is a unique light and sound show along the water, costing approximately 3.5 million euros to produce, it’s an unusual and spectacularly visual way of  lighting up the tunnels as you pass through in an electric boat. This year the church of Notre-Dame-en-Vaux and the Putte Savatte Bridge will be two new sites to be lit up. 

France’s famous wine region is now encouraging visitors to head to its great lakes in the centre of the region (Lac du Der and lakes of the Foret d’Orient) to observe impressive displays of birds. Common cranes, greylag geese, white fronted and bean geese, white tailed eagles, whooper and Bewick’s swans, goldeneyes and many other species of migrating birds can be observed. The most famous of all is the common crane, which, whilst rare to spot in the UK, stops off in tens of thousands in Champagne. These elegant birds come in to rest at the great lakes en route from their nesting grounds in Scandinavia to winter in the warmer climes of Spain. The dusk arrivals and dawn departures are a memorable sight to behold from November to March.   

Solitary church on Lac du DerThe largest of the Champagne Lakes is the Lac de Der with 4800 ha of water and 77 km of shoreline, listed as a wildlife reserve since 1978 it is one of the most important sites in France for bird watching. Even though I’m from the Suffolk coast, near twitcher’s mecca Minsmere, I’m not much of a bird watcher. I think the cranes must have realised this as on the day of my visit, it was one of those “you should have been here last week mate” or the French equivalent kind of days. The cranes had taken flight but I was reliably informed that only days earlier they were there in their thousands. I wasn’t that disappointed as the lake itself is a peaceful, stunning spot with a unique history especially relating to the 3 villages that were wiped of the map to create this artificial lake (the 2nd largest in Western Europe). The church of the village of Champaubert aux Bois being the sole surviving building now keeping a watchful eye over the lake. 

CranesIf churches and architecture are your thing, then you’re in for a treat. The combination of clayey soil and oak timber led to the development of Der Country’s typical local architecture: half- timbered buildings. There’s a church lined scenic route to explore, the churches lit up by magnificent stained glass windows with their gleaming colours embodying the 16th century School of Troyes. 

Troyes is a living monument to its fantastic medieval and Renaissance past, the seat of the ruling Comtes de Champagne in the Middle Ages, its narrow streets have escaped catastrophe since the Great Fire of 1524. In the Ruelle des Chats, the overhanging first floors of the medieval buildings on either side of the street almost touch each other, so close that you could almost jump from one to the other. Troyes’s other claim to fame are its factory outlet stores and both Lacoste and Petit Bateau were created here. 

Ruelle des Chats, TroyesIt’s a part of champagne that is often overlooked but is has much to offer, particularly for bird watchers and lovers of half-timbered houses and churches and of course anybody, myself included who is partial to a glass or two of bubbly.  

How to get there

Petra travelled by Eurostar from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord and then took the TGV to Rheims from nearby Gare de L’Est and returned on the same route via Troyes. Tickets can be booked through Voyages SNCF.

Petra stayed at La Maison des Officiers and Auberge du Lac.

More information

187 people found this helpful

Share Article:

Petra Shepherd

Editor of Silver Travel Book Club & Cook Club

Leave a comment


This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest travel tips on top destinations.

Join the club

Become a member to receive exclusive benefits

Our community is the heart of Silver Travel Advisor, we love nothing more than sharing ideas, inspiration, hints and tips between us.

Most Recent Articles

Solo travel holidays isn’t confined to the young and restless; it’s a liberating experience that transcends generations….

Come feel the love on a Princess cruise. You’ll enjoy the MedallionClass experience others simply can’t, and it’s exclusively for everyone. Visit incredible destinations and be involved in the best experiences around each one of them.

Experience more with Princess and connect effortlessly with the world around you, spend time away with loved ones, take a moment for yourself, and fall in love with your holiday of a lifetime, every time.

With over 20 years of experience, Wendy Wu Tours has mastered the art of creating exceptional, fully inclusive tours which showcase the very best of each destination.

Each tour is led by a world-class guide, who will highlight the very best of their homeland, and includes authentic cultural experiences so you are not just seeing the sights, but truly immersing yourself in local life.

Say hello to ease at sea. Ambassador’s purpose is simple: they want to inspire every guest to experience authentic cruising, effortlessly and sustainably. Passionate about protecting our oceans and destinations, their ships comply with the highest industry emission standards and there is no single-use plastic on board.

On your voyage, you will receive the warmest of welcomes from the Ambassador community as you sail upon the friendliest ships afloat.

This is a global co-operative co-owned by local partners using real local experts and guides, which supports local communities, environments and wildlife. It offers travellers quirky places to stay, activity holidays and learning experiences. Not In The Guidebooks gets travellers off the beaten track into local culture with day experiences and longer, immersive adventures.

From wild wellness breaks in Wales to painting in Portugal, sustainable adventures in Mauritius to food safaris in Brazil, this is immersive, exciting travel.

Seabourn’s five intimate ships carry guests to the heart of great cities, exclusive yacht harbours and secluded coves around the world, while two new purpose-built expedition ships will combine exhilarating adventures in remote destinations with the sophisticated amenities of the world’s finest resorts at sea.

From the luxury of all suite accommodations to complimentary fine wines and spirits, and a no tipping policy, Seabourn exemplifies the definition of travelling well.