Epernay – Champagne Capital of France
The picturesque town of Epernay in northern France lays claim to being the capital of the region of Champagne – and with good reason. Epernay is situated in the heart of the most prestigious vineyards in France, which stretch over an area of 20,000 hectares. More than 200 million bottles of champagne lie aging in the 120 kilometer labyrinth of underground cellars that have been carved out of the chalk rock over hundreds of years.
Avenue de Champagne boasts an impressive line-up of grand houses and mansions, many of which are owned by the most famous champagne producers in France. Adding to the regal charm of Epernay is the 850 seat Gabrielle-Dorziat theatre, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2002 and serves as the center for cultural events in the town.
Outside the town visitors can travel along the Route Touristique de Champagne, which stops off at a succession of interesting places, including ancient wine cellars, magnificent chateaux, charming roman churches and quaint villages tucked away amidst grape vines and colorful flowers. Many of the eighteen champagne producers situated around Epernay welcome visitors with tours of their vineyards and cellars, with some demonstrating the bottling disgorging and labeling process. Tourists are also invited to taste and buy this sparkling fruit of the vine when visiting the various producers.
Visitors are encouraged to enjoy the three walking routes throughout the town, which highlight the beautiful gardens and parks of Epernay. Starting off at the church of Saint Peter-Saint Paul, the pathways lead to cultivated gardens and parks with sparkling fountains and masses of flowers creating an atmosphere of tranquility that is hard to leave. The Parks Service of the town has put signs up along the way with interesting information of the different varieties of plants and flowers.
In December each year, Epernay is transformed into a glittering wonderland during the festival of Habits de Lumiere (which means “dressed in lights”) where the champagne houses, as well as many private and public establishments are spectacularly decorated with lights and entertainment is the order of the day. Every March the town comes alive with music with up to 1,000 young musicians – violinists, cellists, viola players and double bass players – flocking to Epernay to compete in the Epernay String Competition. Annually on 22 January, Epernay celebrates Saint Vincent’s Day in honor of the patron saint of vignerons (vineyard workers).
Certainly there are many compelling reasons to visit the beautiful country of France, and a visit to France would not be complete without spending some time in the Champagne capital – Epernay.