Don’t miss Langres in Haute-Marne, one of France’s oldest towns dating from pre-Roman times. This pretty, walled, hill-top town, built on a rocky spur on the borders of Champagne and Burgundy, has 3km of preserved ramparts linking seven gateways and 12 towers, offering a circular walk with spectacular panoramic views. Langres’ western archway still exists and other Roman vestiges can be seen in its Art and History Museum. The old town itself is a maze of narrow streets and alleys studded with many beautiful Renaissance houses.
Champagne also boasts several ‘little character towns’ (Petites Cités de Caractère). Joinville in Haute-Marne is a Renaissance town with royal connections, dominated by its 16th-century castle with its magnificent gardens. The attractive Quay des Peceaux makes a delightful riverside walk here. Châteauvillain– also in Haute-Marne – is one of Champagne’s medieval gems, with ancient fortified walls and a labyrinth of covered walkways; the nearby 272-hectare Daims Park is popular with walkers. Also add Sainte-Ménehould (birthplace of Dom Pérignon), Bourmont with its elevated views, Ervy-Le-Châtel (which boasts the Aube department’s only remaining medieval gate) and Vignory (whose cathedral is adorned with impressive sculpture) to your list.
The ruins of the Château de Fère-en-Tardenois in Aisne are also well worth a visit while in Champagne. Originally founded in 1206 on an enormous artificial mound – whose slopes were covered in slabs of sandstone and served as a model for numerous other châteaux – it was later transformed by Anne de Montmorency in 1528 with the addition of the famous Renaissance Gallery. The works were carried out by the architect Jean Bullant, responsible for the gallery at the Château de Chenonceau. The château has been listed since as a Historical Monument in France since 1862.