Haute-Marne, the secret part of Champagne
The Haute-Marne department of Champagne is not as famous as its sister department the Marne. There you’ll discover the legendary towns of Reims and Epernay, famous for their Champagne domains and much more. Haute-Marne though, is a beautiful part of the region and there’s lots to discover here and fall in love with. Not least of the reasons to fall head over heels for the area is the fact that it’s like one huge gorgeous garden. Close to the border with Burgundy it makes for a great stopping off point but is a destination in its own right.
Take Langres, it’s one of the oldest towns in France and there are plenty of traces of its illustrious past and those who lived here. The ramparts that have encircled this walled town are the longest in Europe. Take a wander round them (just under 3km) and you’ll discover seven towers with look out platforms as well as six gates into the town. One of the entrances dates back to the Roman occupation. There’s also a“new gate” which was built in the 16th century. It shows the townsfolk had a sense of humour since it features a carving of two naked men with their hands tied behind their backs: a warning message to unwelcome visitors 500 years ago!
Enjoy a promenade around these ramparts and you’ll get fabulous views over the Marne Valley. You can watch the impressive free funicular carrying visitors between the top of the town and the bottom. You can also go into some of the towers where you’ll find exhibitions. In one of them is further evidence that the townsfolk really did like to have a laugh. The builders sculpted a man bending over with his trousers down, a medieval mooner – meant to make the soldiers smile.
The Diderot Connection
Langres was home to Denis Diderot. The famous French philosopher is honoured with plenty of references in his home town – a statue, plaques, a square, college and in one of the towers on the ramparts, an exhibition of his achievements.
This town is comfortable with its ancient buildings, the honey coloured stone mellowed by centuries of sunlight. Shutters of pale green and grey compliment the buildings, colourful bunting across the main street gives a festive air. What makes this place stand out for me is the authenticity of its streets and buildings, there’s even a “brulerie” – an ancient French word for a café, which came before the arrival of the brasserie.
Visit to Langres
This is a really charming town that simply invites you to relax. And of course you can’t go here without enjoying a meal in one of the many restaurants and ordering delicious Langres cheese!
You can pick up a leaflet from the tourist office for a self-guided walk or book a walk with a guide.
Lucy Pitts is a freelance writer and deputy editor of The Good Life France