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Champagne was one of the most prosperous territories of medieval France; its trade fairs, held annually in towns like Troyes, were internationally famous, and Reims, where Clovis, King of the Franks, was baptised in the late 5th century, became the place where most of the French kings were crowned from the 11th century until the French Revolution. The region attracted monarchs, merchants from Northern Europe and the Mediterranean, and skilled masons, who, between the mid-12th – late 13th centuries, designed and built a sequence of spectacular churches. The cathedrals of Laon, Soissons, Reims, and Troyes, which form the backbone of this tour, trace the development of what, since the 17th-century, has been dubbed Gothic architecture, a style obsessed by height and light that incorporates lofty flying buttresses, soaring rib vaults and airy clerestory windows filled with coloured glass. In addition to magnificent High Gothic and Rayonnant architecture and associated stained glass and portal sculpture, the tour offers a chance to explore contemporary cuisine and viniculture in Champagne… truly a tour bubbling with delights!
As Director of the Early Medieval Year Course at the V&A, Sally is an expert in medieval art and history. She completed her PhD at the Courtauld Institute, and was, until recently, Dean of European Studies, a study-abroad semester for undergraduates at the University of the South and Rhodes College, TN, USA. Sally also lectures for the Art Fund, the Arts Society, and Ciceroni.
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Morning Eurostar from London St Pancras to Paris, with onwards travel by SNCF to Champagne-Ardenne. Transfer by private coach to Reims and check in to our hotel. After some time to settle in, we enjoy an introductory stroll through the streets of handsome Reims before dinner together in our hotel.
We will spend the morning at the impressive cathedral of Notre Dame and continue onto Reims. A short walk from our hotel is the Palais du Tau, the ornate baroque seat of the archbishops of Reims, now home to the exceptional treasures of Reims Cathedral. After a coffee break, continue to the impressive cathedral of Notre-Dame, where all but six French kings were crowned from 987 until the Revolution. The sculpture on the western entrance portals, carved in the 1220s and 1230s is particularly fine, including jamb figures of a sweetly “smiling” annunciate Angel Gabriel and a Visitation group on the responds of the central doorway. In the afternoon we visit the largely Romanesque abbey church of Saint-Remi, which held the precious Holy Ampulla containing oil used during the coronations of the French kings.
Coach excursion to Troyes, home to one of the famous annual Champagne trade fairs and the site of a treaty signed at the height of the Hundred Years War in which Queen Isabeau, wife of the French king Charles VI, sealed the marriage of Catherine of France to Henry V of England. Following the occupation of the town by English troops, the town was liberated by Joan of Arc in 1429. Morning visit to the 13th century Cathedral of Saint Pierre and Saint Paul and its superb treasury, considered to be one of the most important in France. In the afternoon, we explore the church of Saint-Urbain, another Rayonnant Gothic masterpiece so splendidly proportioned it was nicknamed the ‘Parthenon of Champagne.’ Our final visit of the day is La Cité du Vitrail, a small, but dazzling, collection of stained glass, ranging from the 12th to the 21st century, which has recently been redesigned. Return to Reims.
By coach to Laon, where our first destination is the magnificent Cathedral of Notre-Dame, whose early 13th -century rose window is one of the most beautiful in Europe, to look at Early Gothic architecture. Continue to Soissons, which takes its name from the Suessiones, the Gaulish tribe that established the town as its capital in the 1st century BCE. Visit the Cathedral of Saint-Gervais and Saint-Protais, built between the 12th and 14th centuries in the Gothic style. The solitary tower of its unusual asymmetrical façade was modelled on those of the Notre-Dame de Paris and treasures within include Rubens’ ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’ and stained-glass windows by Raphael Lardeur. Finally, visit the 9th-century crypt of the Abbey of Saint Médard de Soissons, which was founded in 557 and quickly rose to become one of the leading spiritual and political centres in early mediaeval France, Pepin the Short, father of Charlemagne was anointed here as King of the Franks in 752. Return to Reims.
Depart Reims for Hautvillers, the delightful wine-making village also known as the ‘Cradle of Champagne.’ It was here that the monk, Dom Pérignon, discovered important developments in the champagne-making process in the 18th century, at a point when the region was famous for its red wines. The Benedictine Abbey of St Pierre at Hautvillers, a significant cultural centre in the 9th century, is the final resting place of the monk and we will visit his tomb before travelling on, by coach, to the Moët et Chandon Champagne House for a suitably sparkling conclusion to our tour, including a tasting and lunch. Afterwards, continue to Champagne-Ardenne station for our SNCF to Paris, and Eurostar on to London.
You will stay for four nights at the 3-star Continental Reims, located in the heart of Reims.