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The Secret part of the Champagne Region The Haut-Marne department of Champagne is not as famous as its sister department the Marne, home to Reims and Epernay. It is though, a beautiful part of the region and there’s lots to discover here and fall in love with - not least the fact that this place is like one huge gorgeous garden. Close to the border with Burgundy it makes for a great stopping off point but is a deliciously pretty destination in its own right. LANGRES 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 and a wander round them (just under 3km) will reveal that there are seven towers with look out platforms as well as six gates into the town. One of the entrances dates back to Roman occupation and the “new gate” was built in the 16th century and shows the townsfolk certainly 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! Take a promenade around these ramparts and you’ll get fabulous views over the Marne Valley as you listen to the birds singing and watch the impressive free funicular going up and down, 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 and in one of them, on the way up, a sculpture that illustrates the sense of humour of the original builders, a man bending over with his trousers down, a medieval mooner – meant to make the soldiers smile.
Langres was the birthplace of Denis Diderot, a famous French philosopher who 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 of honey coloured stone mellowed by centuries of sunlight. Shutters of pale green and grey compliment the buildings, colourful bunting in 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. Pick up a leaflet from the tourist office for a self-guided walk or book a walk with a guide.
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