3 days in La Champagne

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I’ve joined the British Guild of Travel Writers, an eclectic group of talented and friendly travel journalists. The group’s collective experience is mind-boggling. There are specialists that have traversed Egypt, tried kambala racing in India and searched out Europe’s best cycle cafes. 

What everyone in the group has is common is the love of travel. If you put a bunch of news reporters in a room stress levels would rise, but put a group of travel writers together and they drink champagne!

Which is a good thing, because each year the group’s AGM is held somewhere special. Past venues have included Cyprus, Milan and Tenerife. It’s one very large press trip, sponsored by the regions.

This year, in the spirit of promoting travel to France, we made little “Brexit” (isn’t that cute) to La Champagne! It’s an interesting time to travel to France. Last year started the new, slimmer administrative country, with 13 – instead of 22 – regions. Champagne-Ardennes joined with Alsace and Lorraine to create Grand-Est. 

Note the spelling. The region is “la champagne” (feminine), but the beverage is “le champagne” (masculine). Leave it to the guys to claim the alcohol.

There are thousands of champagne cellars to visit. Household names like Veuve Clicquot, Moët & Chandon and GH Mumm house millions of bottles of bubbly in the miles and miles of chalk cellars and tunnels under their properties, which are the perfect temperature for champagne to slowly develop (12C). Dress warmly if you are visiting!   

 


 

Be prepared to talk grapes. There are 3: Chardonnay, Meunier and Pinot Noir (the latter 2 are red grapes, yet somehow they manage to produce a clear drink). It’s all about the producer’s land (terroirs), what it best yields and the exact mix of grapes.

Make sure to visit some of the smaller, boutique producers like Demure (they do a fabulous 100% Meunier) and Daniel Etienne (80% Pinot and 20% Chardonnay in their Cuvee Rose). Their enthusiasm is contagious.

It’s not all champagne houses — though you could spend 3 days just touring those. The capitol of the Champagne region is Reims, and it makes an excellent base.  Reims historical significance dates back centuries as the go to cathedral for the coronation of kings.  Most of Reims was flattened during WWI, but perhaps it is best known for being the location of the surrender of the Germans in WWII. Rebuilt mainly in the style of the times of the 1920s – Art Deco – there are excellent examples throughout the city.

Below is my list of places to visit. It mixes some of the main tourist attractions with some specialist food shops and stops. Enjoy!

La Champagne: 6 places to visit

1. Notre-Dame de Reims

Place du Cardinal Luçon, 51100 Reims, France websitemap  

Most famous for being the favoured site for coronations, the gothic Reims Cathedral was severely damaged during the WW1 and has been restored. The cathedral has Unesco World Heritage status and 33 kings were crowned here, most famously Charles VII!

Most famous for being the favoured site for coronations, the gothic Reims Cathedral was severely damaged during WW1 and has been restored over the years. The cathedral has Unesco World Heritage status and 33 kings were crowned here, most famously Charles VII!

 

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This smiling angel made headlines in WW1, after the site was bombed and she lost her head. Rumour has it that all the angels are smiling because they have been drinking champagne!

 

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The cathedral is full of gorgeous stained glass windows that were designed to magnify light and illuminate even if dreary outside.

 

I lit a candle for my mother

The cathedral is a working place of worship. I lit a prayer candle for my mother, who recently passed away.

 

2. Palais du Tau 

Place du Cardinal Luçon, 51100 Reims, France +33 3 26 47 81 79 website; map   

Palais du Tau is adjacent to the Cathedral and was where the Kings would stay before the coronation. Now it houses some of the treasures from the Cathedral.

Palais du Tau is adjacent to the Cathedral and was where the Kings would stay before their coronation. Now it houses some of the treasures from the Cathedral.

 

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Give yourself an hour to visit around the Palais du Tau. It’s a nice addition to the Cathedral tour.

 

3. Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Center of Visits

1 Place des Droits de l’Homme, 51100 Reims, France; +33 3 26 89 53 90; website;  map  

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Deep under Vueve Clicquot are miles and miles of chalk caves where millions of Champagne bottles lie in wait, eager to know their fate! Which, in my case, was in several of my glasses at the British Guild of Travel Writers AGM gala dinner! 

 

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There are millions of bottles of champagne in the cellars of Vueve Clicquot. It’s mind boggling to tour the cellars and see so much champagne!

 

4. Waïda et Fils 

5 Place Drouet d’Erlon, 51100 Reims, France +33 3 26 47 44 49 map   

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Waïda et Fils is a bakery in the centre of Reims. It makes a nice stop for a coffee and pastry (yes they are as good as they look). The inside has some original Art Deco features.

 

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We found these framboise fruit jellies in the Waida et Fils bakery in the heart of Reims. It occupies a wonderful Art Deco building, the style which defines much of Reims.

 

5. Biscuits Fossier

Magasin de gâteaux Reims, France · +33 3 26 47 59 84 website; map  

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BritMums Co-Founder Jennifer Howze from Jenography.net and Susan Schwartz from BestBitsWorldwide.com enjoy samples of the famous pink biscuits at Fossier.

 

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At first the biscuits were not pink! Vanilla flavouring left brown traces so bakers decided to make them look better with a natural color based on cochineal, a red dye. Tradition says you are supposed to dip them in champagne … but locals says only tourist do that!

 

6. Club Trésors de Champagne: la Boutique

 2 Rue Olivier Métra, 51100 Reims, France; +33 3 26 48 28 42; website;  map  

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Checking out the smaller champagne producers at Tresors de Champagne in Reims. In addition to the gorgeous lights made from champagnes bottles, the shop is also an educational experience. The “club” brings together 27 wine makers, showcasing 170 champagnes! Pull down one of the bottles from the ceiling to learn more!

 

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Susan Schwartz from BestBitWorldwide.com learns about the different champagne 

 

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At the end of our trip we left from Champagne-Ardennes station and took the TGV to Lille and then the Eurostar to London. Total travel time each way was roughly 3 – 4 hours.

 

La Champagne: Getting there

SNCF voyages-sncf.com tickets and booking Train travel is ideal for families. You can relax and enjoy the views, go straight to your destination and there are no weight limits/extra luggage fees. There are 2 main routes from London to Reims. The first is Eurostar from St Pancras to Paris Gare de Nord, and then a short walk to Gare Est to jump on a 45-minute TGV straight to Reims (about 4 hours travel time). The other option is Eurostar from St Pancras to Lille and then a very civilised change to the TGV straight to Champagne-Ardennes (about 3.25 hours travel time). Then it’s a 10-minute transfer to Reims.  

 

 

La Champagne: Where to stay

Holiday Inn Reims – City Centre 46 Rue Buirette, 51100 Reims, France; +33 3 26 78 99 99; websitemap 

What I like about the Holiday Inn is that you know what to expect. The 4-star hotel chain is part of the larger IHG. The Reims City Centre hotel has recently had a facelift and is right in the middle of the action.

I stayed in a single occupancy room on the 6th floor, which was very quiet, clean, tastefully decorated and had a very comfortable bed! The tea/coffee-making facilities were very welcome after an afternoon of walking around. The bathroom was very clean and modern (rain shower) and my only niggle was it lacked somewhere to place shampoo and soap that could easily be accessed while in the shower.

My favourite part of staying there was breakfast. It is just what a petit dejeuner in France should be: Crisp baguettes, flakey croissants, fresh cheese, charcuterie, fresh fruit and yogurts. There were hot options but I was so immersed trying the baguettes and different cheeses that I never made it that far. I was VERY impressed with the fresh orange juicer.  

 

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The Holiday Inn Reims Centre is a good place to base yourself to explore La Champagne!

 

Bloggers are always taking photos!

Bloggers are always taking photos!

 

Disclosure: My travel, stay and activities were provided by the local tourist boards and SCNF. All opinions are my own.  

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14 Comments

  1. 21/02/2017 / 22:27

    Congratulations of joining the guild! It sounds very daunting but fabulous! Would love to visit the Champagne regions. We visited St Emilion two years ago. I dragged my 7 year old daughter, who was beginning to not feel so well, round on the little white train ride only to find out the next day she had the ‘varicelle’ (chicken pox!!). Poor her! I felt like a terrible Mother wanting to visit the vineyards winetasting – I thought the little white train would be fun for her (not!). Love your blog!

  2. 20/02/2017 / 22:58

    What a place for a conference! I know that the change in regions in France has not gone down well in many areas! I love the smiling angels.
    Ness recently posted…Sunday Snap – The home of a QueenMy Profile

  3. 20/02/2017 / 21:13

    What an amazing place to visit – you crammed in so much x x

  4. 20/02/2017 / 12:22

    It looks like you had a splendid time. We loved visiting the wineries before the boys were born!

  5. 20/02/2017 / 10:22

    I would honestly be in my element the whole time i was there!
    Looks like a wonderful place – thanks for sharing

    • 20/02/2017 / 07:39

      They were yummy!

    • 20/02/2017 / 07:39

      They were yummy!

    • 20/02/2017 / 07:40

      The trip renewed my interested too. The Ardennes looks like a good place for cycling – they have a whole new trail. x

  6. 19/02/2017 / 10:26

    This looks like an amazing trip. I don’t know anything about wine and champagne, so it was interesting to read more about it and see the beautiful region they come from. Reims looks stunning.

    • 20/02/2017 / 07:41

      It’s such a gorgeous place – and just a hop, skip and a jump! I’d like to go there in Spring or Summer too.