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
2. Palais du Tau
3. Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Center of Visits
4. Waïda et Fils
5 Place Drouet d’Erlon, 51100 Reims, France +33 3 26 47 44 49 map
5. Biscuits Fossier
6. Club Trésors de Champagne: la Boutique
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
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.
Disclosure: My travel, stay and activities were provided by the local tourist boards and SCNF. All opinions are my own.