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What to do and where to go in the wine-growing Champagne region in 2020

What to do and where to go in the wine-growing Champagne region in 2020
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Less than a 2-hour drive from Paris, the city of Reims and surrounding area is the perfect destination for wine-lovers and anyone else interested in delving into French lifestyle. The home of Champagne, the wine-growing region is split into four parts (Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Côte des Blancs, Côte des Bar) where the distinctive sparkling wine is grown, harvested, bottled and shipped around the world. The Champagne Slopes, Houses and Cellars were added to the World Heritage List in the Living Cultural Landscapes category by the UNESCO in 2015. A weekend wouldn’t be enough time to explore them all so we’ve rounded up a few experiences you shouldn’t miss on if you are only in the region for a short break.

Where to stay in Champagne

Château de Sacy

If you’re not scared of ghost stories and haunted castles, book one of the 12 rooms at Château de Sacy. I stayed inside the decadent ‘Le Roi Soleil’ suite making it out alive and pretty well-rested the next day. In pure royal fashion, I slept under a round, gold plated canopy surrounded by white linen curtains. A 360 degree view over vines sets apart this recently renovated 19th-century designer-Château from other hotels. Located between Reims and Epernay, it’s also the ideal location to stay and explore the Champagne region.

Chateau de Sacy
Chateau de Sacy, Le Roi Soleil suite

The Art Deco restaurant run by Chef Fabien Rouvière is a must-try. You’ll find a few pescetarian and vegetarian options labeled “ec(h)o”, which stands for healthy, tasty eating. The 3-course menu (€39) is fantastic value for money with creative dishes that leave you full without feeling guilty. I was happy with my choice of cauliflower with orange and harlequin carrots as a starter, bass for the main and a fig and walnut tartlet with balsamic sorbet to finish. Don’t check out without having tried the Château’s outdoor baths and super stylish indoor gym complete with one-of-a-kind wooden equipment.

Château de Sacy

Address: Rue des Croisettes, 51500 Sacy, France

Tourism in Reims

Visit Reims Cathedral and Palais du Tau

A tour of Reims begins and ends with a visit to its world-famous Cathedral, where construction began in the 13th century and lasted for a century. If you only have an hour in town, I recommend booking a private guide to learn all about its tumultuous history.

Supposedly the birthplace of Christianity in France with Clovis, King of the Franks’ baptism in 496, the cathedral has witnessed the coronation of 25 kings, the black Plague and the Hundred Years war. It was destroyed during World War I, rebuilt thanks to a donation from American magnate David Rockefeller and is now a symbol of the Franco-German reconciliation. For an in-depth look into the Cathedral's rich past, next door Palais du Tau (the residence where the Kings of France stayed during their coronation and the former Archbishop’s Palace in Reims) showcases original statues and reliques dating as far back as 14th century.

Palais du Tau | Website

Visit the tourism office to book a guide | Website

Where to eat in Champagne

Home-made bistronomic experience in Reims

Le Continental, Reims

An institution of Reims, Le Continental is a 4-star family-owned boutique hotel set inside a recently renovated 150-year old building. The restaurant is a great option for lunch in town with a menu offering light bites (we recommend the smoked tuna tartar as a starter), hearty dishes (the wild char marinated zucchini, coriander seeds, yuzu and hazelnuts is delicious), and full-on 6-course tasting menus (€ 67). You won’t find vegetarian options on the menu, though. That’s because the Chef prefers to tailor-make a plate based on your own taste and available produce rather than a standard suggestion. We loved the highly photogenic contemporary decor featuring upcycled elements and quirky details.

Le Continental restaurant

Address: 95 Place Drouet d'Erlon, 51100 Reims, France

Best tourism experience in Champagne

Taittinger cellar tours

Just a short walk from the centre of town is the Taittinger House where visitors can take a much-coveted cellar tour into the breathtaking Gallo-Roman chalk quarries. Going as deep as 18 meters below ground level, the tour gives an insight into the impressive collection of maturing bottles. They stay for a minimum of 15 months but most remain for a decade when they can officially bear the name Champagne.

Taittinger, Comtes de Champagne

Navigating a network created by the Benedictine monks and made up of galleries, linking cellars, crypts and vaults for storing wine, you’ll be amazed by the volume and dedication. 129,456 bottles are stored in one perfectly neat pile and selected bottles are turned daily by hand. Taittinger is located on the ruins of the Saint-Nicaise Abbey dating back to the 13th century. The crayères (chalk quarries) show spooky marks from the past in the form of massive doors and half-finished staircases leading to nowhere, scattered here and there. The place is of course included on UNESCO's list of Cultural Heritage.

Every tour is always followed by a tasting (from €21) to sample Taittinger’s bottles with a thorough explanation of the history and production of each cuvée given by experts. The best option is L’instant de Grâce (€60) which allows you to sample different bottles including the ultra-sophisticated Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs, matured for over 10 years in the depths of Saint-Nicaise.

Champagne Taittinger

Address: 9 Rue Saint-Nicaise, 51100 Reims, France

Wellbeing in Champagne

Royal Champagne panoramic spa

If you are searching for the most striking view in the whole of Champagne, you’ve found it. The only and most luxurious spa in the area is perched on a hill between Reims and Epernay and belongs to 5-star hotel, Royal Champagne. Overlooking the Marne Valley with uninterrupted views of the UNESCO-protected countryside landscape, its scenic terrasse is a sight to behold. The outdoor heated pool is a balmy 28°C and hangs over LVMH-owned vines offering the best spot to unwind whilst surrounded by nature. The outdoor pool is also equipped with a UV treatment system to reduce the intake of chlorine and maintain a balanced pH.

Outdoor pool at Le Royal Champagne

Inside, the spa in partnership with Biologique Recherche et KOS covers 1500 sq meters. It includes a dry sauna, hammam, two jacuzzis decorated with pretty iridescent mosaics and a waterfall, 9 treatment rooms, fitness and yoga studios. The Olympic-size swimming pool is bordered by floor to ceiling bay windows. We recommend booking the full body massage (from €115). It’s the ideal spot to cocoon during rainy days or in between Champagne tastings.

Disclaimer: The spa facilities are accessible exclusively to the hotel’s guests except for therapies and massages. Contact +33 3 26 52 41 14 for more information.

Best restaurant in Champagne

Le Bellevue at Royal Champagne

If the spa convinced you, stay for dinner. The Bellevue restaurant at Hotel Royal Champagne is a floor above the spa and boasts its own panoramic terrace with a spectacular view over the Marne valley and its vineyards. The atmosphere is relaxed and next-table neighbours are likely to be local winemakers who come regularly to this institution to sip on their competitors’ bubbly.

Le Bellevue at Le Royal Champagne

The Champagne selection at Le Bellevue is eclectic with bottles from established brands (Veuve Clicquot, Krug, Bolinger - La Grande Année) and independent producers (Benoit Dehu, Leclerc Briant - Le Clos des trois cloches, Benoit Marguet - Shaman, JMSélèque - Partition). Some are ‘bios’ (organics), others biodynamics, a few have strict environmentally-friendly practices without being certified ‘bio’ and some do it the old-fashioned way. Ask the sommelier to explain the difference and fetch you a bottle based on your preference to pair with your meal.

The menu is bistro-luxe with well presented, fragrant dishes. Food is seasonal and you’ll find all the staples including Reims cooked ham, organic lentils from the region and a Ratafia-based dessert (sweet alcohol, a by-product of Champagne making). I opted for the open prawn ravioli, lemongrass and ginger broth as a starter, and fillet of yellow pollock, tagliatelle of salsify, candied squash with orange as a main. Both had original ingredient combinations and happened to be great in taste. The decor is elegant with flower crystal pendant hanging from the ceiling and refined dinnerware.

The Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa is located 15 minutes from the Reims TGV station, 10 minutes from the capital of Champagne, Épernay, and 1h30 from Charles-de-Gaulle Airport. More information: www.royalchampagne.com

Useful information to explore Champagne

  • When: Time your trip to witness the harvest (September) or Champagne Day (18th October).
  • How: Travel by Eurostar from London to Marne La Vallée and catch a local train to Reims (operated by SNCF).
  • Transport: You can reach Maison Taittinger from Reims’ city centre using the recently opened electric bus route. Find out more on the tourism office website.
  • Travel tip: Look for the “La Champagne Refined art de vivre” label. Launched by the Regional Tourism Agency of the Grand-Est region and Comité Champagne in 2019, the label shines a light on the best and most exclusive experiences in the region.

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