It's 8 am and the sun is hiding behind a mass of bright white clouds. I slide open the panoramic glass door overlooking a sea of vines to greet Antoinette who's standing outside, a big smile across her face. She's wearing a dark shawl over her shoulders and pristine white sneakers. In her hands, one of those typical baskets French people bring to farmer's market and it seems quite heavy. Breakfast has arrived.
She lays its content open on the kitchenette table to reveal a full-size baguette, salted butter and jams, generous croissants and an assortment on cheesy brioches. "Everything comes from the village's boulangerie (bakery)" she comments. We chat briefly about the weather - is it going to rain today? - and I start devouring the delicious food the second she's gone.
Read More | The 5 most spectacular sustainable holiday destinations in the world
Ecological wooden houses on stilts
The house is so quiet, the experience becomes almost meditative. The croissants being out of this world also helps. Antoinette, the owner and host of this peculiar guest house, had mentioned how sound proof it would be at all times, but one can only appreciate it in the early morning hours. The occasional truck comes around to spray the vines below but "if you stay inside you won't hear a thing" she had reassured me.
Each house is 2 stories high, rose on stilts and made with 100% certified ecologically-coated wood. "Everything comes from 30 km maximum. The building company who made them is called Secobois and is based nearby. These are French woods (douglas-fir and larch) and I only worked with local artisans, electrician, a plumber from the village..." she explains.
The pièce de résistance is a large wooden terrace with panoramic views over the vineyards, particularly spectacular during Autumn when the vines are turning from bright green to blood orange. The landscape can also be enjoyed from the comfort of your own bed located on the second floor, through a transparent glass wall - clearly, put there for maximum visual effect.
Read More | A Rolls-Royce road trip featuring champagne chests and Jay Z
A wine-growing estate classified Grand Cru
Either way, it screams for a glass of Champagne of which you’ll find numerous references on the menu. As a matter of fact, you can even pop open a bottle made with the grapes below (Champagne Michel Tixier). Located in a wine-growing village classified Grand Cru in Champagne - Chigny Les Roses - the Cottages are ideally located halfway between Reims and Epernay, and a 20-minute ride from both.
Inside, the decor is minimalist (origami style paper lamps, light wood, immaculate bathroom with walk in shower) and, most importantly, authentic. Pieces of furniture belonged to Antoinette’s grandmother and the artwork is signed by local artists who are long-lasting friends. The photographs are her father's: "a professional winemaker all his life, but photographer at heart".
A couple’s counsellor in real life, Antoinette is also a wine-maker and an amateur cook (she mentioned her famous ‘blanquette de veau’ a couple of times). She is also the local Councillor of the village having been elected in 2014, and drew these wooden houses herself in her spare time. “I wanted a design that would blend in perfectly with the environment. My brother is an architect and he made my original drawings come true” she explains.
Building these cabins didn’t require much energy and neither does running them daily. The sun shining on the bay window heats up the whole space quickly, and even though it was chilly outside when I visited it felt nicely warm inside. The rooms are cleaned without nasty chemicals but using the age-old technique of scrubbing with white wine vinegar. Needless to say, the trash follows a thorough sorting system and Antoinette has a strict low waste policy.
The establishment, which opened only last May, has already been awarded 4 stars and selected by the Regional Tourism Agency of the Grand-Est region and Comité Champagne, the Champagne Producers and Growers’ Association to hold the ‘Refined Art de Vivre label’, shining a light on the best experiences in the region.
Prices start at €150.
Find out more at Cottages Antoinette.