Exploring the Champagne region

One of the last weekend trips we did before France was put under a strict lockdown, was to the renowned Champagne region. Located just 150 kms north-east of Paris, it can easily be covered in a day-trip or over a weekend, if you want to explore a little more.

With about 22 trains running daily from Paris Gare de l’Est to Reims (pronounced as RANCE), getting there is fairly easy. Trains take about 1.5hrs on average although there are a few fast ones that can get you there in 40mins. Driving takes about 2hrs. We chose to rent a car as we wanted to explore a few other towns in the area along with the forest on the outskirts of Troyes – Parc natural regional de la Foret d’Orient. PS: we also wanted to carry back more than enough bottles of champagne!!

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Another very famous town in the champagne regions is Epernay. We chose to skip that and headed for Reims instead because in addition to the champagne, we also really wanted to visit the Reims Cathedral – cathédrale Notre-Dame. This beautiful gothic building is where the kings of France were crowned. The cathedral has hosted thirty-three sovereign coronations in just over 1000 years. No wonder it’s also known as the Coronation City! In 1991 it was listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

Reims is where some of the biggest champagne houses in the region are located including Pommery, Mumm, Taittinger and Veuve Clicquot to name a few. Since we were traveling with Mia, visiting any of these was out of question because pets aren’t allowed. But we already knew this so weren’t miffed. Our plan really was to visit some of the cellars in the town and get an idea of the small local producers. Big names such as these can be bought anywhere in the world, but the small producers are equally good and definitely great value for money too.

One thing to bear in mind is that a lot of these champagne houses are not open to visitors at all times. It’s best to check and book in advance if you plan to visit any.

One of the local shops we went into was La Cave Colbert. With wall after wall lined with beautiful bottles of champagne, one is spoilt for choice. It’s easy to recognise the top names but if you are really after something unique, it’s best to speak to the manager in the store. They are very knowledgeable and after understanding what you are after and your palate, they can really recommend some great champagnes.

We wanted to finish all our champagne shopping on Saturday because on Sundays usually all these shops are shut. In Bordeaux, we left it too late and didn’t find a single place to buy some wines before we left. Post that debacle we’ve become savvy shoppers!

From Reims we carried on south towards Troyes, driving through some of the most beautiful vineyards. Being February, the vines were only just growing so not as lush as they would look in the summer, but still a treat for the eyes.

You can’t live in France and not spend a night (or more) in a chateau! I decided that this might be our very last chance and it would be criminal to waste it. We were in luck – the Château d’Étoges was not only pet friendly but right between Reims & Troyes, the two places we wanted to see. So I promptly booked the chateau along with some gourmet dinner they were offering and wait for it….a champagne breakfast! When in Champagne…….

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The grounds of the Chateau looked delightful in the pictures so we wanted to arrive early to make the most of it. Mia received a warm welcome by the staff who were used to dogs her size as well as larger ones too. That weekend I counted about 5 other dogs that were visiting. I think that speaks volumes about the place.

I think it was my FOMO – fear of missing out – that had prompted me to book the gourmet dinner. It was really top notch but by the end of it, we could hardly move. And on hind sight, a meal we could have avoided.

The next morning, after a nice long walk in the grounds we were ready for our champagne breakfast. Well, to be honest, we just had the breakfast and barely touched the champagne!

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It was now time to set off to the Foret d’Orient. The entire area is an oasis of green and blue. Constituting of three man-made lakes – Orient, Temple and Amance lakes – built to regulate the course of the Seine and the Dawn – the forest is now home to a large variety of flora and fauna. In summer, these lakes offer an abundance of activities and swimming is also possible here. It’s an ideal place for avid bird watchers too.

We ended up spending a large part of our day along the shores of Lake Orient. Given that it was a rather cloudy Sunday, we seemed to be the only people around and it was sheer bliss to be away from the city.

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From here, we drove onto the town of Troyes – pronounced as THOIS. By the time we arrived there, it had started raining, so sadly our time in Troyes was spent mostly at a restaurant for lunch and then huddled under an umbrella, walking as quickly as possible to down some of the old streets!

One thing you immediately notice in Troyes are the beautifully preserved colourful timber/wooden buildings. Almost all of these houses date from after the great fire of May 1524 which ravaged a quarter of the city, burning down around 1,500 dwellings to ashes and leaving some 7,500 people homeless. 

Because of the rain we really couldn’t make the most of our time in Troyes but from whatever we saw, it looked like a beautiful old town where one could get lost amid the medieval charm.

2 thoughts on “Exploring the Champagne region

  1. Lovely photos, especially the wooden houses of Troyes. Reading this made me feel very nostalgic. About Europe, and weekends away and walking down the quaint streets huddled under an umbrella. Really nicely written!

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