Road trip: explore Champagne country
PUBLISHED: 13:10 04 October 2016 | UPDATED: 15:41 08 November 2016
Explore the best towns and attractions in Champagne with our 4-day itinerary for your next driving holiday in France
DAY ONE – Reims & Verzenay
The city is the cradle of the champagne industry and attracts both epicures and history buffs with its Gothic and art-deco architecture. Visit Notre-Dame cathedral and look out for the stained-glass windows depicting vineyard scenes. After lunch, explore the vast underground crayères (chalk pits) where countless bottles of bubbly are stored. Many prestigious champagne houses are clustered around the city centre including Taittinger, Mumm and Veuve Clicquot, each of which offers cellar tours. Leave Reims and go to the village of Verzenay. Tranquil backroads pass through the vineyards and wine villages of the Montaigne de Reims, providing awe-inspiring panoramas at every turn.
Have a bite at… the Café du Palais in Reims to indulge in a champenois feast at the 1930s-themed restaurant.
Stay the night in… the winery-cum-B&B Maison des Vignes de Verzenay. You can enjoy a tasting tour of the domaine and the owners will also provide a sumptuous dinner by prior request.
DAY TWO – Chaumont & Langres
Sustained by a substantial buffet breakfast, brave the 101 steps to the top of Verzenay’s lighthouse to look out over a ‘sea’ of vines before visiting the museum to learn all about champagne making. You now have a two-hour drive via Saint-Dizier to Chaumont. Set on a rocky spur, the town is dominated by a three-tier railway viaduct overlooking the Suize Valley. Admire the 650-metre-long engineering feat before strolling around the turreted buildings and ancient facades of the vieille ville. You will be staying the night 35 kilometres away within the walled town of Langres. While in Langres, make sure to take a promenade along the medieval ramparts encircling the town and admire the views over the Haute-Marne countryside.
Have a bite at… le Grain de Sel restaurant in Rue de Verdun in Chaumont and order the signature tartines, which are loaded with melted cheese and cured meats, and served with abundant helpings of salad.
Stay the night in… a handsome Edwardian mansion, Le Belvédère des Remparts chambre d’hôtes has five individual rooms and a lovely garden. If you would like dinner, let owners Loren and Eglys Elliott know in advance and they will reserve you a table.
DAY THREE – Essoyes
Wake up early for a short drive to the Lac de la Liez, where you can spend an energising morning swimming, pedal boating, fishing or exploring the shores by bike. In the afternoon, drive to Essoyes, where Impressionist artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir spent much of his last 25 years. A walking trail takes in an exhibition centre, the family home and studio, the graves of Renoir and his wife (who was born in the town) and views that inspired the artist. Back behind the wheel, meander along to the winegrowing village of Les Riceys to fill any remaining boot space with the local rosé wine once favoured by Louis XIV at the Palais de Versailles. It is now an hour’s drive to Troyes, capital of the Aube département.
Have a bite at… le Cheval Blanc, a former 9th-century abbey, where the €20 three-course lunch uses fresh ingredients from the local market
Stay the night in… the four-star Hôtel Champ des Oiseaux in the shadow of Troyes’ cathedral.
DAY FOUR - Troyes
Spend the morning strolling the city’s lively medieval streets, which are flanked by half-timbered buildings and medieval churches. History comes alive in the Ruelle des Chats alleyway, with its leaning facades and grinning gargoyles. The cathedral is rightly famed for its stained-glass windows, but don’t miss the Église Saint-Jean-au-Marché, where England’s Henry V married Catherine of France in 1420.
Have a bite at… the wine bar and bistro Aux Crieurs de Vin makes a lively choice for sampling the town’s speciality, andouillette (tripe sausage). If you fancy something sweet, stock up at Pascal Caffet’s chocolate emporium before you head back.