Our 3 Top Tips for a Mini Break in the Champagne Region
Tip 1: A quintessentially beautiful french place to visit - hautvillers.
When visiting the Champagne region, pretty much everyone goes to Reims and/or Epernay (Alison and I too have been there). They are the principal "entrepôt" locations of the area (Epernay is much smaller than Reims), and it is where you will find the big blingy Champagne houses and tasting tours.
...BUT if you find yourself exploring in the Champagne region, please please don't leave without venturing further afield from where the masses go and seek out a beautiful village close by called Hautvillers. In fact, make it a priority.
Here you can visit the final resting place of Dom (Petrus) Perignon, enjoy the French ambience and the sprawling vines (something you won't see in the city), potter in antiques shops ...and be utterly spoilt for choice of small independent champagne producers to sample. The Champagne House of G. Tribaut is a good one, with its new home tasting and sales space with fantastic views over the vines (opened in April 2017), but there are also many more.
Whilst in Hautvillers, and feeling hungry, I recommend a restaurant on rue Dom Perignon (that I have been to twice now!) called Au 36 for some yummy traditional local dishes, accompanied by a champagne tasting experience if you wish. It is small, but perfectly formed, so book because it's popular (and I would advise you book their tasting platter at the same time - when they run out, that's it...and it's a shame!). Oh the Ratatouille is dreamy. The outside terrace is an enchanting space - I love it here. Don't be in a rush, you're supposed to relax, eat and drink at leisure. P.s. a little thank you to Au 36 for our complimentary glasses of Champagne on my most recent visit.
I found when searching online, it can be really difficult to know where to go and where would be right for us. There are so many small independent Champagne producers it can be overwhelming, and your time will be precious - you want to get it right! So, if you want to do some planning and book some tastings before you go (recommended, as some only operate on a booking system or are open unpredictable hours/days), then we suggest that you look on the Hautvillers Tourist Information website, or give them a call. Each local tourist information is a really great resource throughout the region. And they even host tastings and events too from time to time.
Tip 2: Who doesn't enjoy some bubbles!🍾 but which bubbles to enjoy...? We recommend: Champagne with memories - you can bottle an experience!
I like the homely, yet glamorous, personal touch of a tasting, with quality. So whilst the Moet & Chandon tour was interesting (it's big and bling), for me personally it was nowhere near as enjoyable as visiting the smaller producers (that said, you probably ought to do it if you are in Epernay). From these smaller places, when I drink the bottles I bought home with me, what I remember is the whole experience; what it looked like, the atmosphere, meeting the family and drinking their produce; and it makes it taste all the better!
Last weekend my best friend and I visited the Champagne producer Météyer Père et Fils, in Trelou-sur-Marne, and had a tour of their facilities, museum and tasting.
Météyer is a small independent Champagne house using a traditional approach handed down through generations. It was a very memorable experience and we came away well stocked - which says it all about the tasting!
The tour and small museum was interesting. It was great to see the old fashioned ways and equipment used to produce the Champagne by hand, and then see their more modern methods and machinery. Anna really took the time to show us around and answer our questions. As a mum of twin toddlers, she seemed remarkably relaxed - must be the Champagne... (note to self to test this theory more often at home)!
We heartily recommend a visit if you find yourself in the area and Anna & Franck were very welcoming (although we did pre-book and would recommend you do this).
Don't always buy the big labels, you can discover some wonderful tastes for a sensible price tag if you explore - it's worth the effort.
They also recommended a restaurant just down the road in Dormans, called Sylvain Suty - where we had a scrumptious traditional French lunch. Definitely head there if your visit to Météyer Champagne falls near a meal time.
Tip 3: Our last tip for a visit to the Champagne region ....where to stay!
If you are looking to spoil yourself and indulge, then consider the 5* Château de Fère Hotel and Spa.
I stayed there last weekend and the setting is very special. It is positioned alongside the old castle ruins, which are spectacular. After arriving and being shown our deluxe room, we had a relaxing drink on the terrace, taking in the treat of some glorious spring sunshine. Then we robed in our hotel dressing gowns and headed to the spa downstairs. The spa is small but really nicely done. They offer treatments, which we didn't sample, but we did enjoy a sauna and hamman. Unfortunately the jacuzzi wasn't working that afternoon.
A real highlight of our stay was the evening meal. We opted for the 3 course menu which, plus the amuse bouche and several entremets, made for a gastronomic adventure. It was superb. All washed down with a bottle of lovely champagne of course (from their extensive menu).
Check out isn't until midday; so a lazy start, long late breakfast and some reading in the sunshine was all on the agenda for the following morning...before heading to Hautvillers 45 minutes down the road.
I stayed here with my best friend and it was perfect for some child free luxury. It amused us that we were in a very romantic setting, particularly walking through the lit up ruins after dinner (which you have to do, they are beautiful!). However, I also spied 2 highchairs in the restaurant at breakfast - so they are welcoming to young children too. Something for everyone. (n.b. we collaborated with this hotel in return for an honest review).
But most importantly (wherever you explore, stay or choose to consume) VISIT CHAMPAGNE!!
.....And let us know if you do, we'd love to hear about your experiences.