Most of us think of Reims or Épernay when we think about visiting Champagne. That makes sense, when you’re only stationed here for a short time, sometimes cramming in as much as you can for the popular sites can be only be expected. However, my friend Ellen and I like to plan trips that are “off the beaten” path to discover authentic connections with locals. Her love of language and culture and my travel “habit/hobby/job” combine quite nicely to create some really fun trips. This past weekend, we took off for a trip to the Champagne region of France.Half of what we discover on the way usually isn’t on our itineraries, this is always a bonus since we share what we find and explore together.
Our first stop – Vesoul
After we crossed the border into France we decided to pop into the town of Vesoul for their Thursday market. Every week, their main street square and market hall is filled with vendors of all sorts, clothing, fresh vegetables, cheese and meats. Be careful to arrive early as they promptly close at noon. Unfortunately, with traffic challenges and departure, we didn’t make it on time to see everything but we did get to tour the town and enjoy a nice quiche. There is a beautiful garden in the center of town dedicated to the lives lost in WWI and WWII. The garden was popping with new flowers and crocuses and the smell of spring was in the air.
We stayed in a lovely chateau in the heart of the Champagne region, the chateau, Domaine Rennepont. Upon our arrival we were immediately greeted by Tim, Resi and Edward. Our royal stay in the Domaine was quite the experience. The stories and legends shared by our new friends who beautifully restored and renovated this majestic estate was enjoyed by all. This was once the noble property of distant family to Marie Antoinette. There is the most amazing story surrounding her and this estate. I’ll share a little of it, the story involves jewelry and a hairdresser. Hmmm! You’ll just have to visit to hear the rest. If you use www.airbnb.com or www.homeaway.com and choose filters for bed and breakfasts, including breakfast or +5 people you’ll be directed to a more full-service Bed and Breakfast, this is how we found our luxurious French home away from home. I am very thankful we took our sweet friends to this area to stay in the countryside where nobility once laid their heads and knew how to celebrate with bubbly too.
Charles de Gaulle Memorial
One of the cultural highlights of our trip was our visit to the Charles de Gaulle Memorial in Colombey l’ Deux Eglisés. The known face and symbol of the “Free France” movement during WWII, Charles De Gaulle loved his home in this area. This museum was great, at €11 per person (group rate) we could have also chosen the English earphone tour but English translations were at every display making the tour worthwhile and highly educational. We learned so much in our hour tour about this revered man. By the time we left we all had a new respect and knowledge of this brave soldier, fearless leader and loving father. Of course, all of us noticed the journey and life of his brave military wife who fled with their children to England during the occupation and his capture. His home is on the grounds and for a few euro extra we could have toured this as well. But we were off to another champagne tasting and tour.
Of course, we would schedule some champagne tastings, but thanks to our new friends, Edward, Resi and Tim, we were able to visit and be visited by locally owned, family run proprietors who delighted in sharing their trade.
Champagne Christian Peligril – www.champagne-christian-peligri.fr,
– 52330 Colombey les Deux Eglises
– personalized tour with magnificent wine culture of the region
Champagne Drappier – www.champagne-drappier.com
– Rue des Vignes, 10200 Urville
– 4 generations of champagne makers
– developed the only champagne with 0 sulfites
Champagne Michel Falmet – www.champagne-michel-falmet.com
– 6 rue de la Mairie, 10200 Rouvres les Vignes
– small champagne producer (25,000) excellent selections and pairings (citrus and light bouquet)
Each one of these producers were fantastic and let’s just say we discovered creative and interesting ways to pack a 20 seat bus with several cases to ensure “their” safe way home. From another story and legend Tim shared the monks of the region during the 11th and 12th centuries created priories in this region and developed the original champagne production. However, later on between the 13th and 15th centuries nobility moved in, hence the Marquis d’ Rennepont and the monks were gently moved on. The grapes of this region for champagne are primarily Pinot Noir, Blanc de Blanc, and Chardonnay. Our friend, Daniel (a highly educated sommelier) was able to bring us up to speed on vineyards, soil, temperatures and bouquets. We were super glad he was there to keep these crazy wine loving women straight. We learned the bubbles in your champagne are affected by the shape of the glass, lipstick, and of course temperatures.
Traveling tips for France
Tolls – you will have tolls as you travel through France
•use http://www.viamichelin.com/ to help calculate you route and possible toll fees through Europe
Esso card – your Germany Esso card does not work outside of Germany, prepare to spend Euro on your travel
Shopping – shops, churches, museums and information centers close between 12 and 2 for lunch in France (although this is a great time to schedule lunch)
Public Restrooms – be prepared to search for these, of course they are in restaurants but if you use public restrooms you will pay a fee between €.50 or €1
Language – most places we visited spoke English, however in the deep countryside few people spoke English, so either carry a French-English dictionary or have a great app (Google Translator) is not always accurate
To wrap up all I can say is you should really discover this part of France and if you get a chance to stay with our friends at Domaine Rennepont you’ll be blessed! Until next time, happy travels and Bón Voyage!