The Easter long weekend following the 22 March attacks provided a welcome opportunity to escape Brussels in search of some relief from the tension and madness that swept over the city. The airport closure and flight disruptions thwarted our plans for a weekend trip to Como. And being so soon after the attacks we weren’t too keen on international train travel, especially during what would be a peak travel time. So we decided a road trip could be the way to go. We hired one of the last available rental cars in Brussels, and hit the road bound for the French wine region of Champagne.
In just three hours we’d arrived in Reims, where we’d be basing ourselves for the first night. The charming Grand Hotel Continental was perfectly located in the heart of the city centre, within walking distance of Reims’ main attractions and several Champagne houses, including Veuve Clicquot, G.H. Mumm, Ruinart and Pommery.
After being suitably impressed by the obligatory visits to the Cathedrale de Notre-Dame de Reims and the Saint-Remi Basilica, we turned our focus to the culinary, with visits to the Champagne houses of Tattinger and G.H. Martel. These two visits couldn’t have been more different, with the personal, family-run feel of G.H. Martel a stark contrast to the polished branding that characterised the visit to the grand Tattinger site. Despite being so different in their approach, each tasting was equally impressive.
They say it’s never a good idea to drink on an empty stomach, so luckily for us there was no shortage of good food to be found in Reims. Highlights included the extensive range of sweet and savoury baked goods at the Waida tea room, as well as the local fare at the busy Restaurant Le Gaulois, located right on the main square.
The following day we continued to Epernay, stopping through the picturesque town of Chalons-En-Champagne on the way. The tiny town was especially quiet this Easter Sunday. In our few hours here it almost felt as though we had this pretty little town all to ourselves – with the exception of queues at what seemed to be the main attractions that day: the Halle du Marché food market, the Au Pain de Tradition bakery, and the Maison Caffet chocolatier.
A few pastry shops and bakeries later, we were back on the road, enjoying a beautifully scenic drive to Epernay. Here we were greeted by Calvin, the friendly dog (named after designer Calvin Klein!) of the owners of the Villa Saint Pierre where we’d be spending the night.
We didn’t waste any time in getting started with more Champagne tastings. We started off with visit to Mercier, where we enjoyed a tour of the cellars by miniature train. We also choose to visit De Castellane, which had a greater focus on the technical aspects of the champagne production process and complemented nicely the rest of our visits in Champagne.
Having had our fill of structured cellar visits, we devoted the rest of our time to enjoying ourselves with tastings at just some of the Champagne houses that line the famous Avenue de Champagne, including A. Bergere and Collard Picard. Both houses have courtyards which look out onto the avenue, and provide the perfect setting for indulging in a glass or two of the world’s finest bubbly.