Discover more from Civic Renaissance with Alexandra Hudson
Champagne, France: Where to eat, drink and stay
How to spend two days in Champagne, intro to future book project, and more
Bonjour tout le monde!
On July 6th, 2021, I, my husband, and my 15-month-old son flew to Paris to begin a month-long adventure—part holiday after a year and a half of lockdown, and part research for a future book.
The book idea is to write a travel guide to help travelers walk in the footsteps of the great men and women who built our world. In past eras, travel was primarily the purview of the rich and privileged. The Grand Tour, for example, was the capstone of the education of any European aristocrat: nobles would travel to Europe’s capitals to meet other aristocrats, visit historical sites, and gaze upon beautiful works of art—art that, it was hoped, would inspire similar feats of human achievement.
Today, travel is far more democratized. It is no longer solely the domain of the privileged. We can all consider the opportunity to experience the history and beauty of the world around us. We also, of course, have time and budgetary constraints, and my hope is that his book can help intellectually curious and culturally inclined travelers maximize their time and resources while encountering the greatness of the human experience.
A working title for the book is, Civic Renaissance’s Grand Tour of Europe: A Guide to the People, Art, and Places that Made our World.
(NOTE 1: Have a better title idea? Send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(NOTE 2: I love the idea of doing books like this for other regions of the world, too. Europe is just the one that I know best, so I thought I’d start there.)
Without further ado, here are some recommendations that we enjoyed for where to eat, drink, and stay in Champagne.
First, some logistics. How to get to get to Champagne?
We arrived at the Charles de Gaulle airport, picked up our car rental (I would not recommend Europcar—they did not honor our reservation and charged us twice the price at the last minute!), and then drove an hour and a half to the Champagne region.
There’s also a high speed train to Champagne from Paris that gets you there in less than 45 minutes! I’d recommend hiring a car, though, as the drive is lovely and much of the charm of the trip is visiting the champagne houses outside the region’s main cities of Reims and Épernay.
The story of Champagne
The story of Champagne is a story of a French monk named Dom Pérignon (c. 1638–14 September 1715) who accidentally discovered the magic of secondary fermentation in a bottle of white whine, and ran to his brothers: “Come, quickly, I am tasting the stars!”
Whether or not it is true, it’s a beautiful origin story of a beautiful drink!
Where to eat
In late afternoon on July 6th, we arrived at Royal Champagne, a brand-new, American-owned resort 20 minutes south of Reims, the region’s capital.
The resort was exquisite and breathtaking. Spacious with dramatic views of the region.
We relaxed for a bit before putting our son down in our room, and walking down the hall to Le Royal, Royal Champagne’s Michelin-starred restaurant, for dinner.
Le Royal’s tasting menu was roughly twelve to fifteen courses—it was difficult tell with all the small treats with which the chef surprised us.
This little delicate work of art, for example, was served to us first:
This lavish display of “les frivolities,” as Le Royal calls them, includes:
Venison tartare with fresh mint
Cookie with lamb tartare and peach
Zucchini roll with goat cheese and pine nuts
Strawberry and red pepper balls
Our meal continued for hours, and some other highlights included:
Mise en bouche: ravaloie & little peace in cream with caviar
Pre-dessert: melon carpaccio with vanilla olive oil, fresh olive, and lemon mint sorbet
The meal aptly reflected the skill and creativity of Le Royal’s chef, who came from the famous Le Negresco Hotel in Nice, where he had earned two Michelin stars.
The sommelier too was exceptional. For most of our wines, he served them blind and encouraged us to “forget everything we knew” and experience the wines in happy ignorance. It was, all in all, a sensational experience. See our menu and wine pairings below.
For our second night in Champagne, we enjoyed a meal at Domaine Les Crayeres, a classic French hotel and gastronomic institution in Reims, about a 20-minute drive away. Since we had our son with us, we dined at the hotel’s more casual—but lovely—Le Jardin (rather than Le Parc, the hotel’s extremely traditional two-Michelin-starred restaurant). It was a delightful experience: The team was lovely and very accommodating with our son, and the food was delicious.
Where to drink
Champagne will likely be served with most meals you enjoy in the Champagne region, but you’re also surrounded by opportunities to visit large and small champagne houses alike. I suggest doing a mix of both—and to avoid trying do too many tastings in one day. Better to enjoy and really get to know a few houses rather than feel rushed trying to check experiences off a list!
We first visited Leclerc Briant, which has a special partnership with Royal Champagne. Our guide was sensational, and the highlight of the tasting was definitely their Abyss Cuvée, their champagne that is aged for one year on the sea-floor off the coast of Brittany, France—delicate and exquisite!
Of the larger champagne houses, we visited Champagne Bollinger, the choice champagne of both my husband and 007—just a coincidence, I assure you. We spent three hours touring Bollinger’s caves and tasting their cuvées.
In addition to tasting some truly fantastic champagnes, it was great to hear about Bollinger’s partnership with the 007 franchise. The story is this: there are three champagnes mentioned in the Ian Fleming novels: Dom Pérignon, Ruinart, and Bollinger. The movie franchise originally partnered with Dom Pérignon, owned by Moët & Chandon, but Moët & Chandon had too many stipulations for how Dom was to be displayed in the films—so the producers approached Bollinger instead.
To this day, they have no contract in place with the films. It’s merely a verbal gentleman’s agreement, where Bollinger provides champagne when the filmmakers ask for it—and don’t ask questions!
Where to stay
If I have not already persuaded you to stay at the elegant and exquisite Royal Champagne on your next visit to Champagne, let me say just a bit more. They were incredibly warm and welcoming—and amazingly child-friendly to our son. They had a gorgeous crib and rocking horse set up for him, and evening a robe and baby slippers! We were so grateful for their warmth and hospitality.
And where else can you enjoy a view of Champagne from the comfort of an infinity pool?
We need travel to diversify and enrich our lives. Going to new places and trying new things helps us grow and better appreciate the vastness and intricacy of the world around us. It makes us more humble, as we see that the world is infinitely bigger than us and our daily lives. Travel nourishes our soul by allows us insight into the beauty and variance of the human experience. It also frequently breeds gratitude for the way of life that we enjoy in our native country. As the world re-opens I hope this reflection inspires you to travel!
If you end up enjoying any of these places and activities, let me know what you think! Please write to me directly at email@example.com with your comments and reflections.