A Sparkling Stay in Epernay
There is always an excuse for Champagne. Even if we can only tolerate small amounts, the feelgood factor of the popping cork, the first gassy sip, holding the stem of a fluted glass, is deeply entrenched in our serotonin receptors. There is only one way to really appreciate all the magic in these centuries-old bubbles and that is to stay at the Royal Champagne in Epernay: only 90 minutes from Paris, 2 hours from Calais and 20 minutes from Reims airport. Royal Champagne has a twist of Swiss-chalet architecturally, though the interiors are extremely French-Florentine with rich Nobilis fabrics, tasteful Limoges and exhilarating vistas. It's refreshing here: the air seems crisp, almost alpine, and the vines of Epernay are every room's visual delight.
The Suites or Chalets
All the 'chalets' are separate from the main hotel, forming a double ridge with southerly aspects of the enchanting effervescent valley below. We stayed in a recently refurbished suite, number 10, with private balcony, freshly laid teak floors, an immaculate and stylish bathroom and exquisite bedroom furnishings. Many other suites have been undergoing a similar, spectacular refurbishment programme.
In the morning when you draw your thick curtains and open your shutters, (they really understand the meaning of blackout here and the beds are supremely comfortable), your view is simply priceless. We were lucky to see several other amazing suites, the favourite being the loved-up Zen-zone, suite 23, with an oriental twist, enormous sleeping/ sitting area and a bathroom to the front featuring a stand-alone bath where you can lie back and sip the fruits of the view beyond. Bliss. If you're in need of deep cosseting, then cosy-up in corner room 11 where you can almost reach out and touch the vines. The fizz-fiscal factor is crazy when you consider that rooms start at a mere 180 Euros per night...
The stunning restaurant is housed in the main house, where Napoleon and his nobleman would frequently stay. This Michelin-starred restaurant is rather an institution in this part of the world and has unparalleled views of the spoils of the region. The rich boudoir-style interiors are both alluring and comforting and the food is delicious. A proud sommelier can run you through a most impressive book and even take you down to see the immaculate cave.
Out and About
Replenish your bubbly reserves for the summer by visiting several houses of the 'Champagne Aristocracy'. Visit the cellars of Veuve Clicqout in Reims and perhaps follow this with a lunch at their townhouse, followed by a visit to the spectacular Reims cathedral. Taste the fruits of Moet and Chandon in the their impressive cellars in Epernay followed by a light lunch at their guesthouse, Le Trianon. Visit the famous Hautvilliers Abbey, where Dom Perignon 'invented' champagne, and for a meal of a lifetime, have lunch or dinner at the celebrated 3-star Boyer-les-Crayres. All these spectacular opportunities must be pre-booked through the hotel prior to arrival. Other famous labels to visit in Reims are: Krug, Louis Roederer, Tattinger and Ruinart. In Epernay you must head for Perrier Jouet, Pol Roger and more besides. However, why not visit some of the many high quality independent producers, called 'recoltant-manipulants', and select some of your own secrets?
One, two, three even four days here will leave you well-versed in the noble art of champagne creation, from viticulture to invested interest. And after staying at the glorious Royal Champagne you will always be able to raise a glass with a touch more hauteur.