Driving to France this summer? Why not leave the motorway and stop off to explore some of the charming villages and sites in Champagne-Ardenne?
Easily accessible by motorway from Calais, you can be in Reims, the capital of Champagne in two and a half hours. There are some excellent places to stay minutes from main routes, but off the beaten track. From grand villas to friendly B&Bs, some are just a stone’s throw from local producers on the Champagne Tourist Route where you can fill your boot with great value wines.
Here are some of the best places to stretch your legs or lay your head (heading from north to south through the region):
The 19th century Château de Rilly at Rilly-la-Montagne, is just a few minutes south of Reims and on the Champagne Tourist Route. Newly renovated period rooms, lovely landscaped gardens and a gourmet restaurant. Rooms from €195 and menus from €28. Seasonal packages are available.
Don’t miss an opportunity to explore magnificent Reims Cathedral and see the spectacular sound & light show on summer nights (see www.reims.fr). On the edge of Reims, Hotel Azur is a small, friendly gem in the boho Boulingrin area, just 10 minutes walk from the Cathedral & other attractions. Friendly hosts and rooms from €53.
Aux Armes de Champagne is a long-established hotel-restaurant at l’Epine, famous for its basilica. The popular gourmet restaurant specialises in seasonal, local produce and the brasserie offers great value menus too. Nearby Chalôns-en-Champagne has a pretty town centre with half-timbered houses, criss-crossed with rivers where you can take a pleasant boat ride and pick up some provisions for a picnic in the park. Doubles from €105, free parking on site.
The Auberge des Moissons, a family-run three star hotel with a renowned regional restaurant, offers comfortable rooms in the main building and around a pretty courtyard garden. The new outdoor pool and Jacuzzi are good for children wanting to let off some steam after being in the car for too long. Seasonal gourmet truffle menus (Sept to Dec but check website for availability), are worth the detour. Double rooms with breakfast from €85 (family duplex from €120), and it’s just 15 minutes from Epernay.
La Villa Primerose is an imposing 19th century villa in Arcis-sur-Aube, between Châlons-en-Champagne and Troyes. There are five beautifully furnished, spacious rooms in a private walled garden, some with balcony views. Doubles with breakfast from €70 – €115, table d’hôtes dinners from €24 & free parking.
Domaine de la Creuse has five period rooms and suites in the outbuildings of a traditional 18th century timbered building in Moussey. This elegant house is set in gorgeous gardens. Doubles from €100 – €130 with breakfast.
Explore the nearby mediaeval town of Troyes, boasting some of the finest stained glass windows in Europe. There’s a rich cultural history, cobbled lanes and half-timbered houses, and great value retail outlets on the outskirts, just seven minutes drive from Domaine de la Creuse.
A little further off the motorway, but well worth the detour, is the lovely Grange du Relais, a value hotel on the edge of this picturesque village, home of President Charles de Gaulle. It combines a ‘rustic chic’ restaurant with spacious duplex suites and cosy rooms surrounding a secluded garden and pool. There’s also an attractive terrace for outside dining and a bijou shop area full of old-fashioned treasures. Room rates from €58 – 85, free parking and bikes.
You can visit De Gaulle’s family house, the iconic Cross de Lorraine, excellent visitors centre chronicling the life and times of De Gaulle and the poignantly simple graves of De Gaulle and his family who played a very active part in this small rural community. Treat yourself to a superb Michelin star lunch at www.hostellerielamontagne.com with menus from €28 – €150.
Le Moulin au Fil de l’Eau is a restored 15th century mill set in seven hetares of scenic parkland with a pool in the village of Orcevaux near Langres. There are four comfortable rooms and a suite from €67 and great value table d’hote dinners from €20.
Langres itself has a fascinating historical centre and ramparts overlooking the stunning plains and lakes of the surrounding area, bordering Burgundy. Stop for lunch at Le Cheval Blanc, a renowned local restaurant with rooms in a converted church (Rooms from €80, menus from €15 ), or stay at Hotel de la Poste, reputedly the oldest hotel in France, just behind the town square with renovated rooms from €80, paid parking and a small separate pool area.
Visit the Champagne-Ardenne tourist board at www.champagne-ardenne-tourism.co.uk for more information on the region, downloadable brochures, maps and ideas of what to do and see.