Champagne, cobbled streets, champagne, cathedrals, champagne, restaurants, champagne, coffee shops, champagne, museums, oh have I mentioned champagne – just a small list of a bubbly three days spent visiting the champagne region of Northern France and all it has to offer courtesy of a short break from DFDS ferries.
For an extra £12, you can enjoy your crossing from the Premium Lounge, where you sit back relax and indulge in fresh pastries, tea, coffee and of course bubbles (start as you mean to go on – I say!)
First stop on our journey is Reims (approx two and a half hours drive, once you leave the ferry), where we check into The Holiday Inn, before embarking on a tour around a city that’s surrounded by boutique shops and restaurants.
A must see is the incredible Cathedral, with its breathtaking architecture, and endless history, it’s hard to think it was first built in 400AD and has bared witness to the crowning of 25 Kings!
All this walking and sightseeing is thirsty work, so a glass of champagne with the famous Fossier biscuits (you dip them in champagne), sets us up nicely for our next stop – The Headquarters of Taittinger – built on a 13th century Abbey, its cellars, house over 3 million bottles of champagne, and of course you can’t visit one of the most famous champagne houses in the world and not have a taste or two!
A visit to the Brasserie Flo – Excelsior Restaurant, meant we could soak up some of the bubbles whilst dining on some authentic French cuisine. Duck liver pate in Armagnac with fruit chutney followed by pork fillets on a bed of macaroni cheese with port jus were just exquisite both in taste and presentation and when in Reims, well it has to be Fossier biscuits in a champagne trifle.
After a good nights sleep and a hearty breakfast (I think this was to line our stomachs for the champagne that lay ahead!) we set off on a drive through acres of vineyards known as the champagne tourist route, before stopping in the middle of a forest for a tasting experience like no other – in the trees!
An authentic experience – A treehouse in the middle of the forest, at the Arboxygène adventure park, reached by following the ‘Go Ape’ trail and then walking over not one but three suspended bridges until we reached the bar – aptly named Perching Bar. Was all the climbing and swinging through the trees worth it? Oh yes, sitting in the bucket seats suspended from the ceiling enjoying a glass or two of Bollinger champagne, whilst listening to the sway of the trees and the tweeting of the birds, it was like transporting yourself into a magical fairytale.
Time to leave came all too soon, as we headed out of the trees (slightly harder to navigate after a few bubbles) back into our car for some more spectacular views through vineyards and hills before we reached Godme Sabine champagne house.
Antique presses along with bottles of champagne from the first generation of our hosts family filled the tasting room, and the knowledge and their approach to champagne making was wonderful. It was here that we also enjoyed an authentic French country lunch, a seafood salad, followed by roasted duck legand finishing off with a delicious mature cheese called Comte, did I mention there was champagne with the lunch?
But it wasn’t all about champagne, a stop at ‘Page 24’ an ale brewers saw us tasting an assortment of different ales, with one in particular proving to be a winner for me – the Rhubarb Ale!
Even if you’re not a history buff, another must on this tour is The War Memorial and Notre de Lorette French Cemetery. After the First World War, the hill of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette was chosen by the French Government to receive the remains of French soldiers from over 150 cemeteries on the fronts of Artois, Flanders, Yser and the Belgian coast. The site contains 20,000 graves and the remains of 22,000 unknown soldiers placed together in 8 ossuaries. Notre-Dame-de-Lorette is France’s biggest national necropolis.
Wow! What an adventure of a day and it still wasn’t over, a quick freshen up at Hotel Le Dome, a modern boutique style hotel in the middle of Arras, before exploring The Grand Place, which is the larger of two main squares in Arras, surrounded by exquisitecolonnaded Flemish style houses.Definitely worth a visit at Christmas as it boasts one of the biggest Christmas markets in France. A climb up to the Belfry is another must, the perfect place to watch the sunset with of course, a glass of champagne!
Dinner was served in a quaint modern restaurant called La Bulle d’O, they served the most mouth watering steak, fresh local artisan breads, accompanied with of course Champagne!
Next morning after a restful night’s sleep, it was time to don hard hats and venture into the tunnels below the town of Arras. During the second half of 1916, the New Zealand Tunnelling Company, made up of just short of 500 men, were assigned the task of developing the undergrounds quarries for preparations ahead of the Battle of Arras. Chosen for their skills, they created an underground network of some twenty kilometres, with exists just in front of the German lines. This town beneath the town saved the lives of many men during the assault of 9th April 1917.
Emerging above ground, there was just time for a little shopping in the local market, selling some of the best artisan products that France has to offer, so make sure you stock up.
From the champagne regions of Reims to the history and culinary delights of Arras, there is so much waiting to be explored.
To celebrate their 150th anniversary DFDS are offering trips from Dover to Calais or Dunkirk from just £35 on bookings made from now until 10th December 2017.
Return, same-day crossings start from £35 for a car with up to nine passengers. Three-day trips start from £59 and five-day trips start from £69.