Last month, Jochem and I took a road trip to France. We’d been planning to visit his mom (who lives there) for a while, but it wasn’t until a few days before we decided to break the journey up a bit. Key factor in this was that the air-conditioning in the car doesn’t work (and it was scorching!), and that we really didn’t feel like doing the 10 hour drive in one go. Since both the Champagne and Bourgogne regions are on the way to his mom, or so we told ourselves, why not enjoy it?
Granted, when we arrived in Reims, we were a little underwhelmed. Especially I had been excited about wandering about in cute little towns, have a glass of good wine on charming squares and take photos of quiet alleyways. At first sight, Reims was none of that, plus the center had been shut down for the fourth stage of the Tour de France that started in Reims. After watching the tour start (I mean, no way around it really, but a glass of champagne made it better) and a fantastic lunch at Chez Jérôme, we decided to do what we came for; champagne tasting.
About that lunch; Jerome does a four course lunch, every day, all by himself. Fresh from the market, and you eat what he buys. He cooks as well as being the host; and he does it with style. He’s totally loveable, which also explains why he’s booked out every day. Make a reservation!
We debated a little on which champagne house to go to. Reims being the champagne capital offers a lot of choice, and we wanted to do it right. As much as we wanted to go to Ruinart, they have become quite pricey, and were fully booked which made the choice a bit easier. Or harder, depending on how you look at it!
We wanted to see the caves, learn a bit and have a tasting. Eventually we settled on Pommery. Admittedly, the look of the house (a little theme park-ey) pulled us in, but it was pretty nonetheless! After getting the tickets, and deciding whether to taste one of two champagnes, we were being lead down a grand staircase into the caves. While we got a history talk, we were being lead through corridors and corridors stacked with champagne. Unexpectedly, the caves were full of art displays, both contemporary and classical.
After the tour, we tasted two champagnes, a brut royale and a vintage, the latter being our favorite!
After Reims, we continued south, and while Vézelay was our goal, Jochem remembered once having been in Troyes. You guessed it, it was on the route. We made a detour in search of the perfect lunchspot and after we took the roundabout a few times, managed to find parking and I finally got my cute little French town. Troyes still has a lot of wooden houses in the center, that have survived for centuries.
About two hours south is Vézelay. A sleepy town on top of a hill you can spot from a distance. Our main reason to visit was because it’s in the middle of the Bourgogne, which has fantastic wines. Truth be told, there’s not much to do in the town itself. Even though it’s summer season and there were a few tourists, they still stuck to their French ways, which we loved. Everything closes between lunch and dinner (eat your lunch by one o’clock!) which leaves you not much else to do than wander the small streets, admire the views and drink some wine.
The main attraction is the abbey, which is currently under renovation. By the looks of it, it will be another few years! However, one evening we were having a late night picnic behind the abbey (beautiful views!) and we were treated to choir practice. We loved taking some time here to just relax.
Not far from Vézelay is the town of Noyers sur Serein. We ended up there due to a lunch recommendation, and we were quite happy we did! The town centre is small (and car free on weekends in the summer) and has a little creek around it. After lunch, we tried to follow it to see if we could find a swimming spot (it was scorching hot!) and accidentally drove onto someone’s courtyard. Not thinking they would appreciate a little skinny dipping in their backyard, we gave up after a while (no airconditioning is tough) and jumped in near a campsite further down the road.
Have some more time and need inspiration? Check out some more off the beaten path places in France. So much to discover!