Published: 18:00, 01 December 2017 |
Updated: 08:41, 17 December 2017
The union of two people, the birth of a baby or perhaps a promotion at work - they’re all good reasons to raise a glass of champagne.
But if you’re in Reims, you don’t need an excuse to sip on the fine stuff.
The sole fact you’re in the region of Champagne, France - where only wine produced there can legally don the name - is cause enough to fill your boots.
Reims is just two hours by car from Calais or 45-minutes from Paris by high speed train.
The real perk for those living in Kent is that in the time it takes to get to an airport, go through security and board your plane, you could be sat back in Reims with a glass of the famous fizzy stuff.
Thanks to an autumn deal by DFDS, it’s now even cheaper to cross the channel.
The award winning company known as Europe’s Leading Ferry Operator is celebrating its 150th anniversary. They’re offering trips from Dover to Calais or Dunkirk from just £35 on bookings made from now until December 10, 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.
For an additional £12 each way, travellers can book a space in the premium lounge, a quiet space where there is free newspapers, fresh fruit, pastries, soft drinks and a glass of Prosecco upon arrival.
Reims has plenty to offer including its interesting history, impressive buildings and did I mention, more bubbles than anywhere else in the world.
The city owes its appeal to the international acclaim of champagne. Throughout the region there is some 34,000 hectares of vineyards.
In 2015, more than 312 million bottles were produced in the area, half of which were exported around the world including to Japan and Australia.
We, the UK, received the highest percentage of export with 22.6% - that’s more than 34 million bottles!
Your first stop should be the Headquarters of Taittinger.
It is located on Reims Butte Saint-Nicaise, a site with more than 18 centuries of history.
The world renowned company bought the site after the First World War, preserving the buildings original Art Deco style.
Descending 18 metres underground, you get the chance to travel back to a silent world, created in Gallo Roman times and discover their chalk pit cellars.
There you’ll find some 300,000 bottles of champagne slowly maturing, and no tour is complete without the chance to sample the goods.
Their champagnes are characterised by a high proportion of Chardonnay, a grape synonymous with finesse and elegance, and they will not disappoint.
The one-hour cellar tours are on offer all year round in French, English, German and Spanish. Group of visits of 20+ people are by prior arrangement only.
Next up is something equally as memorable and another chance to indulge in the good stuff.
Champagne Godme Sabine located at Verzenay is a family-run champagne house.
It was started four generations ago and is now in the hands of Jean Marin and Sabine. They employ only three members of staff and make 40,000 bottles a year.
They handle the entire process themselves from growing, picking, pressing, fermentation, blending, bottle-ageing and even packaging and distribution.
Enjoy one of their private tours. Charming Jean Marin will show you around the cellars before a tasting session inside their home.
If you're lucky enough, Sabine may even rustle up some of her delicious dishes to accompany their superb champagne.
For the more adventurous among you, take a trip to Perchingbar.
Located in the forest at the Arboxygène adventure park, the bar is situated a unique 5½ meters above the ground, amid the treetops.
Not only does it provide an exceptional view over the plains of Champagne but here you can work for your champagne, by taking to the trees around in a Go Ape style assault course, beforehand.
Expect no ordinary treehouse, this one boats a stylish interior with swing-seats and suspended ice-buckets and lighting produced by solar energy.
The owners are soon to build perchingpads offering an overnight experience too.
Close by is Verzy Forest boasting the largest concentration of Fau beech trees anywhere in the world.
These rare trees appear twisted and knotted and their origin remains a mystery to botanists. Make sure you take a look.
And if you haven't already done so while travelling from place to place, stop off at a vineyard.
This region offers tourists something they will not find anywhere else - champagne vineyards. So, only naturally, the French are keen to show them off.
There is an open bus city tour which is €12 for one-hour or a three-hour vineyard tour which takes you into a champagne vineyard with a stop at a local producers for a tasting and a photo opportunity at the Verzenay Mill, all for €35.
But if you’re looking for something a little more out of the ordinary, there’s visits in an eco-friendly electric jeep by champagne producer James Fliniaux, tours via quad bikes, buggies and even a small plane ride for a reasonable €50 for 30 minutes (maximum three people).
Before you leave, don’t miss out on Reims’ 13th century cathedral, a masterpiece in gothic art.
Its features include stunning stain glassed windows, both traditional and modern. Look out for the Smiling Angel on the northern side of the west front, and the Champagne Window in the south transept created by Jacques Simon glass makers in 1954. It illustrates the making of champagne, from the vineyard to the cellars.
Look out for the Maison Fossier shop too, selling pink biscuits perfect for dipping in champagne.
Why not see what Arras has to offer too?
Take a slight detour on your route back to Calais and discover this charming city.
Well known for its architecture and history, Arras is easily accessible as a day trip from Kent and is giving Bruges a run for its money when it comes to Christmas markets.
What’s there? The gothic style town hall and its beautiful belfry, now listed as an UNESCO world heritage site, situated in Place des Heros is a major landmark.
You can ascend 55m to the top of the belfry - via a lift then 43 steps - to discover magnificent views and even catch the clock ringing. It costs just €3.10 from the tourist office below.
For €4.20, pop into the rooms of the colourful Art Deco town hall which is a popular wedding venue.
Don’t miss out on the Saturday market ensuring you can arrive home with all your favourite artisan delights.
Within the same square is the city’s famous porcelain shop Au Bleu d’Arras, run by porcelain decorator Christelle Perrier.
The cobalt blue hand painted tradition dates back to 1770. Admire their collection and even pick up a gift or two.
Explore the tunnels at Carriere Wellington - a museum in Arras named after a former underground quarry which was part of a network of tunnels used by forces of the British Empire and Commonwealth during the First World War.
Much like the champagne cellars of Reims, this is another underground world waiting to be explored.
A lift will transport you 20 metres down. You’ll be given a headset and a helmet to wear!
Look out for the original drawings and graffiti still visible on the walls. Admission is €7 or €3.30 for concessions. It is closed throughout January.
Book your trip now at www.dfds.co.uk.
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