We were talking with a friend of mine that we would like to visit Champagne region for quite some time now and finally we decided to make it happen in early September. The timing wasn’t the best possible as I started a new job in September (same company, but different country) and she needed to do some work during our trip, but we figured out that it would be either now or postpone the trip by a year.
I arrived to Brussels where my friends lives directly from a work trip to Mannheim late on Wednesday the 6th of September. The next day she spent at the office and I worked from her home in Brussels. First we were contemplating that we might leave in the evening, but decided to leave next day in the morning instead. So we went out to eat in Brussels to a restaurant called Palo Alto, which had some great gin based cocktails and quite decent food. The restaurant was tiny (as it seems most restaurants in Brussels are), but the ambiance was good.
My friend has bought a car, which we hoped to use during our trip, but unfortunately Belgian bureaucracy wasn’t as quick as we had hoped and we couldn’t have the car in time for the trip. So what we did, was to book a rental car at 11 p.m. and pick it up at 10 a.m. the next day. 😀 This is the shortest advance car booking I have ever done! 🙂 At the same time my friend was booking a hotel in Reims where we were supposed to stay our first night.
I looked for a car via a search site (I think it was Momondo) and we got a car for 10 days for a price 255,24€ including insurance that covers all damages. The car was provided by Sixt and I tried to see if we could get a car for the same price from Sixt web site, but the prices on the site itself were much more expensive. I don’t get it… The only downside to renting via an agency (CarTrawler in this case) is that if you first need to pay the rental agency for the damages and only then you can claim them back from the insurance. If you’d get everything directly from the car rental agency, you wouldn’t have to pay anything as everything would’ve been done by them and their insurance. But the price difference was significant (I think it was a couple of hundred euros), so it is worth the risk.
We picked up the car from Sixt Hilton Grand Place and they were very accommodating and helpful. The car was a Citroën, which was fine for the price although I generally speaking hate cars, which take forever to accelerate. 🙂
We had breakfast at the central station before heading out of Brussels and our goal for the day was to reach Champagne, visit one champagne house, drive to Reims, and have dinner there.
As you might’ve guessed, this trip was certainly not planned in advance. I mean, sure I bought flights, but that was pretty much it. Everything else was done on the road. Luckily my friend asked around for the best champagne houses to visit and she was recommended to visit a champagne house called Henri Chauvet. They only produce around 75 000 bottles of champagne a year and the visit was very nice. They are definitely not doing the visits professionally and the place is small, but you get a good picture what it takes to produce champagne. In addition to this, their champagne is very very good! We bought four boxes of different types of champagnes and to be honest, I’m considering making a drive to Champagne region a yearly tradition. 😀 Such great champagne for a much lower price than what you pay in the Nordics!
The only downside is that we had a car, so I couldn’t drink as much champagne as I would’ve liked. 😀 The French drink 50% of all produced champagne and in the restaurants in the region the price per glass was between 5 and 7€ while in Finland and Sweden, you pay 14-17€. So yeah, the French are lucky in this sense. 🙂
I think it took us about four hours to drive from Brussels to Champagne and then we spent about an hour at Henri Chauvet. After that we continued to Reims and to the hotel Campanile Doumer Reims, which we chose because it wasn’t far from the city center and had parking for the car. We ended up parking on the street instead of hotel parking lot because it was much cheaper. The hotel itself was ok, but the internet was extremely spotty. I managed to connect once for like 15 minutes when my friend had a bit of better luck with her devices. Lack of a good internet connection is super annoying especially as we needed to do our research and bookings on the road.
We dropped our things at the hotel and headed out for some Reims sightseeing. We walked around the city center and visited the Reims Cathédrale Notre Dame, which was really impressive. In this cathedral French kings were crowned between 1223 and 1825. The cathedral was severely damaged during WWI, but has been since restored and is a Unesco World Heritage Site. It has some very impressive stained-glass windows and one of which has been created by Marc Chagall.
It started raining and in fact it has been raining on and off the entire day, so we walked around a bit and I bought myself a new umbrella as it turned out that my old one was broken and was poking me in the head all the time. On a side note I had a Senz umbrella, which promises to be unbreakable and cost like 60€. It broke after after some 20 uses and I am really careful with my stuff, so that purchase was totally not worth it!
After that we headed to dinner. We checked several good restaurants in Reims, but first two or three were fully booked, but luckily we managed to get a table at Le Millénaire. It was a nice dining experience, but a bit too slow. And after first hour a new party arrived to the restaurant, who were seated one table away from us and one of them smelled so strongly of sweat that we could smell it all the way to our table. Hardly the restaurant’s fault, but it did impact the overall experience.
Afterwards we needed to wait for a taxi for about 15 min. The staff was really helpful, but as it was raining, it seemed that all the taxis were busy.
We got back to the hotel where we supposed to plan our next day, but mostly I ended up frustratingly staring at this picture. 😀