A View from the Vineyards
Francesca Lee-Rogers explores the sparkling Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa
If I needed another reason to visit Champagne, then the recent opening of the Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa is it. Taking the Eurostar from London to Paris, then Paris to Épernay, I’m met at the train station by my chauffeur for the weekend, who informs me it’s just a 15-minute drive to the luxurious five-star hotel. As we near the property, vineyards stripe the hills and we pass charming little villages such as Champillon and Hautvillers of Dom Pérignon fame, of which the majestic hotel looks over, along the way.
Built in the style of a contemporary amphitheatre, incorporating the original 19th-century coaching inn which is said to have been frequented by King Charles X of France, the hotel has been created by local Reims-based architect Giovanni Pace, who is known for his work at the renowned Champagne house, Moët & Chandon. Rather impressively, each of the 49 rooms and suites have spectacular and expansive views of the Champagne valley, meaning that all guests – including myself – can have those pinch-me moments on the terrace or balcony.
Inside, the elegant interiors speak luxury.
The statement chandelier in the lobby by Windfall, from the ‘Eden – Walking in Paradise’ collection, traverses two floors and provides the wow-factor; branches and flowers of grapevines etched onto the walls hark to the hotel’s location; while the use of stone and oak nod to its natural and rural surroundings. Rooms, meanwhile, have a typical French classic look and feature all the creature comforts including luxury linen, snuggly dressing gowns, sumptuous sofa, free-standing bathtub, rainshower, toiletries from Hermès, Illy coffee machine and Jing teas.
On the first evening I dine in La Bellevue Restaurant. Facing the Marne Valley, it features an expansive terrace which is perfect for the warmer months, but as I visit in late winter, I stay warm indoors and enjoy a pre-dinner fruit cocktail at the table as the sun sets. I peruse the menu – which changes according to the seasons – and has plenty of mouth-watering dishes. For the starter, I opt for the avocado salad, with black radish shavings, trévise salad, walnuts, spinach shoots and a ginger dressing. It’s a generous portion but is one of the best salads I’ve eaten – the soft avocado is perfectly offset by the crunch of the walnuts and the dressing is pure heaven. I could easily finish the dish but decide to leave room for my main course of beef steak, served with dauphinoise potatoes and a red wine sauce. It’s tasty but a little on the chewy side and I find myself wishing I’d asked for it to be cooked rare rather than medium. Dessert is a French classic: apple tarte tatin, served with maple syrup, almond and Granny Smith shortbread. I’m happy to report that it doesn’t disappoint as I find myself almost inhaling it; it provides the ultimate
finale to a wonderful evening meal.
The next day, I’m back in the restaurant sampling breakfast. I once again gaze at the breathtaking vista outside, while inside I can’t help but notice how immaculate everything is. I order coffee and a continental breakfast – it’s a must – and savour each mouthful. The croissants melt in the mouth and are so delicious that I can overlook the slight delay in service.
Forty-five minutes later, I head to the spa which covers a whopping 1,500 sqm and looks out over the vineyards. Nowhere else can I run on a treadmill while watching the world of winemaking go by. Nor anywhere else can I feel as though I’m swimming among the vines in a 25-metre indoor pool, which is further accentuated in the outdoor infinity pool. The jacuzzi, sauna and steam room are just as exclusive, as are the treatments. Having partnered with French group Biologique Recherche, which specialises in natural treatments, I test its three-step facial which starts with a skin analysis, followed by treatment, and finally caring for it to boost the dermal layers to aid regeneration. Afterwards my skin feels soft to the touch, and even one week on, I’m still glowing.
No trip to Champagne would be complete without a visit to its famous Champagne houses. I shun the more frequented wineries for a private visit to Maison Leclerc Briant, which I arrange through the Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa. I learn that the house’s roots go as far back as 1872 and the company has been a pioneer in the field of organic viticulture and biodynamic farming. It is also at the forefront of its game in terms of creativity and experimentation: in the tour of the cellars, I’m shown a 24-carat gold barrel in which a wine is fermenting – but it will be a few more years yet until American owners Mark Nunnelly and Denise Dupré find out the result – while I discover that the brand’s 2013 Leclerc Briant Cuvée Abyss, Brut Zero, spends 15 months ageing in bottles 60 metres under the Atlantic Ocean. Being a little bit of a skeptic, I wonder how much difference such methods make, however the
innovative ideas certainly make the Champagne house stand out from the crowd.
The next day, due to inclement weather I decide against using the hotel’s electric bikes and instead blow away the cobwebs with a 45-minute walk to Hautvillers. I meander through the winding vineyard paths until I reach the village. Famous for being where Dom Pérignon was born and where he perfected the Champagne method, his tomb also rests in Hautvillers Abbey. It’s well worth a visit, and many of the area’s quaint houses are decorated with beautiful forged iron shop signs, including bakery Chez Poulain, which is worth stopping by for one of its gateaux, and ideal for refuelling for the walk back.
My trip to the Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa is almost over and I’ve probably only sampled a quarter of what’s on offer. After all, there’s the hotel’s Michelin starred restaurant Le Royal to sample, Champagnes with in-house sommelier Daniel Pires to taste, and excursions to enjoy, including a boat tour on the Marne River or a hot air balloon ride over the vineyards. What else could one want for a truly wonderful bonnes vacances?
Rates for Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa start from €510 (currently approx. £439) per night based on two people sharing a Champagne Room on a room only basis
Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa 9 rue de la république, 51160 Champillon - France
t: +33 3 26 52 87 11 e: firstname.lastname@example.org