Thinking of renting one of our luxury villas in France? If you are, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the very best of the region you’re visiting, and sometimes that means staying well away from established routes and tourist traps!
To help you avoid these pitfalls, we’re talking to our top local experts so you can get the very best out of your holiday villa in France.
This week we spoke to Michele, the owner of Chateau De Jaques in Champagne – oh, and that’s the rather wonderful Champagne region of France as opposed to the glass of fizz. Here’s what she has to say…
What makes you an expert in the region?
Frans, my partner, bought the chateau in 2006 after seeing it on the internet and falling in love with it. We met in 2008 on the Charente-Maritime where I was doing holiday lets. He wasn’t doing anything with the chateau, so I sold up and together we renovated it and began to offer it as a B&B. Before we had even finished the renovations, we realised that we were fast becoming a popular place for big groups and weddings. We haven’t looked back since! We would have been able to book the place twice over, which is why we bought our second chateau which we’re renovating at the moment. We have lived here full time since 2008, so we consider this region our home. We have discovered many parts of the Champagne region of France that aren’t on the tourist route during our search for furniture and ornaments for the chateau, so we know it well.
Why should people travel to your region?
The Champagne region is full of history, from the stunning cathedral in Reims to the small village of Hautvillers where Dom Perignon is buried. Champagne is known the world over and is produced in such a surprisingly tiny area – if you’re just passing through you won’t even see a grape! One of the most common questions is “Where are the vines?”
What makes people come back?
The guests at our chateau return time and time again because they feel at home as soon as they walk through the door and are given a warm welcome by us. We work very hard to make sure each guest is given our attention, and nothing is too much trouble!
Summarize the region for us in three words!
Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles! (or did you mean three different words?)
Have you had any famous visitors or well-known events take place in the region?
James II, King of England and Scotland, stayed here. We have had a famous Dutch writer stay here, an actor or two, but of course, we are too discreet to name names. There are, sadly, many battlefields and WWI graveyards in the Champagne region of France, very interesting to visit and terribly sad to see the enormity of the lives lost.
Can you give us your recommendations on:
The first thing to do? Have a glass of Champagne in front of a roaring fire or under one of our beautiful trees in the garden.
An activity that really takes in the best the area has to offer? You can take a boat down the Marne from Cumieres, which is lovely, or you can visit the vast, historic caves of Mercier with their millions of bottles and kilometres of cellars. You can go to Lac du Der for some beach time and swimming, discover the Montagne de Reims, or enjoy some lovely scenery and beautiful French villages.
Your favourite restaurant or bar? When we go to Reims we go for lunch, coffee or an aperitif at the Cafe de Palais, a great place for a plat du jour and a spot of people watching. For a really French dinner go to Chez Max in Epernay, family-run, lovely atmosphere and good home cooking.
READ MORE: The Best Foodie Experiences in Champagne
Your best-kept secret of the region? Something secret… 100 meters or so from the chateau is a little beach on the river Marne. It’s a lovely spot, great for an invigorating swim or quiet paddle.
Something free to do? During summer there’s an amazing light show and projection of images onto the Cathedral at Reims, free for all to watch. There are also lots of musical events, from jazz to electronic in various places over the region, in fact, all over France, where you can just turn up and listen.
What would your perfect day in the area comprise of?
Each Sunday from the beginning of April to the end of October there are brocantes, or flea markets, in various villages. Our perfect day is to go to one or two markets in the area in the hope of finding some treasures for our house, and we always do! The special thing about brocantes in this region is that you can have chips and champagne for lunch – it’s always champagne from the village where the market is held too, so you get to taste something different each week. It’s usually about €2.50 for a ‘coup’ and definitely makes shopping that bit more enjoyable! We arrive back at the chateau with a boot full of bits and pieces which guests seem to make a beeline for, even if they have just been to the same market. We have sold so many things from the back of our car to people saying “I didn’t find anything like that!” It’s fun to do a bit of bartering and come away with a bargain.
READ MORE: The Best Group Experiences in Champagne
What’s the one experience that really captures the essence of the region?
We never tire of seeing the views over the Champagne vineyards from the Montagne de Reims. You’re high up, looking down on these neat rows of plants that produce small fruits which go on to make extraordinarily expensive fizzy drinks drunk by people from all walks of life for any number of occasions, all over the world.
If you’d like to experience Michele’s hospitality (and her eye for a bargain!) first-hand, just check out Chateau De Jaques on our listings.
Wondering where to stay in Champagne, France? If you’re thirsty for a taste of the region yourself, we’ve got a whole range of luxury villa rentals in Champagne for you to peruse!
Want to know what else there is to do in the diverse French region? Read our own Champagne Travel Guide here.