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. This week we spoke to Michele, the owner of Chateau De Jaques in Champagne – oh, and that’s the rather wonderful Champagne region in northern France as opposed to the glass of fizz. Here’s what she has to say…
Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do in the region, how long have you lived there and what makes you an expert?
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 region 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 at least once in their lifetime?
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 time and time again?
Well, 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! Although this isn’t always easy, especially when you are serving dinner for a wedding party of fifty guests and then you’re told there’s actually 52 guests now and one is a vegetarian!
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 – you can’t get much more famous than that! 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 our region, very interesting to visit and terribly sad to see the enormity of the lives lost.
Time for some travel inspiration! Can you give us your recommendations on:
The first thing to do – you should drop your bags and… have a glass of Champagne in front of a roaring fire or under one of our beautiful trees in the garden. Always a good start to any holiday.
An activity that really takes in the best the area has to offer? This area offers so many different things it’s almost impossible to pick one out. 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 beautiful scenery and lovely villages – it’s truly French!
Your favourite restaurant or bar, and why – is there something served there that visitors should really try? When we go to Reims we go for lunch, coffee or an aperitif at the Cafe de Palais, 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.
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 – perhaps that people can’t do anywhere else? 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.
What’s the one experience that really captures the essence of the region for you, and why?
For us, we never tire of seeing the views over the Champagne vineyards from the Montagne de Reims. They really are beautiful. You’re high up, looking down on these neat rows of plants which 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. A rather poetic moment, but there you have it!
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. And if you’re thirsty for a taste of the region yourself, we’ve got a whole range of luxury holiday rentals in Champagne for you to peruse!