Discover champagne as you never have before

Richard with Manon, one of the wine-makers at Champagne de Barfontarc
Richard with Manon, one of the wine-makers at Champagne de Barfontarc

With a short break holiday across the channel, there is a lot more to discover beyond Calais

Some of the major wine producing regions of France – and indeed the world – are only a short drive from the port.

The channel tunnel is fine for a quick crossing, but the more relaxing way to start your trip is on one of the modern ferries run by P&O. Choose Club Class and you can relax in comfort in the lounge, whilst sipping a complimentary glass of champagne. The perfect start to a trip to discover just where the world’s top fizz is made.

An easy four-hour journey from Calais, takes you to the region which has been dubbed ‘Secret Champagne’. This is the southern champagne region around the city of Troyes, 90 minutes south of the better-known Reims and Epernay. It is a scenic area of hills, forests, fields and vineyards, where a quarter of all champagne is made. There are a multitude of smaller producers, making great value champagnes, many of which are keen supporters of wine tourism, proudly opening their doors to visitors in order to show them the secrets of their industry.

The medieval city of Troyes is a great centre from which to explore the region, with several good hotels, such as the Hotel de la Poste, located on the site of an old coaching inn, 5 minutes from the cathedral and town hall, in the historic centre. Several other hotels are located in the surrounding villages and countryside, such as the fabulous Hotel de la Source Bleue and Hotel le Val Moret in the village of Magnant. From here, the nearby vineyards and wineries of the champagne producers are within easy reach, for informative visits and, of course, tastings.

Champagne de Barfontarc is situated in Baroville in the heart of the Cotes des Bars region and is at the forefront of wine tourism in the area. Currently building a large new facility dedicated to visitor reception and education, a number of experiences are on offer, from tours of the winery, to vineyard walks and sparkling picnics. Visit the vineyards by electric bicycle or learn how to taste champagne like a professional. The options are endless, including tastings with sushi or a selection of savoury and sweet macaroons.

Another of the top producers in this region is Champagne Drappier in Urville. Vines were planted here by the Gallo-Romans some two thousand years ago and the cellars beneath the winery date from the 12th century, constructed by Cistercian monks. Other champagne producers welcoming visitors with open arms and a tempting tasting, are Chassenay-d’Arcé, Champagne Cudel and Champagne Rémy Massin.

Many of the bars and cafés in the area offer local champagne by the glass, a great way of tasting some of the sparklers from other nearby producers. At around five euros a glass, it’s difficult not to be tempted. The champagne experience can continue to the end of the trip, with another glass enjoyed in the spacious P&O club lounge on the return trip. A taste of the good life from start to finish, returning refreshed and informed.

Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.

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