Rolling hills patched together by vineyards and everyone’s favourite fizz: Sailing through France’s stunning Champagne region on a hotel barge
- The European Waterways hotel barge ‘Panache’ sails down the River Marne and the Canal latéral à la Marne
- Guests enjoy day trips to the cities of Reims and Epernay and even visit Champagne house Moët & Chandon
- There’s an on-deck hot tub, onboard bicycles, seafood platters and plenty of Champagne, naturally
There’s a real sparkle that comes from sailing through France’s Champagne region and it doesn’t just revolve around its most celebrated drink.
To savour the distinctive flavours of this fertile heartland, join a European Waterways cruise along the Canal latéral à la Marne and adjoining River Marne.
It showcases rolling hills patched together by vineyards, grandiose Gothic architecture and imposing memorials to the First World War.
Sparkling style: Barge passengers can visit Château Les Aulnois, home of Champagne house Champagne Henriot
After taking a Eurostar to Paris, guests are collected for the 90-minute drive to Champagne and the European Waterways hotel barge Panache, our base for the next six nights.
No trip to this region would be complete without the sparkling nectar that shares its name and brings added fizz aboard and ashore.
Two minibuses accompany Panache during its 56-mile journey, whisking guests off on daily bespoke outings.
The Champagne region is famous for its rolling hills and emerald vineyards, which are dotted with country farmhouses
One is to Reims, the grand centrepiece of the region with its cathedral dating from 1211, which is covered with more than 2,000 intricate sculptures and topped with Gothic twin towers.
Epernay is the focus of most tours because the main champagne houses are based here – their shuttered mansions lining the Avenue de Champagne, one of world’s most expensive streets where residences carry the familiar names of Moët & Chandon, Perriet Jouet and Pol Roger.
On a tour of Moët & Chandon, it’s hard to take in the thousands of bottles in varying stages of maturity, piled high in a vast labyrinth of underground tunnels stretching 17 miles.
Three main grape varieties of pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay are blended in giant stainless-steel vats to produce varieties of this upmarket elixir.
On board, passengers enjoy a ‘gastronomic extravaganza’ before retreating to the hot tub with a vista off the prow
Of the 300 champagne houses, just five are still independently owned, one of these being Champagne Henriot, which treats our group to a tasting on the hillside amid serried lines of vines across slopes dotted with blood-red poppies.
Another is La Maison Pannier, where you can explore its cellars carved from the chalky terrain that date back to medieval times, used by locals to shelter from the barrage of bombs that rained down on this area during the First World War.
On board, there’s a gastronomic extravaganza with filet mignon and pan-roasted scallops, oysters, chilli prawns and moules marinières. The cheeseboard includes brie, roquefort, banon and reblochon among others.
To offset the riches of such fine living, take an on-board bike for rides along the towpath while enjoying the incredible views, then soothe your muscles in the on-deck hot tub with a perfect vista off the prow; a heady glass of champagne in hand – it’s all about the bubbles.
Six nights between Châlons-en-Champagne and Château-Thierry with European Waterways (europeanwaterways.com) costs from £4,290pp for departures on May 31 and June 7, 14 and 21, including meals, wines, bar, excursions, and transfers to and from Paris. One-way Eurostar from £29pp (eurostar.com).