I don’t normally sit down and write about our trips ‘back home’ (as in my childhood home), but my children and I had such a revitalising stay in Champagne I felt compelled to share the highlights of the time we spent there as well as a few things we got up to. Who knows; it might give ideas to anyone travelling to the Champagne area.
Technically, we didn’t exactly stay in Champagne. I come from a small village in the heart of the Champagne region but my mum moved to Picardie (really close to the vineyards of my childhood) 10 years ago. Whenever I talk about going home, I still think of the vines, the hilly landscapes and the food!
We always love going to France. The children generally start counting the ‘sleeps till we go’ about three months before our trips. This time, our holiday was even better than usual. It was perfect in every way and almost made me wish we could just stay there rather than going home.
As soon as we start packing, it feels like the holiday has started. I like thinking that way because it means we make the most of every bit of our holiday. Our journey is also part of the holiday and we make it a cheerful drive rather than a tedious way from A to B. Life is way too short and I refuse to ever think about anything as a mere means to an end (what a sad outlook on life that would be!).
I didn’t take any pictures in the car because I was driving and my camera was buried somewhere behind clothes, food and various games, but we did have a lovely journey. It was longer than usual because of traffic on the UK side and we missed our Eurotunnel crossing, but that’s never an issue and we were allocated a later time. All was well and we even had a few minutes for a toilet break at the terminal and as always, we got some lovely food from Leon. If you want some tips about travelling by car between the UK and France via Calais, check these tips.
We were all elated when we arrived at my mum’s. Everyone was waiting for us and we were all giggles and cuddles. Happy times! Two of my brothers were there as well as my sister-in-law and my nephew was still up, excitedly waiting for his cousins. Just thinking about our little reunion on mum’s drive makes me feel all warm inside.
Now that’s one advantage of living far from family I guess. We make the most of all moments spent together. We never get bored of each other, rarely argue or bicker and we’re always upbeat when seeing each other. I like to think it would be the same if we all lived in the same village, but how would I know? I’ve been in the UK almost as long as I ever lived in France.
My mum’s house is large enough to accommodate all of us. We often joke about the fact we bought our houses at the same time for the exact same price. Our Greater London house was a ‘2 up, 2 down’ with a tiny yard (now slightly larger after a loft conversion). Mum’s house couldn’t be any different: it’s huge, situated in a small village and her garden is larger than the playing fields near my house. On site, she also has a small house that was bigger than our house when we bought it! My mum grows a lot of organic fruit (and some years vegetables). She has chickens, quails, birds, a dog, cats and a rabbit.
The children are in heaven there and we love all sharing a room on the top floor of mum’s house. In that room, we have a double bed, a single bed and a double mattress on the floor. We love it! My mum used to collect dolls so the children know they’ll have twenty dolls or so to play with up there (wreck more like) as well as lots of cute accessories. Let’s just say the doll collection doesn’t look so neat these days…
Catching up with everyone on the first night meant we weren’t up later than 8.30 or 9 a.m. (the earliest I would manage for the duration of our stay!) and after collecting eggs, the children grabbed wicker baskets and went for a bit of fruit picking in the orchard. They came back with lots of Mirabelle plums (my favourite fruit!), apples (not ripe though), pears, plums and a few hazelnuts.
On that day, we had the first of many barbecues. We all sat together under the weeping willow and spent the rest of the day outside, just chatting and letting the children play in the garden.
It was quite simply perfect and with the warmth, it felt like we were in Provence rather than in the East of France. I also showed off my diabolo skills, much to the amusement of my mum. I took circus skills as one of my PE modules for A-level (needless to say I was never the sporty type).
The following day was spent at my auntie’s, and the older two ended up staying there for a sleepover.
The weather was still glorious. We ate, we chatted, we enjoyed the pool and the children played with my auntie and my nan’s dogs. All was good.
We also caught up with two of my dearest friends and their children. Seeing Violaine and Adeline always makes me so happy! We also celebrated Beanie’s birthday a few days early, and my lovely sister-in-law outdid herself with this delicious rainbow cake.
A nearby village was holding a Middle Ages show a few days later, and it was all acted by volunteers. It was pretty good despite issues with the microphones.
My four went to their first village funfair and it made me feel so happy to see them enjoy ‘une fête au village’ like those of my childhood. There were lucky ducks (they picked goldfish as their prizes), there were rides, there were overly sweet treats, there were dodgems and there were hot dogs and chips. A perfect evening, to say the least!
My mum’s budgies had just had two babies and the female was still sitting on two eggs, which hatched when we were there. The children loved the birds, especially the baby budgies and the cockatiels.
Jumpy absolutely loved Silver the rabbit, my mum’s cute fluffy buck with blue eyes.
One of Beanie’s favourite things was getting to play with her Tonton Paulou (my brother). They would play football, table tennis or video games together and chat for hours. I love seeing my children develop a strong bond with my little brothers and their cousins.
I had two massages during my stay and a couple of sessions in the steam room at Spa Institute by Michelle Defrance. The Indian massage I had was out of this world. I can highly recommend it for anyone who needs energising!
My auntie Marie gave me the ultimate treat, a meal at Michelin star restaurant Les Crayères. The former family home became a hotel and restaurant in the 1980s. The impressive property is nestled in a vast park full of lush vegetation.
Everything at Les Crayères exudes classical French style. Le Parc** (double Michelin starred) restaurant oozes elegance and refinement of french Haute Cuisine. Its setting is opulent and focuses on the french art of living. The restaurant is luxurious, sophisticated yet cosy.
‘Meilleur Ouvrier de France’ & double Michelin starred chef Philippe Mille elaborated the gourmet menu of Le Parc**, alongside pastry Chef Yoann Normand and head sommelier, Philippe Jamesse, a worldwide renown champagne expert. The wine list at the restaurant features more than 600 champagne labels. Marie and I had the ‘Vigne & Terroir Menu’ with wine pairing an absolute feast for our taste buds. We had a range of appetisers, duck foie gras, Wild John Dory fish from Brittany, pigeon breast, organic beetroot, Foamed Chaource with hazelnut oil and watercress juice, palate cleansers, lemon soufflé, homemade chocolates and coffee. What a night! Marie and I didn’t stop chatting all night and we left feeling happy and replete.
Another highlight from our stay in Champagne was an entire day spent with all my brothers, sisters-in-law, mum and cousins. We pretty much spent the whole day around the dinner table, eating, laughing, playing board games, watching silly YouTube videos and dancing. The children also made a tree house and they spent most of their afternoons up there.
My nan turned 84 when we were there and we had another gourmet experience at Brasserie Excelsior, one of my favourite restaurant in Reims.
I had foie gras, Chateaubriand with veg and Café Gourmand.
A couple of days before we left, we went to La fête du Bois d’Urcel. What a day! Entry was pretty cheap and gave us access to lots of free activities: a puppet show, pony rides, arts and crafts with mud and straw, wood carving demonstrations, zip wire, treetop adventure course, sensory walk and many more activities. We had the best day and the children absolutely loved riding Malibu the pony.
My favourite activity was the sensory walk, going from rough to soft textures, warm to cold, gritty to bouncy. The children went round it three times!
Needless to say, we were all sad to leave…