The first time I heard the phrase “a provincial life” was Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” soundtrack. I remember my children loved the sound of Belle belting out the woes and hardships of such a mundane and austere life. I sympathized with her to discover more. Her dissatisfaction with having the same old pastry maker, market and town was reflected in her sad ballad. Her unfortunate plight to find “what’s around the river bend?” hold on, that’s another movie. I digress. This past weekend with a group of champagne and wine lovers we set off to discover the “real” Champagne region of France.
Yes, there are sheep, cows, ducks and ponies in every little town. As we drove through the villages, we were surprised by such beautifully understated churches and courtyards that invited you in to discover their stories.
You quickly understand why Monet and Renoir spent time here to paint. I literally felt like I was walking into a watercolor painting on my morning strolls with my artist daughter, Katy. The sloping hills and foggy mornings with the sun just peeking out wished us a good day. We were greeted with the wake-up calls from the chickens and geese from a neighboring farm.
Our French home away from home
We were fortunate enough to stay at Domaine Rennepont in the little village of Rennepont, named after the Marquis de Rennepont who came to claim it in the 16th century. We became instant friends with Tim, Resi and Edward the caretakers and historians of this beautiful property.
Tim gave us a guided tour of the 11th century estate and showed us pictures of time passing throughout the years. They believe there are castle foundations that date back to the 9th century. We were all quite pleased as now we became part of their story. If you are a history buff, this is the spot for you. There are a number of rooms, a (2-bedroom) apartment with a kitchen and living room, and camping space for those who are campers. This is great for hiking and biking with lots of trails, I will be coming back to discover more. Breakfast was generous and warm in the beautiful ancient kitchen and dining room of the main house. There is also a pool room, a separate “party” room, and church right on the estate.
Tim, Edward and Resi helped everyday with activities or events that made our visit so enjoyable. Whether it was a champagne tasting, a visit to the Charles de Gaulle memorial or a cooking class with wonderful chef, Gerald Colier and his wife from Au Petit Bonheur. Tim had organized an amazing itinerary that we all thoroughly enjoyed.
Not enough time Troyes
On Saturday we headed to the town of Troyes (pronounced Twa, not Troy..es.) Here we went to the weekly market at the Market Halles and square in downtown. Plan to spend a day in Troyes, there is a lot to see and we only touched the surface. Shopping opportunities are plentiful and you can barter! In the market hall (which stays open until 7 p.m. on Saturdays) you will find fish, meat, cheese, pastries and some of the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted. Since it is only 4 hours from Stuttgart, pack a cooler, you’ll be happy you did.
Troyes architecture and houses are unforgettable. Slanted houses and gothic textures reminded me of Amsterdam and Holland. The Tourism office in Troyes is excellent and has English maps with all the highlights for €1 and has a suggested 4-hour walking tour included.
There is a combination of 13 churches, cathedrals, abbey’s, and a synagogue in the (zentrum) center of Troyes. Of special note* businesses and churches close between 12 p.m. – 2 p.m. in France for lunch, so I suggest you join them for lunch and return to site seeing when you are through.
The town of Nancy was a pit stop on our way out of the Champagne region. All I can say is WOW! Definitely a revisit, and totally not enough time spent here. Just a quick break to see the main square and grab a bite for lunch, we could tell Nancy had a lot to offer.
Nancy is a UNESCO world heritage city and the cultural and artistic heartbeat of this region. Having just a few hours here we caught some lunch and tried to visit the tourist office which is right on the square but unfortunately is closed on Sunday’s. However, we had gorgeous weather and skies so our photo opportunities were plentiful.
Also off the main square is Pepeniere park which reminded us of New York’s Central park. With the nice weather several people were dog walking, strolling and musicians were playing near the palace. Close to Metz this is easily a day trip from the Kaiserslautern and Baumholder area as well. Nancy is known for their silver and coin production and is named after the family Nantius, around 947 A.D. Although, the first town recorded documents date back to 511. In the 17th century, Louis XV named King Stanislaus (from Poland) to be the patron, he was an art and music lover which is what Nancy is known for today. The King’s statue is front and center of this magnificent square dedicated to cultural acceptance and diversity.
The spring and summer the square looks to be lined with gardens, concerts and fests. Sounds like another trip to Nancy is in store.
Eating in France
These are tips for eating in France if language is a barrier, you’ll want a English-French dictionary or an app. We had an unfortunate discovery of Andouillette which was not Andouille sausage but a different combination of organ meats. Not a favorite, but if your tastes run exotic, knock yourself out..
- Lunch can run between €12-18 or higher (check for Entreés – these are appetizers/small plates not the main course like we think of and are a more affordable option)
- Most menus are set and tiered, for example
- Entreé or appetizer and main course
- Main course and dessert
- Main course
- Check the menu outside before entering
- For a party larger than 4 try to make reservations, check TripAdvisor for contact info
- Dinner takes time, enjoy, everything is made fresh, local and takes an appropriate time for preparation – plan on 2 hours or more, ENJOY some wine or Champagne!
- Dinner usually begins around 7 or later
- Most restaurants take credit cards but you’ll want to have euro just in case
- Tipping – it is not included like in Germany, so an additional tip is expected. You should tip waiters and waitresses €1 to €3, 5% of the bill for a fancier spot. Bartenders should recieve €1 to €4 per round, depending on the amount of drinks ordered.
We learned to ask what dishes were made with and how. It’s o.k., at one restaurant we had several seafood allergies and chose another restaurant, not a problem, there are lots to choose from and no one seemed offended.
Restaurants we visited
- In Colombey les Eglisés – Table du Général
- 54 r Gén de Gaulle, 52330 Colombey-les-deux-églises
- In Troyes – Le Bistro du Palais, 25, 27 Place Alexandre Israel – 10000 Troyes
- Tel. : 03 25 73 79 11
- In Fontaine – near Rennepont, Au Petit Bonheur, with Gerald Colier
- In Nancy – Brasserie-Jeanlamour, 7-9 Place Stanislaus, Nancy
It was easy to fall in the love with the food, the champagne, the pastures but it was the connection with the people of this region that we will never forget. We can’t wait to return to our home in France!