food and wine lover's france - detailed itinerary

  Dijon Burgundy Alsace Strasbourg Nancy Champagne
 

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Day One - Dijon
Take the TGV from Paris's Gare de Lyon rail station to Dijon, the heart of the province that considers itself the very heart of France.

A rival of France under the Dukes of Valois, Burgundy retains many of its cultural traditions -- not the least of which is unrivaled gastronomy. But Dijon, Burgundy's historic capital is more than just a place of pilgrimage for lovers of food and wine. It's also a treasure house of superb art and architecture.

After you check into your hotel and rid yourself of your bags, head for the medieval center of the city. Start at the Place de la Liberation, which was designed by Mansart in the 17th century. If it's time for lunch, you'll find cafes along the way. Don't worry to much about choosing -- almost any place you find will be terrific.

The huge complex on the north side of the Place is the Palais des Ducs, where the Dukes of Burgundy held court. Though the south side of the palace was rebuilt in the 17th century in the manner of Versailles, parts of the palace date back to the 12th century. Today, much of it is used for municipal government, but most visitors come here for the remarkable Musee des Beaux-Arts, located in the east wing.

The museum has paintings by Dutch, Flemish and French masters including Gericault, Courbet, Monet and Manet; medieval and Renaissance objects and furnishings; and the massive and ornately carved mausoleum of the Dukes.

The huge kitchens dating from the 15th century are also a highlight of the palace. The 150-ft. tall Tower of Philippe the Good has opened to visitors and it provides wonderful views of Dijon and the surrounding countryside. On clear days, you can see Mont Blanc.

Also on Place de la Liberation, the Musee Magnin is a 17th-century mansion that was willed to the city of Dijon, along with its contents. Today, it houses period furnishings and paintings from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

When you leave Place de la Liberation, walk east to Place du Theatre and Eglise St-Etienne, which dates from the 11th century. Across Place St-Michel is the Renaissance Eglise St-Michel. Begun in the 15th century, its richly-carved porch depicts both biblical and mythological themes.

After you tour the church, wander the narrow street of the old town. With its small squares and elegant mansions, Dijon offers pleasant surprises around every corner. Rue Vannerie contains several wonderful buildings including the House of the Caryatids at number 25.

Hotel de Vogue on rue de la Chouette is a 17th-century mansion with the traditional Burgundian red, green, and yellow tile roof. It is decorated with carved cabbages and fruit garlands.

Across from the Hotel de Vogue, Notre Dame is one of the oldest churches in Dijon. The façade of the 13th-century church contains gargoyles, the Jacquemart clock-- which has been keeping time since 1383 -- and an owl who brings good luck to those who touch it. The interior is lit by beautiful stained glass windows.

While you're in the neighborhood, stop by the Tourist Information Office on rue des Forges and pick up a copy of "From Vineyard to Cellars." It provides detailed information about 150 of Burgundy's wineries.

Make your way back to rue de la Liberte, which radiates westward from Place de la Liberation. This is one of the best shopping streets in Dijon, so enjoy exploring the stylish food, wine, clothing, and home design shops as you make your way to Place Darcy. The Mailee culinary boutique at 32 rue de la Liberte is a must. Mulot & Petitjean at number16 has been selling gingerbread since 1796.

Once you reach Place Darcy, find a café that strikes your fancy and order a Kir Royale, an aperitif made with Champagne and cassis, the black current liqueur first made here. Enjoy watching the people or stroll through lovely Jardin Darcy, created in 1880.

When you're ready, head back to your hotel to freshen up before dinner. Dijon has many wonderful restaurants, and choosing may be your biggest challenge. In fact, there are 32 restaurants in the area with Michelin stars.

As the name suggests, Dame Aquitaine combines the cuisine of that province with Burgundian ingredients. Wine lovers should try Toison d'Or which is owned by the Burgundian Company of wine tasters. And Bistrot des Halles offers the option of dining at a sidewalk table. All are outstanding.

If you still have some energy after dinner, Dijon has plenty of bars and discos for dancing. Check with the concierge at your hotel for the most popular ones.

Day Two - Dijon
If it's Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, start your day at the food market at Les Halles Centrales in rue Odebert. You'll find plenty of temptations. And if you'd like to picnic in one of Dijon's lovely parks, you can get everything for an al fresco feast.

When you're through at the market, head for the Musee Archeologique. Occupying a former dormitory of an 11th-century Benedictine abbey, the museum contains a nice collection of Greco-Roman sculpture and other artifacts.

Next to the museum, the Cathedrale St-Benigne is a rather dour Gothic church distinguished by a Romanesque crypt topped by a rotunda supported by three rings of columns.

There are two other museums in the area you may want to explore, depending on your interests. The Convent of the Bernardines houses the Museum of Sacred Arts, which contains religious art and artifacts from throughout Burgundy, and the Museum of Burgundian Life, where you'll see tools, crafts, and costumes, as well as 19th-century storefronts from Dijon.

Those who enjoy gardens will want to stroll through the Jardin de l'Arquebuse botanical gardens. There are nearly 4,000 species of flowers and vegetables here. And it's a nice spot for a picnic.

Spend the afternoon doing whatever you enjoy. Antique lovers should make a bee line to rue Verrerie. Half-timbered houses line the cobbled street in the former merchant's quarter. Take time to note the wood carvings at numbers 8, 10, and 12. Today, rue Verrerie is home to many of Dijon's best antique stores, including Monique Buisson and Dubard.

Golfers will find several courses in the area. And the narrow streets radiating from Dijon's lovely squares are filled with charming shops and galleries.

For dinner tonight, try La Flambee or Central Grill Rotisserie.


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Day 3 - Burgundy
Pick up your rental car this morning after breakfast at your hotel.

Although Beaune is only 25 miles south of Dijon, it takes all day because there's so much to see -- and taste -- en route. Not far from Dijon, you'll enter the Cote de Nuits wine district, named for the village of Nuits St-George. The eight villages lining the narrow east-facing swath of the Cote de Nuits produce some of the finest wines in the world in vineyards tracing their history back to the 10th century.

Serious oenophiles "taste," but don't swallow. So drinking and driving isn't a problem. But if you intend to imbibe, appoint a designated driver or sample very sensibly.

Part of the "Cote d'Or" (which in this case is not a reference to gold but an abbreviation of "oriente" or east), the Cote de Nuits contains 7,400 acres of Pinot Noir grapes producing Grands Crus such as Chambertin, Clos de Vougeot, and Romanee-Conti.

The road winds through Marsannay, which produces firm, deep reds, to Fixin. The reds here have cherry and black current notes and generally age nicely. Domaine Joliet Pere et Fils, Domaine Berthaut, and Domaine du Clos Saint Louis are open for tastings.

Gevrey-Chambertin is a lovely village, the start of the Route des Grand Crus, and a name that quickens the pulse of wine lovers. The village is dominated by the Chateau de Gevrey-Chambertain, which is run by Elisabeth Miteran. The castle was built in the 10th century and you can take the informative tour and taste the four different appellations they produce.

There are a number of fine producers in Gevrey-Chambertin, including Domaine Alan Burguet, Domain Pierre Damoy, Domaine Denis Mortet, Domaine Tortochot, and Domaine Trapet Pere et Fils.

South of Gevrey-Chambertin, is the village of Chambolle Musigny. At Chateau Andre Ziltener you can visit the wine museum in the cellars which contains an antique map of the Duchy of Burgundy and other interesting objects related to viticulture. You can taste four grades of local wines at the Chateau, which was built in 1709.

The Chateau du Clos de Vougeot in Vougeot has a history dating back to the 12th century when the Cistercian monks began cultivating vines here. In 1551, the Abbot enlarged the original structure and created the present castle. Today, it is the headquarters of the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, and you can visit the huge banqueting hall and see the cellars and 12th-century wine presses. La Grand Cave next door serves as the cellar for the Chateau.

Nuits St-Georges is the last major village in the Cote de Nuits. Corgoloin signals the beginning of the Cote de Beaune, famous the world over for its white wines. The vineyards at Aloxe Corton were once owned by Charlemagne and it is one of the few communes in the Code de Beaune that produces both red and white wines.

The Chateau de Corton Andre is the only Chateau among the Grands Crus of the Cote de Beaune. Its vineyards cover 130 acres of which 80% are dedicated to Premiers and Grands Crus. The Chateau offers free tastings in their 15th-century cellars.

By now, it's probably time to call it a day, so head for your hotel in Beaune or the surrounding countryside.

Beaune is encircled by medieval walls and the streets inside the ramparts are quite narrow and difficult to navigate. Instead of driving into the town center, park in one of the lots outside the city walls and walk in.

Have dinner tonight at your hotel, or if you're staying in Beaune, try l'Ecusson.

Day 4 - Burgundy
For something really special this morning, take a hot air balloon flight over Burgundy's undulating vineyards and medieval villages. The views in the early morning light are breathtaking and your flight is followed by a fabulous champagne breakfast.

Otherwise, have breakfast at your hotel and then see Beaune's sites before the crowds arrive. One of the best-preserved medieval cities in Burgundy, Beaune's history spans 2,000 years. The Dukes of Burgundy resided here in the 14th century, and there are several architectural treasures.

Beaune's Hotel Dieu, also known as the Hospices de Beaune, was originally built as a charity hospital to help those suffering as a result of the Hundred Years' War. Today, the Hotel Dieu is a magnificent example of the Flemish-Burgundian style. Its multi-colored tile roof was widely imitated throughout the region, and it has become a symbol of the whole province.

The four buildings are decorated with intricate Gothic wrought-iron and surround a beautiful central courtyard. Inside, you can visit the pharmacy, the kitchen, and the Great Hall of the Poor. Don't miss Rogier van der Weyden's "Last Judgement" polyptych or the wooden carving of Christ-de-Pitie.

The former palace of the Dukes of Burgundy now houses the Musee du Vin de Bourgogne. Even those who have seen enough wine presses will likely enjoy the opulent architecture of the palace.

Those who enjoy tapestries will want to visit Collegiale Notre-Dame, Beaune's main church. There are five 15th-century tapestries here depicting the life of the Virgin.

Have lunch in whichever café looks appealing.

Those who want to visit more vineyards will find the legendary Pommard, Meursault, Montrachet, and Puligny vineyards within easy striking distance.

But you don't have to leave Beaune to sample or buy stellar wine. There are dozens of wine boutiques and cellars in the town. The Marche aux Vins has its cellars in the tombs of a 14th-century church. They stock 18 of the best Burgundian wines. Cave Sainte-Helene offers old vintages in a 13th-century cellar. And Les Cave de la Chapelles has a wonderful selection.

If you're ready for some exercise, Bourgogne Randonnees rents bikes and has self-guided tours of the Cote d'Or. They'll even deliver them to and pick them up from your hotel. Just be careful about drinking and driving on narrow, winding roads.

This evening, dress up and splurge with dinner at Le Clos Prieu at Chateau de Gilly in Vougeot.


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Day 5 - Alsace
After breakfast at your hotel, leave Beaune on N470 and turn right on the Autoroute du Soleil (A6/E15). Then take E60/A36 and follow the signs to Colmar.

As you drive, the steep vineyards of Burgundy give way to the rolling farmlands and dense forests of Franche-Comte ("Free County"). The 17th-century city of Besancon was once the capital of Franche-Comte and it's certainly worth exploring on your way to Alsace.

Besancon is tucked into a loop of the Doubs river and most of its streets are closed to automobile traffic. So you'll need to park outside the town center and explore the sights on foot. The Grand-Rue is the main drag and a stroll along it will take you to most of what you came to see. Victor Hugo was born at Number 140 and the Lumiere brothers -- inventors of the motion picture -- were born across the street.

The Palais Granvelle was built in the 16th century for the Holy Roman Emperor. The Renaissance façade features Tuscan, Ionic, and Corinthian columns. The Palace houses the Musee du Temps (Clock Museum).

Besancon is famous for its watch- and clock-making. To see a magnificent example, try to be at the Cathedral of Saint-Jean 15 minutes before the hour. The Astronomical Clock on the ground floor of the bell tower is made up of 30,000 parts and provides an astonishing 122 bits of information.

Art lovers will enjoy the Musee des Beaux Arts et d'Archeologie, which contains artifacts, tapestries, and paintings by Bellini, Rubens, Ingres, Courbet, Goya, Matisse, and others.

Towering over the city, the Citadelle was built in the late 17th century on the site of an old Roman outpost. The fortress has been restored and it contains museums devoted to regional arts and crafts, the resistance and natural history. The Citadelle also offers wonderful views.

When you're ready for lunch, Poker d'As is the best choice for trying local specialties.

After you've explored Besancon, return to E60/A36 and drive to Alsace. Shortly before reaching Mulhouse, take N83 and follow the signs toward Thann.

Although it's been discovered by tourists -- 8 million people visit each year -- Alsace is one of the most charming regions of France. With their red-stone churches, gurgling fountains and proliferation of flowers, the villages here are postcard perfect. And the food -- mightily influenced by frequent German rule -- is delightful and perfectly complemented by the fresh, crisp Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc produced here.

You can stay in the main town of Colmar, or in one of the region's charming villages. After getting settled in your hotel, take a stroll through the town or the gardens of your country estate.

Alsace is blessed with wonderful places to eat. Whether you choose a formal Michelin-starred restaurant of a cozy "winstube," you'll enjoy great food and sensational wine. Be sure to eat choucroute, fermented white cabbage usually prepared with wine and pork. It's a little different everywhere you order it, but delicious every time. Have it with Riesling.

Since Alsace is the pate capital of the universe, be sure to indulge as often as possible.

Day 6 - Alsace
The legendary Route des Vins connects 70 villages producing more than 90 varieties of wine. You'll never see them all, so just choose a few towns and a few wineries and enjoy the storybook charm of the area. And be prepared to get lost. It's all part of the fun.

The most picturesque villages include Eguisheim, Kaysersberg, Riquewihr, Ribeauville, and Obernai. Each has half-timbered houses, cobbled streets, tinkling fountains, a flower-filled main square, a red stone church, and plenty of places to taste and buy wine.

There's not much to check off your must-see list, although the Chateau de Haut-Koenigsbourg outside St-Hippolyte is worth a visit. There's been a castle on this site since 1114. Kaiser Wilhelm II reconstructed the present "medieval" castle around 1900. All in all, it's a little contrived. But what it lacks in authenticity, it makes up for in views of the vineyards, the villages, and the Vosges mountains.

Those who wish to tour the wineries will enjoy Domaine Weinbach in Kaysersberg, Hugel & Fils in Riquewihr, F.E. Trimbach outside Ribeauville, and Domaine Marcel Deiss in Bergheim. You must make reservations in advance to tour and taste.

Walkers can find sentiers viticoles (paths through the vineyards) in Eguisheim, Riquewihr, and Obernai.

For dinner this evening, try La Maison de Tetes, Auberge de l'Ill, or Fer Rouge in Colmar. Even if you're staying in the country, be sure to see Colmar at night when the half-timbered townhouses are lit. It's magical.


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Day 7 - Strasbourg
After breakfast this morning, explore Colmar. If it's Thursday or Saturday, assemble your breakfast at the market.

Colmar is the best preserved town in Alsace. Its Renaissance houses have been meticulously restored and the narrow shop-filled streets of the old town hold many enchanting surprises.

There are many wonderful buildings here. Maison de Tetes, a Renaissance town house that was once the wine exchange, was built in 1609. Flower-bedecked, frescoed Maison Pfister, which dates from 1527, has become a symbol of the city. The Anciennes Douane was Colmar's customs house in the 15th century. And the Maison aux Arcades on Grand'Rue has a series of high Renaissance arched porches.

You'll find plenty of charming winstubes for lunch in the old town.

The restored canal quarter, known as Petite Venise ("Little Venice") is lined with colorful half-timbered houses. For a different perspective, take a leisurely cruise along the canals.

Colmar has two fine Gothic churches: Eglise St-Martin and Eglise Dominicains. But the indisputable highlight of a visit here is the Musee d'Unterlinden. The museum, which is set in a 13th-century Dominican monastery, contains many Rhine Valley paintings from the Renaissance and the fantastic Issenheim altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald.

You can also tour a museum dedicated to the designer of the Statue of Liberty. Musee Bartholdi contains exhibits about the sculptor’s life and work, a recreation of his Paris apartment, and documents detailing the creation of his most famous work.

When you're through touring Colmar, take A35/E25 into Strasbourg. Ignore the "Strasbourg Centre" signs and exit at "Place de l'Etoile" and follow the signs to "Cathedrale/Centre Ville."

Strasbourg is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in France. In fact, as the headquarters of the European Parliament, it belongs more to the continent than to the country. It's an appealing city that combines the half-timbered charm of Alsace with the eclectic sophistication of a cultural crossroads.

Get settled into your hotel and then stroll to Place de la Cathedrale. In summer, the place is filled with street performers, so find an outside table, order a glass of wine or a Kronenbourg beer, and enjoy the show. Place Kleber is another enjoyable alternative.

If you didn't take a canal cruise in Colmar, cruising the Ill is a lovely way to see Strasbourg. Especially at night. This is also the best way to see the Ponts Couverts or 14th-century covered bridges spanning the Ill. Boats run until 9PM from May through October.

Those who want to pull out all the stops for dinner should go to Au Crocodile or Buerehiesel. Those who want great food -- and unsurpassed people watching -- in a lively atmosphere will enjoy Brasserie de l'Ancienne Douane.

Day 8 - Strasbourg
Your route this morning will depend on your love of astronomical clocks and your tolerance for crowds.

The clock in Strasbourg's Cathedral chimes once daily, at 12:30PM. If you'd like to see it, you should plan to start queuing up by about 11:30AM. But bear in mind that almost every other tourist in Strasbourg will have the same master plan.

If you can live without the clock, start your sightseeing at the Cathedral and you'll be on your way by the time the crowds gather.

Constructed between 1176 and 1439, the Cathedral is the tallest medieval structure. Carved of rose colored stone, the church is intricate, lacy, and almost delicate in appearance outside. Inside, the rose window and Pillar of Angels are magnificent.

Across Place de la Cathedral is Maison Kammerzell. The most elaborately carved merchant house in Strasbourg, it dates from 1467. Behind the Cathedral on rue de Vieil-Hospital, there's an antiques market on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

On Place du Chateau, Musee de l'Oeuvre de Notre-Dame contains the treasures of the Cathedral including many original sculptures, a fine collection of Alsatian art from Medieval and Renaissance times, and some fabulous 11th-century stained glass.

The Palais des Rohan, across place du Chateau, was built as a palace for the Prince-Bishops in 1730 by the King's architect. There are three museums here today: the Musee des Beaux Arts, the Musee Archeologique, and the Musee des Arts Decoratifs.

Those interested in history will enjoy the Musee Historique and those interested in local arts, crafts, and traditions should visit the Musee Alsacien, occupying several old half-timbered houses.

The most charming section of Strasbourg is Petite France, the "Little France" district. Once the millers' and tanners' quarter, Petite France is sprinkled with 16th-century mills, houses, and bridges. There are lots of cafes and cute shops here. And a stroll along rue de Bain-aux-Plantes or rue des Moulins is particularly rewarding.

Strasbourg is a wonderful city for bicycling. In fact, it has the largest cycling network in France. So consider renting bikes at the nearest Velocation and hitting the well maintained reseau cyclable or cycle trails.

Shopping here is great, particularly for pates and other foods, wine, fabrics, antiques, linens, ceramics, and other kitchenware.

After touring so many wineries, maybe you're ready to give beer its due. If so, you can tour the Brasseries Kronenbourg or Heineken breweries, though you'll need reservations for either.

For dinner this evening, try Maison des Tanneurs in Petite France.


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Day 9 - Nancy
The drive to Nancy only takes a couple of hours and there's not much to see en route. So you can sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast and even do a little last-minute shopping before hitting the road.

Although the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine are traditionally linked, they're actually quite different. Unlike its neighbor, Lorraine never fell under Holy Roman or German rule. So it's Gallic through and through.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Nancy, the capital of Lorraine and its once powerful dukes. Today, this elegantly beautiful city presents a tapestry of medieval, 18th-century, and Belle Epoque architecture. In fact, it's an Art Nouveau lover's dream.

Check into your hotel, and then head for Place Stanislas, the heart of the city. Named for the exiled Polish king who became Duke of Lorraine in 1737, the square is a masterpiece of 18th-century formality and grandeur. It separates Ville Vielle, the medieval town center and Ville Neuve, which was developed during the 16th- and 17th-centuries.

The square is enclosed by gorgeous, gilded wrought-iron gates. The Hotel de Ville (city hall) is on one side and the Musee des Beaux Arts is on the other. The museum exhibits European works from the 15th to the 20th century, including paintings by Caravaggio, Rubens, Boucher, Manet, Monet, and Modigliani. One of the most significant paintings here is Delacroix's "Death of Charles the Bold at Nancy." There's also a terrific collection of Art Nouveau glass in the "Nancy" style.

If you plan on visiting just two of Nancy's museum, invest in the Pass Musees, which includes admission to the Musee des Beaux Arts, the Musee de l'Ecole de Nancy, and the Musee Lorrain for 13 Euros.

There are plenty of stylish cafes in the area when you're ready to call it a day. Or you can walk down rue Maurice Barres to Nancy's Baroque Cathedral.

If you're an Art Nouveau fan, go to L'Excelsior for dinner. The Brasserie was originally opened in 1910 by a local brewery and was thoroughly restored in 1987. With its bay windows, stained glass, Cuban mahogany woodwork, and Art Deco fixtures, it's one of the most beautiful restaurants in town.

From June through September, there's a Sound and Light show at 10PM at Place Stanislas. The magnificent Hotel de Ville is open from 10:30PM until 11PM. The 80-foot iron balustrade is fantastic.

Day 10 - Nancy
Start your tour at the Musee de l'Ecole de Nancy (Nancy School Museum). Glass artist Emile Gallé founded an arts school here in 1901 and as a result, Nancy rivaled Paris as the Art Nouveau capital of France.

The museum is a hike from Place Stanislas, so if you don't feel like walking, you can take the Number 5 or 25 bus from rue St-Jean to Place Pain-Levée. Department store owner and arts patron Eugene Corbin had this house built for him around the turn of the last century. In 1964, it was turned into the only Art Nouveau museum in France. All the major artists of the Nancy School -- Galle, Majorelle, Vallin, Gurber, Prouve, and Daum -- are represented here. And you'll see exquisite jewelry, fabrics, glassware, and furnishings in addition to the beautifully restored home.

If you'd like to see more examples of the Nancy Art Nouveau style, walk to 1 rue Louis-Majorelle to see the villa Herni Sauvage designed for Louis Majorelle in 1901. The villa exhibits elements of "Japonism" and has stained glass windows designed by Gruber.

As your stroll Avenue Foch back toward Place Stanislas, you'll see several good examples at Numbers 41, 69, and 71. When you pass the train station, take a left, then turn right down rue Jenri-Poincaré. The lovely building at Number 40 contains glass and metal-work by several of the School members.

Nearby, the Banque National de Paris at Number 9 rue Chanzy was inspired by Haut Koenigsburg. Other examples worth seeking out are at Number 2 rue Benit, and Number 42 - 44 rue St-Dizier. But keep your eyes peeled and you'll see marvelous Art Nouveau ornamentation throughout the city.

When you're ready for lunch, head for the Grande Rue, off place de la Carriere. You'll find several cafes there among the antique shops and patisseries. Librairie Lorraine at Number 93 Grande Rue is a wonderful bookstore.

After lunch, visit the Palais Ducal, which dates from the 13th century. Today, the Palace houses the Musee Historique Lorrain, which contains medieval and Renaissance sculpture, as well as a series of 16th century tapestries which are displayed in the Galerie des Cerfs (Stags' Gallery), the Dukes' ceremonial hall. There's also an impressive collection of paintings by Georges de la Tour.

The Couvent des Cordeliers is just up Grande Rue from the Palais Ducal. This former Franciscan Monastery is now home of the Musee Regional des Arts et Traditions Populaires, a museum that recreates life in Lorraine from the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the 19th century.

Also in the complex is the Eglise des Cordeliers, where you can visit the crypt of the Dukes of Lorraine.

When you're through sightseeing, head for La Pepiniere, the lovely 53-acre park that was laid out in 1765. There's a carousel, a rose garden, a small zoo and enjoyable people watching.

If you still have energy, rue Gambetta and rue des Dominicains are best for shopping. Antique lovers should head for rue Stanislas.

For dinner, try Restaurant le Foy on Place Stanislas, or Le Capucin Gourmand on rue Gambetta.


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Day 11 - Champagne
Have breakfast at your hotel this morning before driving to Troyes, a delightful town where pedestrian-only streets wind past 16th-century timber frame houses and charming courtyards. There are many wonderful churches here and some enjoyable museums.

Start your visit at the Tourist Information Office at 16 bd. Carnot. If you'd like to visit Troyes's museum, you can buy a pass here that will save you 50%. You can also pick up a detailed map of the town.

The Hotel Dieu (hospital) here was founded in the 12th century and you can tour the pharmacy which contains apothecary jars, boxes, and pots filled with herbs and medicinal plants.

The Musee d'Art Moderne was built around one of the largest private collections ever given to France. There are 350 paintings and 1,300 drawings including work by Cezanne, Gaughin, Matisse, Picasso, Degas, and others. The museum is in a restored 16-century Bishop's palace.

The Musee des Beaux-Arts et d'Archeologie displays archeological treasures including a Gallo-Roman statue of Apollo, medieval jewelry, weapons, and sculpture, as well as paintings by Rubens, David, Watteau, and Fragonard.

Churches worth visiting include the Gothic Cathedrale St-Pierre et St-Paul and its Treasury, the 12th-century Eglise Ste-Madeleine, the 13th-century Basilique St-Urbain, Eglise St-Jean, Eglise St-Nizier, and Eglise St-Pantaleon. Most of the churches are open daily but close between noon and 2PM for lunch.

The Hotel su Petit Louvre is a recently restored 16th century coaching inn with a charming Renaissance courtyard.

When you're ready for lunch, there are many appealing cafes on Place du Marechal-Foch, Troyes's main square. There's also a Tool and Craft Museum (Maison de l'Outil), and a history museum and textile museum in Hotel de Vauluisant.

After you've explored Troyes, drive to Epernay, in the heart of the Champagne region. The "sacred triangle" of the Route Touristique du Champagne is compact enough that you can stay outside Epernay or Reims and still see everything in the area.

Get settled into your hotel, and then enjoy a swim or a stroll.

There are many wonderful restaurants in the area, and chances are, one of the best is at your hotel, so have dinner there and be sure to accompany it with some Champagne.

Day 12 - Champagne
Enjoy a leisurely morning before exploring the Route Touristique du Champagne which leads from Epernay to Reims, or vice versa.

Epernay has the highest per capita income in France, though it may not be apparent at street level. But just below the surface, in the cellars and caves of the legendary Champagne houses, there are wondrous treasures just waiting to be explored. Or tasted.

You will not need an appointment to tour most of the Champagne houses in Epernay, but many close for lunch between 11:30AM to 2PM.

The Avenue de Champagne is Epernay's main street, and its' here that you'll find legendary Moet et Chandon, Mercier, and Leclerc Briant.

Mercier is the best selling Champagne in France and their cellar tour is the most popular in Epernay. The Visitor's Center here was built around the world's largest wine barrel. Built in 1889, it can hold more than 215,000 bottles worth of wine. Their tour takes you on laser-guided trains through 11 miles of cellar tunnels.

Moet et Chandon -- best known as the producer of Dom Perignon -- was founded in 1743. The one-hour tour here is entertaining and informative.

Also in the neighborhood and offering tours are de Castellane and Leclerc Briant.

Those who love Art Nouveau will find it worth making an appointment at the House of Perrier Jouet in order to visit the Maison Belle Epoque. The managing Directors spent half a dozen years amassing a world-class collection of Art Nouveau furniture and objets d'arts with which to furnish the Perrier-Jouet family home at Number 11. It's absolutely gorgeous. And the Champagne is out of this world.

The pedestrian streets off Place des Arcades and rue du General-Leclerc are filled with stylish boutiques and cute shops.

Not far from Epernay, the Abbey d'Hautvillers contains the tomb of Dom Perignon. According to legend, the blind monk invented Champagne by accident in the 17th century. Today, the Abbey is owned by Moet et Chandon and you'll need an appointment to take a tour.

Also in the area, the small village of Le Mesnil sur Oger is home to Launois Pere & Fils. The two-hour tour here -- by appointment only -- includes a visit to one of the region's most interesting museums of winemaking and samples of their stellar Champagne.

For dinner this evening, try the restaurant at the Royal Champagne outside Epernay in Champillon or the restaurant at L'Assiette Champeniose outside Reims. Or, if you didn't get enough Champagne, try Le Vigneron which has 300 on their wine list.

If you're here on a Saturday night during the summer, there's a sound and light show at Reims Cathedral and at the Basilica.

Day 13 - Champagne
Spend the day exploring Reims.

If you want to tour more Champagne cellars you'll have to choose from among Pommery, Mumm, Piper-Hiedsieck, Veuve-Cliquot-Ponsardin, and Taittinger. With its formal gardens, Elizabethan-style architecture, and spectacular cellars -- reached by descending 116 steps -- Pommery wins the prize for ambience. But Taittinger is also a standout.

As the one-time capital of France, there's more to Reims than just Champagne. In fact, France was founded here and the magnificent Cathedral here was the scene of 32 French Coronations between 816 and 1825.

Much of Reims was destroyed during World War II, but there are four buildings here that have been designated UNESCO World Heritage sites: The Cathedrale Notre-Dame, the Basilque St-Remi, the Musee St-Remi, and the Palais du Tau.

Start at the Cathedral, one of the finest in the world. There's been a church on this site since the 5th century, but the present structure was begun in 1211 and extensively restored after being damaged in World War I.

Joan of Arc brought the Dauphin here to be crowned Charles VII in 1429. Perfectly proportioned, the Cathedral is as beautiful outside as it is inside. The beautiful West Façade is decorated with more than 2,300 statues, 56 of which make up the Gallery of Kings. Also on the West Façade, the "Smiling Angel," is found on the north portal.

The open work of the apse gallery and its buttresses and pinnacles are fantastic. Inside, the Rose Window and windows designed by Marc Chagall are highlights.

Next to the Cathedral, the Tau Museum contains the Cathedral's treasures. Located in the former Archbishop's Palace, the museum displays 15th-century tapestries, sculptures from the Cathedral, and coronation robes. You can also tour the banqueting hall (Salle du Tau) where the coronation festivities were held, and the 13th-century palace chapel.

The Basilica of Saint-Remi was consecrated by Pope Leon IX in 1049. Though the church suffers from the inevitable comparisons with the Cathedral, it's worth a visit nonetheless. There are Romanesque capitals in the north transept, an early Gothic choir, and the 13th-century stained glass is particularly impressive. Many of the early kings are buried here.

The adjoining abbey encloses the original Gothic Chapter House and has an interesting history museum with a nifty Roman sarcophagus.

Fans of Corot and Cranach (Younger and Elder) will want to visit the Musee des Beaux Arts. It's one of the ten best provincial museums in France. And those interested in ancient history will enjoy the Cryptoportique, a Gallo-Roman structure from the 3rd century marking the entrance to the forum.

If you have time left for shopping, rue de Velse, and place Drouet d'Erlon have many smart shops and dozens of places to buy Champagne.

For your last night, splurge with dinner at Les Crayeres, one of the most celebrated restaurants in the country. Dress up, order the Champagne you most enjoy, and toast la joie de vivre.

Day 14 - Paris
Have a leisurely breakfast and do a little last-minute shopping if you like before returning your rental car and taking the train from Reims back to Paris.