Road to Champagne
Galeries Lafayette prepares for Christmas
arrives in Paris for a romantic holiday and heads out to Champagne, in Part One of our
two-part story on his tour of the region
photographed by the author
from issue 22 of Lucire
I HAD JUST ﬁnished a phone conference
with one of our consulting clients. Given the time zones, I had
been up from 4 A.M.
in order to “make” the virtual meeting, and saw little point going
back to bed afterwards. Instead, my mission that morning was to
cash in some American Express air points—the Platinum card is a
boon for the traveller—and see if Paris would be a good destination.
Brigid and I had wanted to see each other since we became participants
in a long-distance relationship a few months before, and I had originally
been told by a travel agent friend that November, particularly around
Armistice, was one of the less appealing months to go. If we were
to sail on a bâteau mouche, for example, we might not
see a thing through the rain. So we explored other options: Hong
Kong, which would be halfway between our respective locations; Morocco,
which just seemed too exotic; or Nice, which didn’t seem as simple.
This was our ﬁrst vacation in France, and perhaps we needed elements
to be familiar. I was a vieux main in Paris, and she had
The travel agent had not counted on global warming.
I texted Brigid as soon as the reservations were made. Her reply:
‘Très bien. Paris it is.’
As I arrived on the night of November 10, I noted
that packing woollen underwear was extreme. It was nippy, but no
worse than New Zealand in May. It was 11°C as I arrived at Charles
de Gaulle, and called—for once forced to use a cellphone but keeping
it away from my trousers—my friend and this title’s travel editor
Stanley Moss, who had collected
a Renault Mégane Estate from
the company’s press fleet earlier that day. In Q-and-Bond style,
he ran me through the features, including the sat-nav and keyless
entry; after which I drove him back to his accommodation before
setting forth to my usual haunt, the Hôtel de Lausanne (13,
rue Geoffroy-Marie, 75009 Paris, 33 1 47-70-07-15, listed
at our website) in the ninth arrondissement in Paris.
I had not been back to the Lausanne for three
years, but it was like coming home. The difference was that there
was now wiﬁ, though the service did not take American Express.
Parking in a nearby establishment was only €2 more than I remembered
(€34 a day). The three-star establishment is a stone’s throw from
the Folies Bergères, and walking distance from the Grands
Boulevards. It’s also a swift cab ride to the Gare du Nord, where
Brigid would arrive the following day.
First things ﬁrst. On the rue Geoffroy-Marie,
which, interestingly, is where Reporters sans Frontières is located,
I bought some flowers from the local grocery. Unlike Kiwi grocers,
the flowers are properly trimmed and arranged for the €10.
I decided to meet Stanley ﬁrst, along with Japanese–American
designer Tadashi Shoji (whom I later learned is a sponsor of Miss
Universe), at Place Monge in the 5e for a quick tea. It had
to be quick: the Eurostar was coming. Rather than use the métro,
I hopped into a cab, flowers on the back seat, and went to wait
at the station. I knew the route was a 20-minute one: he made it
in 15. God bless Ronin.
Since the Lausanne was near the Grands Boulevards,
after a quick freshening up, we decided to check out the shopping
scene. I am always restrained about shopping at the Galeries Lafayette
or at Printemps, as quite a number of things had a premium on their
Brigid asked if I had been up the Eiffel Tower.
Despite going to Paris for years, I never had. I never had a reason
to go. This was the ﬁrst time, I remarked, that I was in Paris
with someone, so why not?
The prices vary depending on how high you go
up la Tour; the full rate is €11 per person. No couple would do
this half-cocked, so after around half an hour’s wait where we experienced
the only rain during the holiday, we took in the sights.
It is as remarkable or as unremarkable as one
might think: the company makes it memorable. I was right to have
not gone up alone in the past. Abiding memories are not the view,
but of having made it to the top, cramming into the elevators, and
having a snack and then a few wines at the bar (the restaurant was
booked out in advance). Less pleasant are the souvenir sellers and
getting separated from Brigid momentarily as we left the Eiffel
Tower. They swarmed on her like bees to a flower, and I had to rescue
her, though that probably appealed to my male whiteknight syndrome.
Since this was about familiarity, we found a
Chinese restaurant off the Champs-Élysées. Chinese
food is not always done well in Paris, but I was pleasantly surprised
by Kok Ping (4, rue Balzac, 33 1 42-25-28-85), where the staff understands
sufﬁcient Cantonese to cater for us foreigners.
The queue at the hot Champs-Élysées
club, the VIP
Room, was long, cementing the place’s reputation as the hottest
place in town for the to-be-seen set. Sephora
was open late, though we were among the last customers for the evening,
and we eventually walked back to the 9e (cabs are hard to hail after
midnight), with one last stop for wine en route.
Sunday: since we had the Mégane, it seemed a
shame not to take in sights unreachable by the métro. Versailles
was on my agenda—the residence of Hugo Drax in Moonraker
(the movie, not the book), but I was disappointed to discover that
renovations saw the château covered in scaffolding. However,
Brigid’s Mum’s Christmas present was found at the gift shop and
another tick went on the shopping list. Brigid’s recommendation
was, instead, Fontainebleu, which might have a smaller château,
but the 20,000 hectares around it and fewer tourists meant a more
personal, calming tour.
A horse and wagon ride was part of the joy, and
the guide explained, for the umpteenth time that day but with no
less emphasis, the château’s status as the country residence
of Louis VII and Napoléon III and its equestrian heritage.
Kids waved as the wagon passed.
We drove back as the sunlight began dimming,
as the Lausanne had booked us on the bâteau mouche.
The drive was a little stressful as the GPS
warned us about trafﬁc jams, none of which were too serious. However,
it meant no change of clothes at the Lausanne: we were casually
dressed for dinner, but no one on La Capitane Fracasse seemed
to mind. We found a parking space on the Boulevard de Grenelle,
and were thankful for the proximity radar of modern cars that made
parking easier, though the Mégane Estate is probably the
longest car I would dare drive in the city without fancy parking
Since we were early enough for the sailing, we
took in a quick drink at the Quai de Grenelle, across from the Bir-Hakeim
bridge from where the bâteau set sail. The ﬁxed menu
on La Capitaine Fracasse was ﬁlling, almost too much, and
the other accessory—a radio that allowed you to listen to a recorded
guide—was poorly matched to what we saw. The ear-plug was clumsy
at best. It was nothing like the trip that Cary Grant and Audrey
Hepburn took in Charade: we saw no snogging couples beneath
the bridges while Mancini played in the background. Instead, we
saw homeless people’s gear stored under the bridges. In short, it
is not recommended, but for very different reasons to those I had
I had planned for us to head into Champagne
after the positive experiences that Stanley had at the Royal
Champagne, but we had one more journey to make in the opposite
direction the following day. Giverny, where Monet had hung out and
now the site of his grave, was on Brigid’s wish-list, though the
website had been less than clear concerning when the gardens were
closed. I realized that it was fermé in November, but the
site said that that was sauf lundi. But no one was about, and even
the art shops didn’t want to serve us.
It was not brilliantly timed: we hit rush hour
in Paris as we headed east to Champagne, and spent a great deal
of time in the southern suburbs near Bercy, unsuccessfully ﬁddling
with the sat-nav to ﬁnd alternative routes.
The GPS obliged
by taking us along country roads, which might not have been a wise
idea at night, but I had selected the non-toll roads, thinking they
might be more romantic. I was fading till I was fed mandarins while
driving—the Mégane was spacious enough for Brigid to go into
the back to get the shopping without my stopping. While I realize
that that admission might mean the gendarmerie could issue me with
a ﬁne, the food kept me awake and we arrived that evening
at the Royal Champagne, via Épernay (where the GPS
did get confused, but Renault did supply a second CD-ROM),
and a few U-turns where a confusing road design prevented us from
turning where we wanted. In all, the drive was about three times
longer than I had remembered it in 2003, when I drove from Reims
to Paris along the autoroute.
Royal Champagne, at Champillon (photo courtesy the property)
We arrived at the Royal Champagne in Champillon (www.royalchampagne.com,
33 3 26-52-87-11), part of the Baglioni group of luxury hotels and,
interestingly, a Relais
& Châteaux property as well. The sign showed four stars;
it deserves ﬁve. We entered our suite and Stéphane,
who had been waiting for us at reception, helped us settle in to
our suite (no. 10) and brought in a huge platter of food, including
banana crème brûlée and, since this was
the area for it, champagne. It was a welcome sight, and equally
welcome was the large bathroom (with bathtub and bidet), which perhaps
occupied around quarter the area of the suite. Despite the beautiful
presentation of the food, by this late hour it was about sustenance
for us, even though the champagne was a celebration of making it
to our planned holiday destination, enﬁn.
The Hôtel de Lausanne can be booked online or via
email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
the remainder of this article, check out Champagne Wishes,
with photography by Jack Yan and David C. Lee, in issue 22 of Lucire.
Paris, near the Grands Boulevards
Monets grave at Giverny
The bâteau mouche trip was nothing
like the one that Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn took in Charade:
we saw no snogging couples beneath the bridges while Mancini played
in the background