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volante: france

Road to Champagne
Road to Champagne

Galeries Lafayette prepares for Christmas


Jack Yan 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

Excerpted 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 lived there.

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 price tags.

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 arrangements.

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 been given.

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 (, 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


Subscribe to LucireFor 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

Eiffel Tower



Monet’s 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

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