There should always be champagne at Thanksgiving but even better is to celebrate Thanksgiving in Champagne, France. Two years ago when we were living as expats in Amsterdam we decided to take a long weekend trip in late November to celebrate our American Thanksgiving. Since we couldn’t make it all the way across the pond, we decided to meet up with friends in Champagne for a short holiday weekend.
About an hour from Paris, (and just a few hours from the Dam), lies the famed region of Champagne. Veuve Clicquot, Piper Heidsieck, Dom Perignon, Ruinart, Moët and Chandon, Tattinger and Laurent-Perrier are all there, along with other smaller houses with excellent bubbly to taste. Off-season in late November, we found many Chateaus in the Ardennes offer special room rates at this time. We chose the beautiful and welcoming Chateau de Rilly, in Montaigne de Rilly, just 15 minutes from Reims and 20 minutes from Epernay for our base for exploration and enjoy a delicious dinner at their Michelin-star restaurant for our Thanksgiving dinner.
While visiting the big Champagne houses may be at the top of your itinerary, also consider biking through the vineyards to explore some of the smaller ones in the region. Pick a clear day to experience a truly beautiful setting with rolling green hills and vines scattered for miles. With map in hand (or your smart phone’s GPS), you can navigate your way from one Champagne house to the next. Ask your concierge in advance to book bike rentals delivered to your hotel from Reims. You can make appointments ahead of time for a full tour of some of the caves lying below the vineyards and learn how the bubbly is produced. Don’t forget to book a table for lunch at one of the restaurants en-route to fuel up on delicious French food to keep you pedaling up and down those hills. We enjoyed the small but delicious Prise de Mousse for a two hour lunch and local bubbly.
Exploring Champagne at this time of year affords you so much to see and do. Head into Reims to enjoy the start of the Christmas holiday season. The Christmas market officially opens in late November next to the famed Cathedral Norte-Dame (not to be confused with the one in Paris). At night the scene becomes magical with a mesmerizing music and light show against the church’s facade. You can shop, sample local food and yes, drink champagne or hot chocolate. Make sure to pop into the Cathedral to light a candle and marvel at the stained glass that glows in the late afternoon when the sun is at its highest. After a brisk skate at the outdoor rink, you can also tour the Palace of Tau next door where French monarchs were coronated.
If shopping is your thing, it’s the perfect time to find that special gift or stocking stuffer along the walking streets as you listen to carol singers or stop for a ride on the merry-go-round. Take a break in the sun at an outdoor cafe under the heat lamps while sipping champagne or hot chocolate.
Champagne on its own is a destination not to miss. It’s even more magical at this time of year for Americans who want to celebrate but can’t get back to the States for a short weekend. And did I mention, there’s loads of champagne!