It had long been on our list of places to visit, Le Domaine Les Crayères, a mythical property in the heart of Reims, nestled discreetly in a seven-hectare park full of green vegetation. This former house of the De Polignac family has been accumulating all the most prestigious accolades of the hospitality industry since it opened its doors to the public in 1983 with Gérard and Elyane Boyer taking charge and shaping the destiny of the hotel, culminating in the “Best Hotel of the World” award given by Travel and Leisure and Condé Nast Travel 2002.
So cheerfully we embarked upon a journey to Champagne in our rather sporty car, driving through the streets of London in the legendary Mazda MX-5. With over a million cars sold since its debut in 1989, the world’s best-selling two-seat roadster continues to be loved by British sports car fans and we were no exception. Probably, largely due to Mazda capturing the spirit of legendary 1950s and 60s British and Italian sports cars with the MX-5.
Arriving speedily in Dover and heading to Calais with DFDS in the luxury lounge, the crossing was pleasant and soon we found our way to Reims, the capital of Champagne. In all too many cases, when historical properties take on a new role, something goes amiss, something of the original flair is lost. Not so here. This establishment permanently recreates and modernises the notion of “Chateau” style hospitality in an elegant and sophisticated atmosphere. Seldom will you find such perfectly appointed rooms and suites waiting for you, with the attention to detail that is characteristic of the French classicism. When arriving, the feeling is not so much of enjoying a luxurious hotel but rather being privileged by staying in and enjoying such sumptuous and authentic surroundings.
Often images will deceive, of course we had glanced through the hotel’s website before setting off for Reims and enticing as they were we found these did not do justice to the actual experience of walking into our ‘prestige’ room overlooking the property’s gardens. It is one of those moment you are inclined to pinch yourself to believe what you are experiencing. This regal ambience somehow calls to mind Reims’ most famous landmark, Notre-Dame de Reims, known in English as Reims Cathedral, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and of course famous for being the traditional location for the coronation of the kings of France.
Founded by the Gauls, Reims became a major city during the period of the Roman Empire, the remnants of which we were to find visiting the cellars of our favourite champagne, Taittinger. There we learned about the art that goes into making a bottle of champagne, going down 18 metres below ground level into the breath-taking Gallo-Roman chalk quarries, which are part of the ‘Coteaux, Maisons et Caves de Champagne’ included on UNESCO's list of Cultural Heritage.
At Les Crayères we soon realised that we were in the heartland of some of the most renowned champagne houses of the region. The warm welcome, the impeccable service and the Chef Philippe Mille’s gourmet restaurant with its wine list of more than 600 champagne labels, promised to make this a good place to start discovering the treasures of Champagne. And where better to start the discovery than in Le Parc, Mille’s two Michelin star restaurant. Apart from an inviting A La Carte menu you will find intriguing combinations of dishes in the ‘Menu Entre Vigne et Terroir’, ‘Menu Blanc’ and culminating in ‘Menu Truffe Noire’ all offered with wine pairing.
Apart from enjoying such heights of gastronomy the offers endless opportunities for daytrip exploring and the hotel’s concierge will happily oblige arranging for guests to enjoy horseback riding, a round of golf, tennis, biking or hiking but maybe the most enjoyable of all pastimes at Les Crayères is simply taking a stroll into the grounds of the hotel, sit down and listen to the birdsong or enjoy a good book. A glass of champagne would of course not go amiss. And there we wowed to return one fine day, a day that can’t come too soon.