A piercing winter chill and a heavy mist like a white wedding veil rested on the vine-covered hills sprawling around Epernay, the heart of the Champagne region. The taxi from the station was bound for the Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa and despite vigorous hand rubbing from the back seat of the Tesla I could think of little else other than putting my feet up somewhere warm and comfy immediately upon arrival.
The journey, which had started with the nifty Eurostar train from St Pancras to Paris, took me within a stone’s throw of Hautvilliers, where the body of Dom Perignon was laid to rest in the village’s abbey. The roads wind through moonlit woodland and along the edges of neat, fertile lines of grape vines. These vines are all cultivated into long straight lines which streak the horizon in every direction as far as the eye can see, like obedient soldiers all standing to attention in inky black sobriety.
Occasionally the road would drop down a little and I would be able to just about make out the banks of rock and soil on either side, with white stripes layered beneath the top soil. This is the all-important chalk which plays a crucial role from its subterranean lair in providing the correct conditions for the growth of these famous grapes.
All thoughts of late-night chill disappeared as the taxi pulled up to the hotel. I was drawn, like a moth to a flame, from the icy tendrils of the night into the hotel’s foyer and welcomed by a warmth which rolls from the roaring fire in the centre of the magnificent room, encapsulated in its own cylindrical metal and Perspex capsule.
The interior of the hotel has a clean, minimalistic and modern style. It is an elegant combination of practical modernity but with a nod to the extraordinary heritage of the region. Walls are panelled in an egg-shell white, and everything else follows this pale, neutral colour scheme. Only the slate grey leather seats for arriving and departing guests in front of reception tables differ.
At the far end of every room is a floor to ceiling window, letting in bright sunshine and, more importantly, allowing each guest to marvel at the view down the hillside. Behind the glass is a spacious balcony with a pair of comfortable chairs, an ideal spot to enjoy a glass of the nectar of the region in blissful peace and quiet whilst bathed in balmy rays.
The sun rise the following morning allowed me to really appreciate the dazzling building itself. Designed by architect extraordinaire, Giovanni Pace, it was created using locally quarried quartz stones which will catch and hold the mid-day light. The hotel rests atop the hillside looking down imperiously over Champillion and Hautvilliers and is shaped like a wide splayed ‘V’ meaning that each and every room benefits from a mesmerising, panoramic view down over acres of champagne vines.
The interior decoration of the room mirrors the hotel’s lobby for slick, but highly practical minimalism. The bathrooms have vast drencher shower heads and make you feel as if you are caught in a warm, deluge that would give a tropical monsoon a run for its money. The bath tub is vast, and the Hermés shower products generously scattered around bring a sense of utter luxury to even the most basic ablutions. In the bedroom natural, unstained wood abounds under foot and blends harmoniously with the neutral colour palette of the rest of the fixtures and fittings.
The Royal Champagne spa is arguably one of the best I have ever had the good fortune of visiting. It is utterly flawless, and oozes serenity. A seemingly endless pool runs parallel with a row of enormous windows which, like the bedrooms on the two floors above, face out over that unforgettable view.
A row of lounge chairs along the side of the pool look over the ebbs and flows of the water and beyond. This area is separated from the raised, state of the art treatment rooms behind by a highly ornate metal shutter-like wall which allows guests and visitors arriving to use the spa to peer out through the small gaps in wonder at the beautiful scene below.
The spa uses Biologique Recherche products to ensure a revitalising and re-energising pampering of the very highest possible standards. The facilities also include a yoga studio, sauna, hammam bath and a gym where personal training is available.
The final string to Royal Champagne’s bow is its restaurants, both of which are quite spectacular. For the casual diner, looking for slightly more informal environment then ‘Le Bellevue Restaurant’ is ideal. The restaurant, which transforms into the breakfast area by morning, sits beneath decorative chandelier-like crystal decorations which are suspended from the ceiling and recall the bubbles emanating from within a flute of France’s most famous export (or at least up there with the smelliest cheese known to man).
The restaurant serves well considered classics like roasted asparagus with slow cooked egg, beef ribs with a picante pepper sauce and succulent raspberry cheese cake, all using products sourced from local suppliers.
For the diner who is looking for something more intrepid and ornate, the other restaurant, ‘Le Royal – Etape Gastronomique’ which is set inside a circular dining room flanked by huge paintings of Napoleon’s unfortunate ex-lovers, will certainly cut ‘le moutarde’. This astounding expression of culinary excellence has already been awarded a Michelin Star, and with good reason.
Whilst Michelin Star winning restaurants can often be weighed down by their own grandiose austerity, Le Royal retains a great degree of playfulness and approachability. Staff are friendly and helpful, Daniel Pires the sommelier is highly knowledgeable and the environment buzzes with the ecstatic thrill of many diners all enjoying something truly special. There is a level of opulence above even this, I hasten to add. A miniature stainless steel table for just four resides right in the epicenter of the action – in the kitchen.
The chef’s table is by reservation only and is not for the fiscally faint hearted, but was one of the most remarkable dining experiences I’ve had. An immaculate tasting menu showcases the very finest offerings from this award winning kitchen, and spectacular accompanying wines are generously served for those lucky few diners.
The Royal Champagne Hotel and Spa is an institution committed to offering the absolute finest to its guests, diners, spa visitors and general revelers. Whether it is a perfectly peaceful spa experience in an immaculately designed treatment room, a boisterous dining extravaganza in the heart of the kitchens at the chef’s table or even a contemplative and engaging guided champagne tasting in the hotel’s own tasting room, everything is done with the utmost dedication to a beautiful experience.
The hotel is just 30 minutes from Charles de Gaulle airport by train, or two hours from Paris city center by car and represents an opportunity to experience the epitome of excellence. If neither of those logistical options seem that appealing there is always a helicopter pad 18 minutes away too…
9 Rue de la République – Hameau de, Rue de Bellevue, 51160 Champillon, France