So, part 1 of Euan’s birthday celebrations was a weekend exploring cocktail bars in London (you can read more about it here). Part two is all about drinking champers in Épernay!
I’ve come to realise I don’t like doing things in half. Such is the case for birthday celebrations nonetheless! My aim was to completely, utterly, and wholly surprise Euan with a trip away for his 30th. Mission = accomplished. He genuinely thought we were going back to Tavistock over his birthday (as if!). No siree, I had other things in mind…
But instead of a step-by-step of our time in France, I thought a bit of a ‘pointers’ blog post would be more useful. Amongst some pictures and anecdotes of our trip, obvs…!
There are no words to express how wonderful our stay was here. From the moment I booked, they were so attentive via email. Answering my many questions about the area & what to do, plus organising a birthday cake for Euan on my behalf and letting me decorate the breakfast table! (And – more to the point – clearing up afterwards!). Whilst at the hotel, the staff were incredibly friendly and asked lots of questions about what we were up to etc, taking a genuine interest in our time in Épernay.
They even gave us a glass of champagne each on Euan’s birthday as a celebration – simply fabulous.
Our room was stunning – modern but comfortable and we felt very, very fancy! (Always find myself judging a hotel on whether they provide Nespresso machines in the rooms… Yes, I’m a loser. But what a brilliant touch!).
An absolute must if you are staying in Épernay – I couldn’t find a single fault!
Food & Drink in Épernay
France did not disappoint on the restaurant front. Searching online was tricky as nothing looked any good, but I asked our hotel for some recommendations and trusted what they had to say. And I was right to do so! We had a wonderful spontaneous meal on our first night in beautiful restaurant in the centre of Épernay. Not drinking with your meal is most definitely not an option in France, so champagne for two it was!
The next day was Euan’s actual 30th birthday and (amongst champagne tours) I had booked lunch at a restaurant which came highly recommended (though didn’t look like much online) called Le Théâtre. I bit the bullet and said no to any alcohol with my meal (we had just been to a champagne house after all!), but Euan enjoyed even more champers in Épernay…
In the evening we dined at the ‘hot spot’ of Épernay’s cuisine scene, La Grillade Gourmande. It. Was. Amazing. A family run restaurant where you were greeted by the head chef upon arrival, introduced to the wine bible (it probably weighed more than a baby elephant – it was enormous), and treated like royalty throughout.
Their sommelier took our wine order which is always the sign of a sophisticated establishment. And the food was absolutely divine. I didn’t feel like eating much, but I still managed to because it was just too bloody good to not! From start to finish, it was the perfect evening. And – more importantly – the perfect way to end Euan’s 30th birthday.
Champers in Épernay – the Tours
Now, the reason we went to Épernay in the first place… The champagne tours! We kick-started Euan’s birthday with a 10am private tour of Champagne De Castellane, and it was incredibly informative & interesting. Especially for Euan who loves facts about wine/champagne.
We visited the cellars, private collections, and were shown where the magic happens. At the end of the tour we had three (yes, three!) glasses of champagne each. Two Bruts and one Rosé, all of which were sublime (even at 11am….). Whether you’re a champagne enthusiast or not, I would definitely recommend this tour. After all, you’re surely only going to be in Épernay for the champagne anyway!
After lunch, we visited a slightly smaller family-owned Champagne house and learned a bit more about the variations of champagne making (not that there are many – there are so many rules!). And then drank even more champagne…
There are many champagne houses you can visit in Épernay, including Moet & Chandon. However I wouldn’t necessarily just go for the champagne houses you have heard of. We hadn’t heard of either of the ones we visited and I really enjoyed seeing more of the less commercialised places!
Travelling in France
We flew from Heathrow to Paris which was super fast & easy (plus we love an airport G&T!). The Eurostar is far more eco-friendly, and probably takes less time when you consider the airport malarky. And in normal circumstances I would’ve gone for that option, but as it was a birthday surprise I thought flying to France was more impactful!
We did, however, travel by train a lot when we got to France. Épernay is around 90 miles from Paris and much quicker to get there by train than car. Paris CDG airport is a little way away from Paris centre, so whether you’re thinking of visiting rural France or just sticking to Paris, you’ll still need to get yourself to central Paris either way.
It’s super simple, if you know what you’re doing. But you can’t pre-book tickets, so you’ll need to leave enough time to collect tickets from the airport. Signposts are everywhere, but you’re basically looking for the RER B train which will take you to Paris Gare du Norde.
From Gare du Norde you can get the Metro to where you need to be inside Paris. Or for farther locations you will probably need to get to Gare de l’Est station, which has local and rural trains going to most places. (This is where we got our train to Épernay from).
I make it sound like I’m an expert, but I’m really not! In fact, my cousin’s boyfriend, Nick, recommended an app called Citymapper and it is honestly life changing. Especially in a foreign country! It makes knowing which signs to follow soooooo much easier, and gave me the confidence that we were on the right train (even when I knew we were – always good to have confirmation haha!). If you are travelling anywhere, you absolutely must download this app!!!
The train services in France were generally speaking really smooth & efficient, even when trying to navigate central Paris! Travel is always stressful, but we did amazingly well and luckily absolutely nothing went wrong!
So there you have a slightly long-winded review of drinking champers in Épernay, some recommendations, and a few top tips!
As December is nearly here, I am going to be all over the Christmas content for the next couple of weeks… Watch this space!
If you follow me on Instagram (or know me in person!) you’ll be fully aware that my fiancé, Euan, turned 30 last week and we had a whole week (just over!) of celebrations… Starting with London. So here’s a little London low-down post about the places we visited & some recommendations etc.
London Low-Down – Where to stay?
Usually when we visit London, we stay in the Hub by Premier Inn hotel on Goodge Street (near Tottenham Court Road). Which I would highly recommend if you want somewhere relatively central, fairly cheap, and compact & clean. However, this time we stayed in the Thistle Hyde Park Hotel, situated opposite the Lancaster Gate entrance to Kensington Gardens.
Although slightly further out, it was actually a fantastic location. You could either get the tube from Lancaster Gate to Bond Street (or wherever!), or take a stroll through Kensington Gardens & Hyde Park (takes about 35-40 mins to get to Oxford Street on foot).
It is a gorgeous old building and they’ve kept the old-school feel inside, whilst still modernising. It wasn’t 5* luxury, but the room was spacious & had a lovely marble bathroom. Plus the entrance & lounge area was impactful but comfortable. All in all, we had a brilliant stay here and would definitely go back!
Breakfast for Kings & Queens
Next up on the London low-down is a quirky little breakfast place… We actually didn’t do any fancy evening meals this time around as we were mostly drinking (and I had fancy meal plans lined up for the rest of the week…). But I did want to do a nice breakfast one day. I’m not actually sure how I came across it, but somehow I discovered the Pavilion Restaurant at Kensington Palace.
I’m a shameless Royalist, so I jumped at the chance of having breakfast at Kensington Palace. And as it happened we were not disappointed! The Pavilion building itself is nothing special, but they have made such an effort with the interior. Classical music was playing, there was fancy china on the tables, and the decor was modern but could equally have been from the late 1800s (the Indian influence of Queen Victoria’s taste).
The food was actually brilliant, and the staff & service was attentive and polite. We had views looking out to the Palace itself, and Euan says he’s going to tell our grandchildren that Kate & William were eating breakfast at the next table… (they weren’t, but they do live at the Palace so it’s only a slight fabrication….!).
Bring on the Cocktails
Now for the best bit of the London low-down… The cocktail bars! I really did my cocktail bar research for this weekend, and I absolutely pulled it off (if I do say so myself…). On Saturday night we met friends for drinks in Cahoots, a favourite of ours and an absolutely must if you’re into cocktail experiences.
Not only are the cocktails brilliant, the bar itself is actually a war-time remake of the London Underground. All the staff are in character as if it was the early 1900s, and there is even cockney rhyming slang playing in the loos. You’re definitely paying a little more than other places (£12-£15 a cocktail) but it’s honestly worth it, and you needn’t stay for more than an hour or two! (Booking is essential, especially on weekends).
Next up was a hidden gem (also on Saturday night), where we met my cousin & her boyfriend. Supposedly one of the top 10 cocktail bars in London (according to google), and it did not disappoint. Barely noticeable from outside, and semi-ordinary upstairs, you head downstairs to the coolest basement bar. Live piano music & booths to sit in, plus a menu including over 350 whiskies! (Euan was a happy chappy). Again, attentive table service, mood lighting, and delicious drinks. Swift Bar – highly recommend!
Bring on the Cocktails (night 2)
For Sunday evening, I changed things up a bit (literally…). It was just Euan & I for the evening this time, and I wanted to surprise him with a couple of places he’d never think of going (mission accomplished, just sayin’).
Firstly, we headed to level 32 of the Shard where you can have drinks at the Oblix bar. There are two restaurants here – Oblix East & Oblix West. We had some cocktails in Oblix East, with night-time views down the Thames and towards East London. It was an amazing experience, and definitely worth the higher prices (get it…). The Shard is always somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for drinks (despite being afraid of heights) and I’m really glad we did it! The vibe in the Oblix East bar was really cool as well, which added to the atmosphere.
I then took Euan to the Sky Pod Bar in the Sky Garden, which is on the top floor of the walkie-talkie (also known as 20 Fenchurch Street). If you know London well, you’ll know that these two buildings are directly opposite each other (on either side of the Thames). So it was quite cool to quickly hop from one to the other!
The Sky Garden was even cooler than the Shard, and we enjoyed a quick stroll around the building before sitting in a roped off area at the edge of the bar space. We sat with more rooftop views of London and had a brilliant waiter who was happy to recommend cocktails. They even left blankets for you on the chairs which I was more than buzzed about!
London Low-down – Conclusion
Having grown up near London, I know the city pretty well. And Euan & I love to go for the odd weekend every so often to visit some of our fave places. Now we have a few more to add into the mix!! Do you know London well? Perhaps you have some top-spots to share too? Let me know in the comments!
For more city recommendations, take a look at two slightly older posts below!
Welcome to my first Switzerland blog post! First up, Geneva…
You may or may not know that in 2015 Euan & I spent 3 months exploring Australia and New Zealand (it was incredible). In New Zealand, we hired a car and just drove around the coastline of the South Island, stopping a various points along the way. It was the most wonderful experience, and ever since we’ve been itching to do something similar. Obviously since 2015 our lives have changed a lot, and taking 3 months ‘off’ again isn’t really a possibility. But that’s not to say we can’t experience something similar!
So, we decided to plan a trip to Switzerland. Switzerland, aesthetically, is quite like NZ so it seemed like the perfect place. Plus we have both always wanted to go. And we weren’t disappointed…
First Stop, Geneva – Day 1
Our starting point was French-speaking Geneva. Our first day was a bit of a rocky one… I won’t go into too much detail just yet, but – to sum up – if you are planning on hiring a car in Switzerland, make sure you own a credit card.
The whole trip revolved around the fact we would be driving from place to place, so having a hire car was our number 1 priority. When we went to collect our car we were asked for a credit card. As most UK residents would, I assumed this also meant debit card so willingly handed over my Visa-Debit. It, however, was not acceptable, neither was our pre-paid Swiss franc mastercard. We were told that without a physical credit card in my name, we would not be able to have our hire car. I don’t own a credit card and neither does Euan. Basically, disaster-mode had set in.
To cut a (very, very) long story short, we hopped over to the French side of Geneva airport (handy) and hired another car from a different company at a great, and unavoidable, additional expense. We were also unable to drop this new hire car in our original end location (Zurich), we had to drop it back to Geneva. This meant changing our flight, cancelling our non-refundable hotel room in Zurich, and booking another hotel in Geneva… Anyway, we managed to solve the problem and we.had.a.car! Our main priority was sorted and we were back on track for our holiday.
Because of this, we were both a little shaken up but we managed to get ourselves into Geneva’s city centre and we sat by the lake with a coffee. After some choice words about the situation, we vowed to put it behind us and just enjoy the incredible holiday ahead of us.
We had an afternoon stroll around the city and started to make plans for our second day in Geneva, before heading to our accommodation.
Geneva Day 2
A new day, a fresh perspective. By mid-morning we were back in central Geneva and had our exploring hats on. First up, we went visited the Cathedral and climbed to the North Tower which provided us with incredible panoramic views of the city. We also got to walk through the clock-tower which was very hunchback-of-Notre-Dame-esque.
I absolutely fell in love with Geneva’s old town. Narrow streets and tall buildings with beautiful shuttered windows… Perfection! There was a definite Parisian vibe in Geneva (being surrounded by France and all), but I also got a little Venice vibe too which made me all nostalgic!
There are hundreds of incredible designer shops in Geneva (we popped our heads in a few, oops!), and it was exciting to explore them. But the old town was 100% more ‘us’ and it was very romantic to just roam around the super peaceful streets.
I have to confess that we did actually go to an Italian restaurant for lunch and had our go-to Italian favourites… There was a whole week ahead of us to try Swiss cuisine…
My top tips for Geneva are…
Grab a take-away coffee and sit on a bench in front of the lake. It’s beautiful from any direction and just a perfect spot to take it all in (and people watch, hehe).
Spend more time in the ‘old town’ than in the main city. The centre of Geneva is much like any big city, but the old town has a certain charm that you’ll only understand if you visit!
Visit the Cathedral and climb up to the top of the North Tower. The views were gorgeous and the Cathedral was stunning. Even if that’s not normally your kind of thing I would still suggest giving it a go! (I’m a culture nerd, by the way).
Bring lots of money, and then bring some more. Without even looking in the designer shops, Geneva will cost you a lot of money. We were insanely prepared for the amount of money Switzerland was going to cost us, like literally everyone had told us how expensive it was. But we were still surprised by the cost of things. Honestly there is no such thing as taking ‘too much’ money on holiday to Switzerland.
Any of you who follow Lila Bailey on social media will know that Mr Lila Bailey (otherwise known as Euan) and myself recently recuperated in Venice for a few days, after a very hectic summer! Euan runs a popular restaurant in the heart of Tavistock and was rushed off his feet this summer, and I, of course, was super busy with all my weddings down at Ever After. So, some R&R was certainly required!
A touch of rest & relaxation…
For most people, rest and relaxation consists of sitting by the pool, drinking margaritas and soaking up some non-english (aka real) sun. This is not, however, what Euan and I define as R&R. Instead, we spent our 5 venetian days exploring the tiny streets of Venice (and getting extremely lost), doing all the necessary sight-seeing (St Marks Square, the Rialto Bridge, etc), visiting their incredible churches, and sampling the finest Italian cuisine (and by cuisine, I also mean wine…). It was sublime.
We also hopped on a boat and sailed off to Burano, one of the islands off mainland Venice (which is famous for it’s handmade lace, not to be confused with Murano which is famous for it’s hand-blown glass). Although the lace is stunning, Burano’s real charm are the immaculately kept and vibrantly painted colourful houses which the island is made up of. The history of the colourful houses originated from the island being home to many fishermen who would paint their houses in different colours so to recognise which one is theirs upon returning from their fishing voyage…
But whatever the reason for the colours, we certainly loved the island and would happily move there tomorrow!
Just one cornetto…
Oh yes, you guessed it! We of course went on a gondola (I mean, we could go to Venice and not!). We weren’t serenaded, but it was the most wonderful experience and totally worth the money!
(Selfie with our gondola man!).
There were so many highlights to our Venetian holiday, and I could absolutely sit here for hours rambling on and sharing many of the 350 photos I took (yep, 350 photos in 5 days!) but I will leave it there for now and just share a couple more (well, I just had to). This city is by far one of my favourites, and I would urge you to visit it as soon as you can! If you’re up for and adventurous honeymoon destination with stunning food and perfect wine, then Venezia is the place for you!
It’s not just red wine we like… Read about our previous gin blog here. And if you don’t already, be sure to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!