I have an embarrassing admission to make: I can’t drive. Scratch that – I can drive, I just haven’t passed my test. There is a difference: while I feel perfectly comfortable being in control of moving a car, other drivers bother me immensely – like walking down Oxford Street, I feel driving on a road without any fellow travellers would be far more agreeable. Did my passenger status stop me from enjoying the drive to France? Did it my foot.
I of course knew when I signed up for the press trip organised by BMW to showcase their new 2 Series Convertible that I’d have to enlist a chauffeur. Once given the particulars (snazzy car, chateau in France, champagne tour…), I found my husband to be a very willing volunteer, so both of us set about packing (without weight restriction! The sheer joy of travelling by car!) for the weekend.*
Here’s the rundown of what we got up to…
Day One //
(Very) Early in the Morning / Our final destination of the day being Chateau de Vault de Lugny (around fifteen minutes from Chablis), we had a good five hour drive south of the border ahead and wanted to get going as early as possible. As we were on Flexiplus tickets, we could just pootle along to the Eurotunnel at Dover and get on the first train available, which we thought far better than the desperate dash of trying to make an allotted slot. Once on the train, we just nodded off for the half hour crossing. Spirits were high, particularly when we considered the lack of airport security/queuing.
Driving from Calais to Epernay’s Avenue de Champagne / This journey took two hours in the car which passed in a haze of comments from my husband along the lines of how he couldn’t wait to overtake cars (something to do with the enormously smooth and speedy acceleration abilities of the BMW) and my praise for the sound system, of which I was in charge (I choose to believe he found the combination of the Killers, Kylie and New Kids on the Block delightful).
In Champagne / What to do in Champagne? Well, if you’re not driving, the answer is pretty obvious, isn’t it? It turned out not to be so bad for those who still had two hours of driving ahead and therefore had to steer clear of the fizzy stuff, though – a private tour of the underground vaults of Champagne de Castellane proved fascinating, with glimpses of the 6 kilometres of caves, gated area housing champagne dating back to 1915, and demonstrations of how champagne was been made over the centuries. For non-drivers, a nice tasting of the wares before setting off again was in store.
At Chateau de Vault de Lugny / Close your eyes and imagine an idyllic French chateau. What do you see? I’m guessing it’s pretty close to this place, complete with moat, geese and huge bedrooms that Marie Antoinette would’ve been perfectly at home in. Parts of the chateau date back to the 13th century, other parts to the 16th. It is accordingly grand, creaky in parts and utterly charming all round. Exploring the grounds turned up peacocks, an underground swimming pool in a vault and a 400-year-old sycamore tree.
Dinner at the CDVDL (as the Chateau will henceforth be referred to) / After an aperitif in the vault containing a pool (as you do), we tucked into the tasting menu in the dining room. As a vegetarian, I expected this to be a slightly harrowing event (I was once served a cheese plate for my main course AND pudding in Italy once I’d revealed my dietary requirements), but thankfully the chef specialises in vegetarian food, using seasonal ingredients harvested from the Chateau’s garden, and whipped up a vegetable-rich feast for me. The wine accompanying each course wasn’t half bad, either.
Day Two //
Morning / There’s a moment of disorientation on waking in a bedroom as grand as those of CDVDL. Padding out of the enormous bed and plopping into the bath overlooking the aforementioned sycamore, I was surprised to find that despite falling into bed absolutely stuffed, I was hungry. So…
Breakfast / Another slightly disorientating experience – not in terms of geography; the dining room made for a perfectly comfortable and by now familiar setting. No, the customs were odd. No menu was to be found. The waiter (wearing gloves, but of course) set down strawberries with a side of something creamy first, then some scrambled eggs, swiftly followed by a cheese plate. Despite the lack of consultation, they proved a hit and all three courses were ravenously consumed.
Mooching / CDVDL is ripe for reclining and reading, so we did both for a few hours.
Wine in the Old Cellar / The old cellar, formerly home to CDVDL’s prisoners, turned out to be the perfect setting for an atmospheric wine tasting hosted by Matthew of La Croix Montjoie. The seven wines we tasted were explained to us but, given the befuddling nature of alcohol, I can’t quite remember all the details – suffice to say if you’re in the region, you need to hit up Matthew’s vineyard for his wines were excellent.
Dinner at Le Jardin Gourmand / When is a dining experience an experience? When there’s a bit of showmanship going on. The food in this place may have been heavenly (mostly foraged, all perfectly prepared, each course paired with yummy local wines), but what really stood out was the owner Oliver, who was equal parts flamboyancy and knowledge and thrilled us all with his descriptions of the delicacies he places before us. The cheese plate is worth note: Oliver wheeled out the tray and asked us about tastes we liked, before ‘prescribing’ a series of cheeses to be tasted in a certain order (no deviating was looked upon kindly). Turns out, Oliver knows his stuff and we rolled into bed immensely satisfied and probably a good few pounds heavier.
Day Three //
Departure / There is really something to be said about leaving a hotel to know you won’t be subject to airport queues and endless delays. Steaming down the roads of rural France (we took the scenic route, naturally, stopping at La Croix Montjoie to stock up on wine – another perk of driving – and Reims for lunch), there was a deliciousness in the knowledge that our micro-home on wheels would see us right to our front door. And so it did, reliably, smoothly and without complaint from the husband at my music choices, which speaks volumes of the joy of being behind the wheel of this one. So thanks BMW for the unforgettable weekend AND for making a car that keeps both driver and passenger happy.
* FYI, any compliments the car receives below are genuinely mine, or genuinely hubby’s – this isn’t a sponsored post.
MORE PHOTOS //