Great Escapes

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Exploring the Champagne region of France

The Champagne region is located in the north-east of France, sharing a small border with Belgium, and we figure you won’t need two guesses to know what the region is famous for. With so much to see and do in the Champagne region, it’s ideal if you’re looking for a relaxing short break in France with your loved one, an exploration into the region’s history, or just a taste of Champagne’s Champagne. So, here’s a little round-up of some great things you can see whilst visiting, and where you can find the cellars for a home grown taste of your favourite fizzy tipple…

1. The capital

Despite being a fairly small city and only a quarter of the size of better known Reims, Châlons en Champagne is the capital city of the region. A unique place with over 2,000 years’ worth of history, you’ll find some beautiful architecture including the impressive Notre-Dame-en-Vaux with its 56 bells, a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Image credit: Aimelaime~commonswiki, Wikimedia Commons

2. Reims

Located in the Champagne-Ardennes region of France, Reims is best known as the ‘unofficial capital’ of the region, and a visit here is sure to ignite your senses. With art deco cafés, impressive Roman remains, a 13th century cathedral and the home of Taittinger champagne, you can enjoy the view, the food and perhaps most importantly, the Champagne. Tours are available in the area where you can explore the champagne houses, the beautiful vineyards and the wine cellars. Visit Reims tourism for more information and to book a tour.

Taittinger Champagne - Great Escapes Blog

Image credit: Andy Hay, Flickr

Image credit: Michel Jolyot

Image credit: Michel Jolyot

3. Épernay

Another ideal place to visit if on a little champagne tour is Épernay. Located around 30km south of Reims, Épernay is home to some of the most renowned producers, including Moët & Chandon and Perrier-Jouët. Regularly scheduled tours can be booked online, where you can walk through the wine cellars and learn about the making of this famous bubbly, also enjoying a bespoke tasting session. See the Moët website for more information and to book.

Moet & Chandon cellars - Great Escapes Blog

Image credit: Giulio nepi, Flickr

If you want to see more of Épernay, you can visit the ‘Portail Saint Martin’, a beautiful stone doorway which is the oldest monument in the town, or wander the impressive Avenue de Champagne where you will get some wonderful photographs of the grand wine houses and some other rather impressive chateaux and residential properties.

Avenue de champagne - Great Escapes Blog

Image credit: Marc Veraart, Flickr

4. Lac du Der-Chantecoq

Located to the west of the town of Saint-Dizier, Lac du Der is the largest artificial lake in Western Europe, holding a massive 350 million m³ of water. It’s a great place for avid walkers to explore, and if you love wildlife – especially birds – then it’s an ideal spot, in fact one of the best known spots in northern France attracting bird watchers from all over Europe. If you’re feeling energetic, you can partake in a selection of water sports, or you can climb to the top of some of the higher banks for some wonderful photographs of the surrounding landscape.

Lac du Der - Great Escapes Blog

Image credit: Georges & Benjamin Bruny, Flickr

Lac du der - Great Escapes Blog

Image credit: Luc Coekaerts, Flickr

5. Le Château Fort de Sedan

As the biggest ancient fortress in Europe, this breath-taking medieval castle was built in the early 15th century, and is a place where you can experience 1,000 years of history. Take a tour of the castle where you can learn about the construction of the fort and explore its towers, then visit the museum and exquisite restaurant that are also housed there. The castle has also been home to a unique hotel since 2004, which Great Escapes is delighted to be able to offer. If you would like to spend a short break at Le Château Fort de Sedan, where you’ll also receive a complimentary bottle of Champagne and free entry to the museum, visit for more information.

Le Château Fort de Sedan - Great Escapes Blog

Le Château Fort de Sedan - Great Escapes Blog

If we’ve inspired your next short break to Europe as one which includes the beautiful Champagne region of France, you can visit the Great Escapes website for more information and to book.

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Tis the season…

Christmas has finally arrived! So we wanted to treat you all to a compilation of beautiful Christmas photos from around Europe – a mixture of food and drink, markets and lights – arguably all the best things about this wonderfully festive time of the year.

So let’s make a start with a classic Christmas in Paris, the city of love…

You can’t really beat the gorgeous Eiffel Tower, covered in a glistening layer of snow, a beautiful backdrop to a very festive looking carousel.

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As you can see, Galeries Lafayette knows exactly how to decorate for Christmas and keep up an ambience of class.



I’m sure you’ll agree there’s nothing more magical than wandering around a Christmas market, mulled wine in hand, looking at all the trinkets and gifts on sale. And in the snow, it couldn’t be much more festive!


As we all know, it’s not just Paris that are skilled in adding that little (or large) festive touch…

Lille, France is a dab hand at adding a touch of bling to their architecture.

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And Reims looks stunning when the markets start to pop up, coating areas of the city in lights.

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Now let’s take a stop next door to Belgium, and see the handsome buildings of Grand Place, in the central square of Brussels take your breath away…

29884_4952045_Other.. BRUSSELS, BELGIUM

And definitely not forgetting one of the best activities associated with this time of year, ice-skating! Take to the ice in one of Belgium’s Flemish Christmas markets.

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Once you’ve spent the evening picking yourself up off the ice and probably feeling rather worn out, a Rakomelo is certainly well deserved. Actually a traditional Greek beverage, its warm, sweet (and alcoholic) taste will be sure to go down a treat – only for adults though, sorry kids!

29876_9852454_Other.. BELGIUM

So moving along again, this time to Deutschland, we’ve found that Cologne is a trinket buyer’s paradise. With gifts galore and all sorts of wonderful bits and bobs to look at, we couldn’t not feature it in this blog.

Here’s a rather unique stall at one of the markets:

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Now here’s the bigger picture for you…

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And the ice-skating rink looks perfect for a family friendly race (if you can stay on your feet of course).

Blick auf die große Eisbahn auf dem Weihnachtsmarkt "Heimat der Heinzel" auf dem Heumarkt in der Altstadt Köln, im Vordergrund das Reiterdenkmal, im Hintergrund Dom und Groß St. Martin.

Our final stop on this festive tour takes us to a little place called Amsterdam, which embraces the Christmas spirit in a delightfully cultural way.

The most impressive perhaps, is this Christmas tree made of bicycles:

4205497257_94c8df9078_o AMSTERDAM

Image credit: Xavier Vergés, Flickr

We then have performances from the ‘World Christmas Circus’, which is a festive tradition in Amsterdam.

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Image credit: DirkJan Ranzijn, Flickr

And finally, I can’t think of a better way to round up these images than with a drink, and better yet – a Christmas drink! Delirium Christmas, a festive Belgian beer will send your taste buds tingling with hints of fruit, spices, caramel malt and candied orange. You can buy a bottle or two here.


Image credit: Hideyuki Kamon, Flickr

We hope you’ve enjoyed our mini festive tour around Europe, and are now well and truly in the Christmas spirit!

So now’s the time to go and get your favourite festive drink, a mince pie or two, put your feet up and await tomorrow’s fun and food filled day.

From everyone at Great Escapes, we’d like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.



Christmas shopping in France

As summer ends and the air turns autumnal, it may still seem a little early to be thinking of Christmas but it is a very popular time of year to visit many European cities. The best hotels, in the best locations soon fill-up. I’ve already shared a post about Christmas Market dates for this year but it’s not just about the markets. There are some wonderful bargains to be had in the shops leading up to the festive season. And where better to replenish your wine and champagne stocks in time for Christmas then by taking a short break to France.

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Hop across the Channel to Calais

The most popular shopping street in Calais is the now trendy, Rue Royale, which as well as the big high street stores has some great specialty shops including designer crockery, crystal and Lalique porcelain, at prices much cheaper than you’ll find in the UK. At Brulerie La Tour, you’ll find  some 70 different teas on offer while chocolate lovers should visit Au Royal Chocolate, a really charming chocolate shop. Also on this street you’ll find the stylish Passage Royale, with a fabulous range of little boutiques and cafés inside.

For genuine Calais lace, from tablecloths to lingerie, visit Royal Dentelle on Boulevard Jacquard. Nearby you’ll also find The Living Centre, one of the newest shopping centres in Calais.

Another must for chocolate lovers is De Neuville Coquelles for their world-famous handmade chocolate. For general shopping head to Cité Europe, with over 140 stores including a hypermarket.

Christmas shopping in Calais

4* Mercure Calais Centre

1 night from £56pp including ferry crossing

This modern hotel, in an excellent central location, is just 5 minutes’ drive from the ferry port and from the huge Cité Europe with over 140 stores including a hypermarket. All of Calais’ bars, restaurants and shops are also within easy walking distance allowing you to make the most of your short break here.

Mercure CALAIS Centre H6739

Enjoy a 1 night shopping break from only £56pp (car with 4 passengers) or from £76pp (car with 2 passengers) including the ferry crossing from Dover to Calais with P&O Ferries and accommodation. The price also includes hot and cold buffet breakfast and a voucher per couple for 2 bottles of wine to be collected from Calais Vins. Extra nights are available from £34pp.

Visit the beautiful Champagne region

If it’s champagne you are after than a visit to Reims, in the heart of Champagne country, is an ideal choice and many prestigious champagne houses offer tours and tastings, including Lanson and G.H.MUMM.

Christmas shopping in Reims

Reims’ also boasts a Les Galeries Lafayette department store and the Halles du Boulingrin covered market, in a fabulous art deco building, as well as some excellent specialty stores. If you visit between 21st November to 28th December,  you can also enjoy Reims’  Christmas Market.

4* Best Western Plus Hotel de la Paix, Reims  

3 nights from £146pp including ferry crossing

The Best Western Plus Hotel de la Paix  is located just a stone’s throw from Reims’ magnificent cathedral, shops and restaurants. Its facilities include an indoor pool and secured parking.

Christmas shopping in France

We’re offering 3 nights for the price of 2 with packages starting from £146pp (car with 4 passengers) or £166pp (car with 2 passengers) including your ferry crossing from Dover to Calais with P&O Ferries (free night valid for all stays completed in December) and  accommodation. The price also includes breakfast, a guide book, a bottle of Champagne per room and a tour of a Champagne house including tasting.

Enjoy the festive spirit in Paris

Paris, the city of lights, shines even brighter at Christmas with streets like the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and Place Vendom, as well as the major departments stores, such as  Les Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, all trying to out do each other with their seasonal lights and decorations. For dates and loads more information visit at PARISINFO.

Christmas shopping in Paris


You’ll find a wonderful array of speciality shops in Paris and here are a few of my favourites. For cheeses try La Fermette on rue Montorgueil, a fabulous street full of foodie delights. For fantastic coffee head for La Caféothèque on rue de la Hôtel de Ville, while at Rémi Flachard on rue du Bac, you’ll find a veritable treasure trove of antique and out-of-print cookbooks. Interesting that all my favourites are food and drink orientated and for more edible ideas visit the website Paris by Mouth which has a great guide.

4* Victor Hugo, Paris

3 nights from 182pp, accommodation only

A delightful hotel in a quiet area, yet within easy walking distance of the Champs Elysées.

We’re offering 3 nights for the price of 2, starting from £182pp,  accommodation only on B&B based on 2 sharing.  Packages including Eurostar are also available.

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 For a personal quote and to book, call 0845 330 3434 or visit

Picture Postcard from…. Reims Cathedral, France

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reims cathedral

In the heart of Reims, rising above the cities rooftops, Notre-Dame de Reims is one of Europe’s most important Gothic buildings.  This beautiful 13th century cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it most have been photographed a million times. It is always refreshing to see something a little different which is why we love this unusual photograph by Stephen Shankland taken inside the cathedral. The out of focus stained glass window creates a lovely backdrop to these candles. You can see more photographs from Reims Cathedral by Stephen on Flickr.

Submit your photographs to ‘Picture Postcard’
If you have a stunning or unusual photograph from France or Belgium please do send it in.
 The best will be featured in our ‘Picture Postcard’ series and if they have been published in an online article which you’d like us to link to we’ll happily oblige. Please send photographs (at least 600px across) for consideration with a caption and short description, links to the original post and your Twitter / Flickr / Facebook page (if applicable)