No matter where you golf in France, there’s bound to be a stunning château and lashings of gourmet choices close by. Our correspondents tee off at some choice courses to be found in Champagne-Ardenne and Normandy.
Lying some 100 kilometres northeast of Paris is the historical province of Champagne-Ardenne, best known for its production of the world’s most famous sparkling wine. But it’s not just the grape that reigns supreme here – there are also some terrific golf courses and elegant châteaux to stay in.
Tee off first at Golf de Reims, eight kilometres west of town in the middle of the famous vineyards. This picturesque 18-hole layout founded in 1928 is an attractive mix of tree-lined fairways and expansive greens in the beautiful surroundings of the 15th century moat-circled Château des Dames, and a perfect setting for a post-round flute of bubbly.
RIGHT: The interesting tee sign on the 7th hole at Golf De Reims. PHOTO: Paul Marshall.
Fifty kilometres northeast of Reims, on the outskirts of Fagnon village, is Golf de l’Abbaye de Sept Fontaines, another wonderful 18-hole layout sympathetically built around an historic château. The front nine is parkland with superb château views, and it would be impolite not to indulge in some delicious French cuisine in the excellent restaurant before playing the more open back nine. Another recommended course in the region’s south, on the edge of the Aumont forest, is Golf de Troyes-la Cordelière, featuring an intoxicating mix of gently undulating fairways and 18 holes, accented with water features and ancient trees.
Other golfing options in the region include Golf de l’Ermitage (near Troyes) with its par-3 12th signature hole and island green, La Grand Romanie (40km south-east of Reims), built on the site of an old Roman camp and Golf d’Arc en Barrois (80km south of Troyes), situated in the grounds of a château and featuring two lakes and elevated greens.
Away from the golf, there are plenty of off-course activities including the Route Touristique du Champagne – 600 km of signposted roads that meander through the principal wine-growing areas including Montagne de Reims (between the two champagne centres of Reims and Épernay), Côte des Blancs (south of Épernay) and further south, the Côte des Bar, specialising in smaller producers.
An excellent example in the village of Urville is Champagne Drappier, a family of sparkling wine-producers who’ve been cultivating their vineyards for over two centuries and over the years their superb champagnes have seduced a number of prestigious personalities including Charles de Gaulle and Luciano Pavarotti.
The provincial town of Épernay is one of the best places for champagne tasting, and underneath the streets of the ‘capital of bubbly’, in some 100km of subterranean cellars, millions of dusty bottles of sparkling wine are maturing side-by-side until one day being popped open in celebration. Épernay is home to famous champagne houses such as Moët & Chandon and Mercier, and many offer informative tours and tastings. Also worth a visit is the cool cellar-and-bar C. Commes Champagne, where you can sample champagnes from independent winemakers.
It’s only a six kilometre drive north to the picture-perfect village of Hautvillers, where champagne was first created three centuries ago by Dom Pérignon, cellar master at the Benedictine Abbey. In the village square you’ll find the tourist office where, for a few euros, you can enjoy a walking tour with an explanation of Pérignon’s life. Northeast of Hautvillers, in the wooded hills around Verzy, is Le Perching Bar – the world’s first champagne bar in the trees. From Verzy, its only a flute or two of bubbly to Reims, a town with a rich history, and home to some prestigious producers such as Mumm, Pommery and Louis Roederer.
To complement the golf and champagne experience, stay at one of Champagne-Ardenne’s many historic châteaux. A classic example is Château d’Etoges, about 22km south of Épernay and surrounded by vineyards. This impeccable 17th century château overlooks a moat and boasts 20 individually appointed bedrooms furnished with antiques. Downstairs, an imposing fireplace bears witness to banquets, meetings and celebrations from a medieval past. Classy French cuisine is served in the adjoining L’Orangerie dining room, and after a tasty dinner it’s only a short stumble to your comfortable four-poster bed.
The château of choice for Reims, and nicely situated for playing Golf de Reims – is Château Les Crayères. Nestled discretely in the heart of the champagne city, this elegant home, once owned by the Polignac family, is now a luxurious gourmet retreat, where guests can relax in the 20 sumptuous rooms and where fine dining takes centre stage.
RIGHT: An historic chateau is the centrepiece at Golf de l’Abbaye des Sept Fontaines. PHOTO: Paul Marshall.
North-east of Reims and close to Golf de l’Abbaye de Sept Fontaines is Château de Montaubois, run by likeable husband-and-wife team Jean-François and Elizabeth Monteil, who have spent three decades restoring the château to its former glory.