ALSACE AND CHAMPAGNE Time to pour across France
The new Eurostar service puts Champagne and Strasbourg in easy reach, notes Anthea Gerrie
AS THE NEW, faster Eurostar begins scheduled services from St Pancras in less than two weeks, there are even more reasons to step off the train at Lille and board one of the highspeed French trains which open up eastern France as never before.
Firstly, it makes Alsace, so rich in architecture, cuisine and Jewish heritage, accessible. It has become horribly remote (too far to drive) after the scrapping of cheap flights from the UK. Secondly, the new TGV service also brings Champagne close enough for weekend trips. And finally, what fashionista could resist a French train designed by Christian Lacroix?
OK, so the red and purple seats in the couturier’s signature shades may be window dressing, but they do mimic Club Class with their footrests and recliners, while in first class they even have power outlets for charging mobiles and laptops.
But best of all, the new train brings Champagne within three hours of London; Strasbourg less than five. And these are destinations at their most glorious in autumn and winter.
Luscious white wines are the pride of eastern France, and few wine trails are more rewarding than those of Alsace. It is not just the delicious gewurtztraminer, pinot gris and tokay grapes, but the ravishing picture-book villages which nestle in the vine-studded hills between Strasbourg and Colmar.
Of these, Eguisheim and Riquewihr are particularly worth a detour, surrounded by notable wine-makers and blessed with excellent restaurants.
It was unexpected — though quite pleasing — to discover a Philippe Starck-style contemporary interior within the chocolate box exterior of the Hostellerie du Chateau in Eguisheim on a recent visit, though the nearby La Grangeliere restaurant was reassuringly beamed in traditional Alsace manner (and had superb fish).
On a golden autumn day, Colmar at the southern end of the route des vins is a delightful town to stroll, with a river running through the middle lined with mediaeval buildings. But the undoubted star of Alsace is Strasbourg, seen at its best in frosty weather, not least because of its legendary Christmas lights. These marvels, including a whole street of Baccarat chandeliers, go up in November, when it is still possible to avoid the crush of tourists who
Vines in Epernay in the heart of France’s Champagne country, a region now easily accessible by faster Eurostar