France off the beaten path: Senlis to Epernay – Part 2

France off the beaten path: Senlis to Epernay

This article ‘Part 2’ focuses on our experiences from Senlis to Epernay. During our 12-week randonnée in rural France, our ‘Off the Beaten Path’ trip, we discovered superb, picturesque, and remote places to hike and cycle at moderate fitness levels and we didn’t have one single ordinary meal along the way. In fact, most meals ranged from good to excellent, demonstrating that rural and remote France has much to offer for serious foodies.

My wife Heidi and I hired an electric car at CDG airport in early spring 2022, and drove some six thousand kilometres in a figure eight around France. We hiked over a thousand kilometres and cycled for several weeks. There were still many travel Covid restrictions; so our plan was to take the path less travelled and to enjoy a less complicated holiday, which turned out to be incredibly rewarding.

Off the Beaten Path: Nothing ‘ordinary’ to be found

Determined to take the path less travelled we discover stunning rural vistas, super friendly locals, and a vibrant food and wine culture in France, way beyond our expectations.

This is part 2 of a 12-part mini-series which follows our recent 12-week trip.

I invite you to join us and make some delightful discoveries.

You will find each part of this mini-series here.

Senlis to Epernay: more than just Champagne!

Epernay in Champagne is located 130 kilometres from Paris and about the same distance from Senlis. It was only a 90-minute drive, mostly on secondary roads through the vineyards and villages of the North East. For Champagne lovers, Epernay is hardly off the beaten track but for us, there were hidden places to discover and enjoy. It is one of two major wine centres in Champagne, the other being Reims; and with a dozen very serious restaurants.

Highlights and Hidden Gems

La Poterne courtyard with family - France off the beaten path: Senlis to Epernay

We always stay in Epernay with our friends Charlotte and Margot at their excellent and intimate B&B, La Poterne.

It has four beautifully decorated and comfortable rooms with ensuites and they provide a super French breakfast. They have a large, leafy garden for sipping bubbles in the warmer months and it is walking distance to everything worthwhile in Epernay. Our hosts happily converse in English and are from a family of wine growers who recently released their own champagne. They offer gourmet tours of their own vineyards, a driver for visiting and tasting in the region; and have two bicycles for guests to use.

Staying at La Poterne can provide a stressless introduction to the Champagne region for the first-time visitor.

France off the beaten path: Senlis to Epernay - Along the cycle path

Walking, Cycling, Touring

When not drinking champagne there are some really quite lovely places to go cycling or walking.

One bright, cool spring day Charlotte suggested a scenic cycling path commencing at the bridge over the river Marne in Epernay. It wanders along the former canal and river towpaths through many small wine villages.

France off the beaten path: Senlis to Epernay - Riverside sculptures

A few kilometres from Epernay we found a riverside sculpture park with a vineyard-themed exhibition. It was the perfect place for a few Instagram travel pics.

We rode for about 10 kilometres to the village of Damery and stopped for a light lunch at the picturesque riverside park, and then returned after a quick tour of the village which is full of centuries-old family-run champagne houses.

Another day, Charlotte and Margot were kind enough to drive us from Epernay up the long and steep hill through the vines to Hautvillers. It’s a quintessential wine village full of family-run champagne houses. The winding streets are lined with Champenois homes, and stores selling wine and food, many with traditional forged-iron shop signs.

We found the Abbaye Saint-Pierre d’Hautvillers and paid our respects at the grave of Dom Pérignon, the 18th-century monk who pioneered the champagne-making process.

We walked back to our B&B through hilltop vineyards, took in sweeping rural vistas, and finally walked along the river, finishing our afternoon with pastries and champagne. Bien sûr!

Food and Wine

We were unable to eat at the best restaurants because we didn’t book well in advance.

Luckily, we were able to snag a last-minute table at Sacre Bistro which had recently transformed from a simple wine bar to a creative modern bistro with a very extensive French wine list.

The highlight was an entree of bone marrow served in the (very large) bone with toast. Bonne chance is what our waiter had to say as he served.

France off the beaten path: Senlis to Epernay -Bone marrow entree

We discovered several excellent Epernay tastings at smaller champagne houses – family-run wineries serving high-quality wines at competitive prices.

Prevoteau Perrier was recommended by a wine importer friend of ours in Melbourne. It is located in Damery. We chatted in English and enjoyed an exceptional and extensive tasting. We purchased a dozen bottles to enrich our travels. Pourquoi pas?

Henin Delouvin was recommended by a guest at our B&B and didn’t disappoint. It’s located in Ay, a wine village only a few kilometres from Epernay. The family didn’t speak much English but their wines were super. We further enriched our trip with the purchase of some excellent wines.


There are literally hundreds of champagne houses within a radius of fifteen kilometres of Epernay. It’s really worthwhile taking advice from locals about which ones to visit, especially if you want an English language experience. In Epernay itself, many of the largest and most famous houses line the Avenue of Champagne.

We visited Mercier at the far end of the Avenue and enjoyed an illuminating tour which included an underground train ride through many kilometres of caves. Mercier was one of the great innovators of the industry at the turn of the nineteenth century as you will discover if you visit. It was definitely fun.

Have you travelled from Senlis to Epernay? Do you like to travel off the beaten path? Off the beaten track?  Share your experiences in the comments below.

Image Credits: All images Copyright Craig Healey
1. View from Hautvillers
2. La Poterne courtyard with their family
3. Along the cycle path
4. Riverside sculptures
5. Bone Marrow Entree

About the Contributor

Craig Healey

I’m a not-quite-retired business & technology consultant with a passion for the great outdoors and an even greater passion for the wonderful food and wine of France. Each region has a rich gastronomic culture which is always a delight to discover and never fails to tantalise your taste buds.

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