A quiet little Champagne surprise.
I’ll be upfront to start with, Ay is reasonably small, but size isn’t everything.
We’d allowed ourselves a full day to discover the charming streets of Ay and also to explore the rolling vineyards along the “Route Touristique du Champagne”.
A helpful guide
If like us, you love visiting different regions of France then this Michelin guide will definitely assist in your planning.
We used a previous version of this book to plan our eastern France road trips, now you can grab the revised copy.
Few hours in the vines
So, jumping in the car, we head to the lush valleys beyond. It isn’t long before we pick up the route, as it winds its way across the countryside.
If you don’t fancy following a specific route, and you want to go with the flow, I really don’t think it matters, as it is so scenic all around. However, there are some delightful views you don’t want to miss.
As you weave your way closer to Verzenay through the patchwork vineyards, don’t be surprised to see a lighthouse and a windmill start appearing in your view.
The lighthouse now houses a museum, but, it was initially built by Joseph Goulet to promote his brand of champagne. A little strange, however, it certainly made a statement.
As you continue to twist and turn along the route, you pass through some very picturesque villages and towns. Keep a lookout for the vine tractors, they seem to appear from nowhere.
The “Route Touristique du Champagne” covers quite a large area of the region.
From the north-west of Reims, south through Epernay and then all the way further south to Sezanne.
The route was a little quieter than a couple of weeks earlier, as the grape harvest had finished on 9th September.
This region of France is not only recognised for being rich in its terroir but, it is also rich in its history. Dotted along the sides of some of the roads, are memorials to the fallen from the First World War. You don’t often see a German cemetery, so we had to step out and take a look.
Back in Ay
Our first little nougat of information was that René Lalique (the French glass designer) was born in Ay. Although Lalique left Ay at an early age, he used to return each summer for his holidays.
Bubbles, bubbles everywhere
Ay is a very charming little town to stroll around, and it will not pass you by at all that you are in the heart of the Champagne region.
Tractors were bouncing through the town and rows of barrels lined up in courtyards.
For connoisseurs of this tipple, you may know that Ay is one of only 17 villages with a Grand Cru status.
Domaines are dotted around everywhere, down little lanes, behind large wooden doors. Ay is also home to one of the most renowned Champagne houses – Bollinger.
Bollinger has two plots which produce their exclusive Vieilles Vignes Françaises cuvee. One of the plots is just in front of the main house and is a named Clos Saint-Jacques. This site escaped the disease that ravaged almost all the champagne wine-growing area in the early 20th century.
These ungrafted vines are tended entirely by hand.
While we were having a wander, we came across Place de la Liberation. This is such a delightful little square, in the middle of the roundabout is a fascinating globe which is a water feature and rotates. And with my obsession with globes, I could have sat and watched it all day.
This is a tranquil little town, we didn’t see many people while out strolling, you felt like you had the place to yourselves.
As quite often with France, and even in some larger towns, everyone just seems to vanish.
Where we stayed
Our accommodation for the two nights in Ay, was in the heart of the town, at Domaine Sacret. It was a lovely friendly guest house, with attractive, spacious rooms. Domaine Sacret, produced their own Champagne and each evening offered free wine tasting.
Free parking was available on site.
Where we dined
As Ay is relatively small the choice of dining is reasonably limited; however, there is a fantastic restaurant in town named Rotisserie Henri IV'.
Friendly atmosphere, lovely location and a great selection of food, we highly recommend it. Gary enjoyed his traditional French favourite, of foie gras.
Ay for us was also memorable as we enjoyed a great couple of hours mixing with the locals in the D'Aytona Bar. There was a bit of a language barrier, but a smile and laughter go a long way.
Inspired to visit Ay?
Enjoy a few hours exploring the charming town and then head out to discover the rolling Champagne vineyards beyond.
Why not stay at Domaine Sacret, and enjoy their free Champagne tasting of an evening?