A Champagne Walk an Hour from Paris

First published on 25 March 2024 in Bonjour Paris

Champagne vineyard an hour from Paris at Charly
Champagne vineyard at Charly

The station of Nanteuil-Saâcy is on the north east edge of the Ile de France, close to the River Marne. It is only 50 minutes from the Gare de l’Est by train – but in a very different world. A 20-minute walk across the bridge and along the river will bring you to the old village of Crouttes-sur-Marne in the Aisne département containing nine small ‘maisons de champagne’. Here you can sample different champagnes to your heart’s content and buy an excellent bottle of the stuff direct from the producer for as little as 15€. It also has a 12th century church, locked but with a large grille thoughtfully placed across the open doorway so that you have a good view of the atmospheric interior.

But if you want to make your visit into an even more rewarding day out I suggest you combine the champagne tasting and buying with a leisurely 10 km river and country walk. You can do this by getting off at the next station on the line to Château-Thierry, Nogent l’Artaud-Charly, walking 3½ km along the river to a traditional restaurant for lunch, then going inland and uphill to the old village of Charly, past its 13th century church and maisons de champagne, and then doing a spectacular hilltop walk with views of champagne vineyards and rolling countryside, dropping down to the village of Crouttes-sur-Marne to visit its 12th century church. From there you go through the village and back down to the river to buy your champagne en route to the station at Nanteuil-Saâcy, reached by a short riverside walk.

From the station at Nogent l’Artaud turn left and cross the bridge over the Marne straight ahead.

Bridge at Nogent l'Artaud
Bridge at Nogent l’Artaud

On the other side take the GR towpath along the river on your left. You probably won’t meet a soul on this lovely riverside walk although you can see the steeples of a village church or two uphill on your right. After 3½ km you will come to the ‘Guinguette le Bac’ at Charly, a former guinguette (riverside restaurant where working people went to dance at weekends).  The bac (ferry) no longer exists but the restaurant is an authentic survival of the guinguette tradition of having a good time by the water.

Ginguette le Bac at Charly, an hour from Paris
Guinguette le Bac at Charly

The clientèle is local, with a family birthday celebration in full swing when we arrived. The food is modest and so are the prices. I had an excellent kir for 3€ and a galette (savoury pancake) of ham and cheese for 14.50€. Main dishes are around 18€ and a 50cl pichet of drinkable red wine is 7€ or you can order cider at 9.80€ a bottle. Our waiter (owner?) was charmed by our accents, as he had worked in London for a year. I was even more charmed to find a traditional place like this still functioning, especially on a Sunday in November.

Turn left from the restaurant and go uphill through the quiet old village of Charly, where there are several maisons de champagne. I lit a candle in the 13th century church which we passed en route.

Eglise St Martin, Charly, an hour from Paris
Eglise St Martin, Charly

After the church turn left into the Rue Emile Morlot which eventually becomes the Route de Monthuys and then turns into a footpath with spacious views of fields and vineyards. On my first visit in late October some of the small sweet black grapes were still hanging there and we gorged ourselves on them, but they had withered by the time of my next visit in November. If you go in autumn I recommend taking a penknife with you to cut the tough little stalks.

The footpath eventually crosses an unmarked path at the crest of a hill. Continue straight on at this point.

Footpath from Charly to Crouttes-sur-Marne, an hour from Paris
Footpath from Charly to Crouttes-sur-Marne

It had rained the night before so the soft soil of this path had preserved various animal footprints and one of us stopped to take photos of them. Later she looked them up online and identified them as the prints of lynx (wild cat), boar, deer and dog. I knew there were lynx in the Ile de France but to this day have never seen one, so I was particularly thrilled by this information.

Continue downhill past more spectacular views until you reach the D842 (Route de Villiers) and follow it to the left, turning left into Rue de la Couarde when the road forks. Take the first left steeply downhill (Rue de l’Eglise). The 12th century church of St Quiriace is hidden at the end of the street.

Eglise St Quiriace at Crouttes sur Marne
Eglise St Quiriace at Crouttes-sur-Marne

The entrance is locked but you can see the lovely interior through the grille.

Interior of St Quiriace at Crouttes-sur-Marne, an hour from Paris
Interior of St Quiriace

Go round the back of the church, past the cemetery and continue downhill along the Rue de l’Eglise until it joins a road, the Grande Rue which is the main street through Crouttes-sur- Marne. Turn right along this long street and continue, past more maisons de champagne, until you see the Rue du Calvaire on your right.

Take the next left, Rue de la Marne, and follow it downhill until you reach no. 13, Champagne Leclère Torrens, which is owned by Nathalie and her husband.

Advertisement for champagne from Le Monde
Advertisement for champagne from Le Monde

I knew she was called Nathalie because I had phoned ahead to check that her maison de champagne would be open when we passed by, as it is the only one in Crouttes-sur-Marne open on Sunday afternoon and also the one nearest to the station. She assured me that her daughter would be there to let us in and that arriving after the official closing time of 5 pm would not be a problem. It was a complete coincidence that one of our group was carrying a rather crumpled copy of Le Monde in which Nathalie features in a full page advertisement. Her voice did not at all match the rather formidable image in the photo, which is part of a national publicity campaign for champagne.

Her daughter showed us round the champagne cellars of the family home and then took us into the tasting room to try out some of the champagnes on offer. We all bought a bottle and I can attest that my 15€ bottle of brut was as good as my favourite, the much more expensive Deutz. The card machine wasn’t working but luckily we had enough cheques and cash between us to cover our purchases, hastily made as it was getting dark and we had to get to the station for the hourly train to Paris.

Our hostess assured us that we would easily make the train, which turned out to be the case as it was much closer than I thought, and saw us to the gate to point out the riverside path.

Entrance to Champagne Leclère Torrens, Crouttes-sur-Marne, an hour from Paris
Nathalie’s daughter at the entrance to Champagne Leclère Torrens
10 km walk fro Nogent l'Artaud to Nanteuil-Saâcy station
10 km walk from Nogent l’Artaud station to Nanteuil-Saâcy station

6 thoughts on “A Champagne Walk an Hour from Paris

  1. Hi Norma, did you mean to send this article about Paris to me? I have Annabelle’s books and when in Paris, my husband, Bill and I would pick places and go on here suggested walks. Some of the best things we did in the Paris area!!!! I leave April 1 for SLC. Safe travels to you too as you return to New Mexico. Kris

  2. The whole walk, and especially the church, look sublime. Long may it remain unchanged, an inspiration to get up and go and find places like this while they are still there.

  3. I long to see the lynx. Maybe you could do a midnight walk with ultra violet light for lynx-lovers?

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