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Visiting Champagne with the Expat Club, Brussels, Belgium

By alison - April 22, 2014

Exploring Champagne with Expat Club Brussels

Exploring Champagne with Expat Club Brussels

If you’re an expat in Belgium who wants to travel and meet new people, without the hassle of planning and organising, sit back and relax, because Expat Club is here.

When you’ve just landed in a new country, it’s exciting and overwhelming. You want to meet people, but it can be difficult. You want to travel, but planning and transportation can be complicated, especially when you’re busy finding your way in a new job and a new culture. That’s where Expat Club comes to the rescue.

Dutch expat, Edgar Hütte, had the idea for Expat Club when he noticed his fellow expats wanted to get out and meet people over fun experiences, but they didn’t have the time or local knowledge to organise events themselves.

Edgar began arranging events through meet-up websites and, since then, Expat Club has grown into a welcoming and active community of internationals who meet to explore destinations in Belgium and beyond.

Andrew joined up with Edgar and the Expat Club for a visit to the Audi Factory in Brussels. Here’s what he had to say about the event.

Visiting a car factory isn’t something on the top of most people’s to do list, especially on a Friday night. Nevertheless, as Edgar was genuinely enthusiastic about it, I joined about 70 other people, all with different interests, at the Audi factory. Before we were even half-way through the tour I was hooked.

If you’ve been in Belgium for a while, then you’ve likely noticed quite a few car dealerships are owned by the D’Ieteren family. In 1948, they built the initial factory in the south of Brussels to produce Studebakers. In 1954, they switched to Volkswagen Beetles; followed over the years by the Passat, Golf, and Polo. Today, the plant builds various models of the Audi A1, which are shipped around the world (except North America).

The Brussels Audi Factory tour with Expat Club

The Brussels Audi Factory tour with Expat Club

As we walked through the plant in three groups, we learned about the history of the factory, how the cars are produced, and how Audi controls their brand image. I enjoyed watching the robots build the cars. Seeing the machines at work is like watching a well-choreographed dance that is simply mesmerizing. If you are at all interested in process automation, operations management, or robotics, this tour is a must do. Even if you’re not, the history of the factory and the brands (Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi) is equally fascinating.

Visiting the factory was not only an educational experience; it was also a great way to meet people. Through the shared experience, you find yourself discussing what you learn. This leads to further discussions and, hopefully, a connection is established. It still feels weird to say, but I highly recommend the Audi factory tour.

After hearing Andrew rave about the Audi tour, I knew I needed to check out the Expat Club for myself. When I learned the club would be visiting Champagne, I was in. After 9 years in Belgium, we still hadn’t visited this beautiful region of France. I am a huge fan of bubbly and I had been dying to see where it all began. Having a chauffeur driven luxury bus, so neither of us had to worry about driving, was the icing on the cake.

We stumbled up to Schumann, before the sun came up on Saturday morning, and were impressed to see how many people were joining the trip. Right off the bat, we met someone from Nova Scotia, as well as expats from Germany, Italy, America, Australia, Bulgaria – a United Nations of expats. We were even thrilled to meet a loyal CheeseWeb reader in the group! We boarded the double-decker bus and, after another short stop at Midi station to pick up the rest of the group, we were off.

Cruising through Champagne in our luxury bus

Cruising through Champagne in our luxury bus (with our luxury host Edgar!)

En route, Edgar treated us to juice and waffles – a Belgian start to our French adventure. It was lovely to be able to sit back, relax, and not have to worry about a thing (a rarity for us I assure you!) The only thing we could have asked for was a big thermos of coffee!

Arriving in the Champagne region, we cruised down the renowned Avenue de Champagne, in Épernay, home to some of the most illustrious Champagne houses. Our first stop was Champagne Mercier – what a way to start the visit!

Visiting the extensive caves of Champagne Mercier

Visiting the extensive caves of Champagne Mercier

Founded in 1858, Mercier has some of the most extensive networks of caves in the region. Guests are able to explore a small portion of them, via an electric train. The tour is accompanied by an audio-guide, explaining the history of the Mercier house and the making of their Champagne. It’s a quick but fascinating trip and the caves seem endless.

Of course, the highlight is tasting the fruits of Mercier’s labours. We enjoyed three glasses: the Brut, the Brut Réserve and the Brut Rosé. (Of course, the Réserve was my favourite, but I definitely have Champagne tastes!)

Delicious Mercier bubbles!

Delicious Mercier bubbles!

After three glasses of Champagne for breakfast, it was definitely time for lunch. We hopped back on the bus for a quick trip to Hautvillers. This adorable little village was home to Dom Perignon, the monk who supposedly invented Champagne. (A story we learned was false, but entertaining just the same.)

Chicken or fish at  the Restaurant de l’Abbaye

Chicken or fish at the Restaurant de l’Abbaye

We had a lovely lunch at the Restaurant de l’Abbaye and then took a quick peek inside the church where Dom Perignon is laid to rest. After paying our respects, we nipped across the street for another glass of bubbly.

The final resting place of Dom Perignon

The final resting place of Dom Perignon

Then it was back on our bus for a short ride to Reims, the largest city in the region. After driving by a few more big names in bubbles (Taittinger, Veuve, Pommery) we arrived at Champagne G.H. Martel.

Exploring the caves of Champagne G.H. Martel

Exploring the caves of Champagne G.H. Martel

Contrasting with Mercier’s ‘tourist attraction’ feeling, Martel maintains its family-run atmosphere. We descended down into the cellars, dug from chalk quarries, and learned about the history of the Champagne house. Martel’s Champagne is now made in a large, modern facility, but the old caves are used as a historic museum to the old traditions.

Exploring the caves of Champagne G.H. Martel

Meeting CheeseWeb fans in the wild during the Martel Champagne tasting.

The Martel tasting was held in the pretty courtyard, where there was a relaxed and unhurried atmosphere. It would be a beautiful spot to enjoy a lazy summer afternoon.

The dramatic Reims Cathedral

The dramatic Reims Cathedral

After Champagne Martel, we had a few hours to explore Reims on our own. Of course, my first stop was the UNESCO listed cathedral. It was stunning. Beyond my obsession with UNESCO sites, I had another reason for visiting. One of my favourite artists, Marc Chagall, designed one of the stained-glass windows and I was eager to see it in person. I wasn’t disappointed.

The Marc Chagall window in Reims Cathedral

The Marc Chagall window in Reims Cathedral

It's easy to see why Reims Cathedral is on the UNESCO list

It’s easy to see why Reims Cathedral is on the UNESCO list

We strolled through Reims and had a quick supper, deciding the city is definitely worth a longer return visit. Then it was back on the bus for a late-night return to Brussels.

Here’s a little video of our adventure in Champagne with Expat Club:

Visiting Champagne with the Brussels Expat Club from CheeseWeb.eu on Vimeo.

Our verdict – We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Champagne with the Expat Club. The day was extremely well organised, yet left some time to explore on our own. We didn’t have to drive or do any advance planning, which made it relaxing and stress-free. We met a fun group of active expats, from around the world, and tasted some excellent champagne.

The Expat Club has a wide variety of offerings, so there is something for everyone. A few upcoming highlights include:

And, as a special treat for our CheeseWeb readers, you can enter to win a seat for you and a friend on the Trier trip. This prize includes the trip by 4* coach, a professionally guided tour through the 2000-year old Roman city of Trier, a river cruise, a visit to the lovely village of Bernkastel and a wine tasting session at a top Riesling wine house. What are you waiting for!?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

We’d like to thank Edgar for inviting us to join the Expat Club on their visit to Champagne and provide you with our honest review of the service. 

Looking for more resources for living in Belgium? Check out our Expat Resources page.  For more great restaurants around the world, check out our Restaurant Review page.

Alison

Alison

Big Cheese at CheeseWeb
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of Cheeseweb.eu She landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about this quirky little country. She loves to discover Belgium's hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She loves to travel the world with her husband, Andrew, and spend quiet nights reading with her cats and a glass of red wine. You can also follow her work on Google+
Alison
Reason 592 why you NEED to go to French Guiana - FOOD! If you love exotic fruits, spicy dishes, and creative... http://t.co/6l08sWbGtr - 2 days ago

18 comments

  1. Comment by Michelle - Very Hungry Explorer

    Michelle - Very Hungry Explorer April 22, 2014 at 11:23

    I went on the Audi tour with the Expat Club and absolutely loved it!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison April 22, 2014 at 11:57

      I didn’t know you did that too! So you were there with Andrew :) Sad I missed it!

  2. Comment by Adriana

    Adriana April 22, 2014 at 14:34

    Love this post and Champagne Region! I now only hold the champagne bottles like that lady is holding it :)

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison April 22, 2014 at 17:10

      I would end up pouring it all over myself if I did that :)

  3. Comment by Barbara

    Barbara April 22, 2014 at 15:06

    Our very first trip after arriving in Belgium a year ago was to Dinant with the Expat Club and I am happy to say some of our closest friends today, we met on the train that day :) As a sommelier I would LOVE to win the daytrip to Mosel (and Trier) and I am truly sorry I missed out on Champagne (sadly, we already had other plans). Cheers!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison April 22, 2014 at 17:15

      Another Champagne trip is in the works as well, so keep an eye on their site!

  4. Comment by Maxine

    Maxine April 22, 2014 at 15:22

    Seriously gutted that I missed this Champagne tour… but LOVING the Trier tour concept…..
    so fingers crossed!!!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison April 22, 2014 at 17:11

      There’s another Champagne trip coming up as it was so popular so you may still have a chance!

  5. Comment by Annie

    Annie April 22, 2014 at 18:09

    wooohoo! you made it to champagne! lovely shots. anything involving wine/drinking/beverage tasting, I’m in!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison April 23, 2014 at 11:02

      Yes! We still want to go back and spend time exploring on our own, but it was a great quick ‘taste’ of the region!

  6. Comment by Kanchb

    Kanchb April 22, 2014 at 19:17

    Alison, we went to the Mars gate instead and by the time we got back, the Reims cathedral was closed, so its lovely being able to get a glimpse of it through your photography. Thanks for the giveaway, and I’d love if Edgar organized trips to more historical places around Belgium!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison April 23, 2014 at 11:03

      The cathedral is really stunning. Worth a look next time :)

  7. Comment by Claesen

    Claesen April 24, 2014 at 23:00

    tKnokke-Heist, some call it the Cannes of Belgium, but it lacks the Croissette and good weather? They do have Chocolatier M, http://www.chocolatier-m.be

  8. Comment by Elise

    Elise April 25, 2014 at 10:01

    Great photos from Champagne! I enjoyed it as an ‘apèro’ on my way to Alsace, also a great region to discover (+ more affordable wine 😉 Keep up the great posts!

  9. Comment by Anna

    Anna April 26, 2014 at 15:07

    Ever since my husband and I moved to Belgium a few months ago we’ve been searching for ways to get out, explore and meet new people – it hasn’t been easy! To be honest the only people we know here so far are our respective co-workers. I’m so happy to hear about the Expat Club – these organized events would be perfect for us! I’m seriously going to try to convince my husband that we should go on the next trip to Champagne – I see they already organized a new trip for July! And I would absolutely love to go to Trier – my husband is German but neither of us has ever been anywhere even near this region of the country. And Riesling wine? Yum yum! We’ll keep our fingers crossed :)

  10. Comment by Laura

    Laura April 29, 2014 at 10:17

    My husband and I just moved to Brussels last week from Nashville, Tennessee (USA). I’ve found the Expat Club Brussels and Cheeseweb to be fabulous resources in getting ideas of where to visit, where to eat and what to do! I am looking forward to joining some ECB excursions (perhaps the Coffee Club this Saturday?)! It is very strange moving somewhere that you don’t know a soul, so I am looking forward to meeting some new friends! The trip to Trier and Moselle Wine Region looks fantastic and I would LOVE to join that outing!

  11. Comment by Deana Styer

    Deana Styer June 20, 2014 at 12:46

    Alison,
    Hi!!! We’ve just moved to Brussels, Tervuren specifically, and are looking for ways to explore as much as we can while living here. I have enjoyed CheeseWeb so much. I especially enjoy the details of your trips…meaning if I travel to a city to see something specific, I want to get all I can from that city. (With the exception of Los Pilones…I would drive just for that at your suggestion!). I am wanting to know if we, who are stationed here due to the military, are able to enjoy the ExPat club?

    Thanks so much for your enthusiasm for traveling and exploring. It is infectious!

    Deana

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison June 20, 2014 at 16:16

      Hi Deana! Thanks for your kind words about CheeseWeb and we’re so glad you’re finding it helpful! Absolutely anyone is able to participate in the Expat Club activities. Just know that the pick up points (at least at this point) are in Brussels. If you don’t live in the city you will have to arrange your own transportation to get here. They are a lot of fun and a great way to meet new people from around the world. Edgar is an excellent host and keeps everything nice and organised (and fun!)

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