Juan Pablo Molyneux’s perfect weekend in Champagne
The contemporary classicist’s illustrious interiors and opulent restoration projects traverse the globe and include royal palaces, historic châteaux and private homes
“Saturday morning begins with walking my three dogs – an Alsatian shepherd, a Porcelaine and a Labrador retriever/terrier mix – who are as happy to be in the countryside as I am, with only the sound of the birds chirping.
My château, where the black swans, geese, turkeys and wild peacocks are out in force, is in Champagne-Ardenne, an easy and beautiful drive from Paris. The landscape is so refreshing: it’s green all year round, and we’re surrounded by quaint villages, each with a church dating from the 11th to the 13th century.
If the weather is nice after my walk, I’ll play tennis, or go for a horseback ride. Haras de Villechétive, a lovely stable nearby, brings the horses ready to ride, so all we have to do is explore.
Then, my wife Pilar and I will go to the farmers’ market in the village of Villeneuve-l’Archevêque, a place so atmospheric that you want to smell, touch and eat everything; the white asparagus, the melons, the seasonal berries and tomatoes all remind me of my childhood in Chile. There is also a wonderful boulangerie called Brissonnet Sylvain, where they sell a delicious speciality called Villeneuvien, a cake made with layers of the lightest crêpe.
One of the most magical towns in the area is Sens. It’s home to one of Europe’s earliest gothic cathedrals and was one of the most important medieval towns in France. My château was built as a fortress for Sens; you’ll see this architectural style all over the region, with buildings that are square and imposing, each with four towers, a moat and a dungeon.
After a morning in Sens, we might go south to Troyes, where the Musée Saint-Loup holds all kinds of archaeological and fine art masterpieces, such as Philippe de Champaigne’s La Réception du duc de Longueville dans l’Ordre du Saint-Esprit among the most important paintings.
For an excellent lunch, we’ll continue on to La Côte St Jacques in Joigny: the food, particularly the Bresse chicken steamed in champagne and the seabass with oscietra caviar, is the best of France.
On Saturday night we’ll have guests and cook what we bought at the market, or we might head to Auberge du Cygne de la Croix in Nogent-sur-Seine. It’s a simple restaurant with a warm atmosphere – the terrine maison is unmissable. Le Moulin du Landion, in a 18th-century water mill, is another lovely place for a night out. The cuisine is rustic but with sophisticated touches, and everything from the foie gras to the salads smells so fresh.
Sunday morning typically involves one of the brocantes – travelling antique markets. Moulins has one of the best in the region for 18th-century French country furniture and decorative objects such as candelabra. One of my favourite finds was a mismatched dinner service that’s perfect for festive dinner parties.
Taittinger and Ruinart are both close to home, and we like to visit the caves. It’s interesting to see how they store the champagne, but I’m more fascinated with the buildings, a mix of magnificent old arches and modernist elements. The Gallo-Roman chalk mines at Taittinger are now a Unesco World Heritage site, and Ruinart, also in Reims, is a historic site too. And, of course, we never miss the cathedral.
We also enjoy dining later outside at the spectacular Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. It’s a bit of a drive, but Les Charmilles, the restaurant there, is magical by candlelight. Usually though, we stay home and have a late lunch or Mariage Frères’ black tea and sweets from Maison Caffet chocolatier in Troyes, before returning to Paris.
I almost always go back with a smile, ready for the week ahead. In any case, we bring baskets of freshly picked flowers to carry us through.”