Champagne, sparkling goodness combined with the land of brie, bread and pastries. What more could a girl want?
Champagne (the region in France) has been on my “must visit” list for quite a while now and I finally ticked it off during the recent long weekend. It certainly was one of the best places I have been recently. 3 days truly felt like a week.
Armed with some bubbles, a picnic and magazines we jumped on the Eurostar on Friday night. It was incredibly easy (after an overcoming a forgotten passport issue!) as we picked up a car from the Gard Du Nord station then we zoomed towards Epernay (1.30 hours’ drive).
For those who aren’t aware, Champagne can only be produced in a small region in France known unsurprisingly as Champagne. This region gets a lot of rainfall, we were lucky to have 3 sunny days, which makes the soil perfect for growing the grapes needed. When visiting most people say either at Reims or Epernay. Personally, I thought Epernay was so much nicer than Reims as is much smaller (town vs city) and has the famous and beautiful Avenue De Champagne. However, you can do a day trip to Reims from Paris using the high-speed train which is 45min.
Our mission while in Champagne was to drink as many different brands as possible from the larger well-known houses to the small family run. Challenge most defiantly accepted.
Day 1, We jumped into the car and head to Reims. We started with breakfast at the large market Halles Boulingrin which I highly recommend. The great thing about London is that supermarkets don’t really have any seasons, we have every fruit and veg year-round; however it also means we get used to sub-par food. Seeing the stalls of brightly coloured and fresh fruit and veg really brought it home. Biting into strawberries and mandarins I was reminded of how fruit was meant to taste – bursts of juicy deliciousness – and vowed to try stick to what is in season!
It is amazing that in both towns the champagne houses are literally among the towns. Reims has Taittinger, Veuve and G. H Mumm while Epernay has Moet/Dom, Peirrier-Jouet and Pol Roger. You need to book to visit most of the bigger houses well in advance so you don’t miss out!
I had heard Veuve had one of the best tours so seemed like the best place to start and it certainly didn’t let us down. In a group of about 15 we were led down into the caves below the house where the wine is stored and aged and walked through the process. The caves are 24km long and full of champagne! Restraining ourselves we managed not nick a bottle as we walked through. The guide talked as through the history and how Veuve had the biggest influence of any of the houses as well as the process itself. It was the perfect introduction and we learnt a lot. We finished up with a tasting of the classic yellow label and the Rose and then of course a purchase!
After we jumped back into the car and heading towards a champagne treehouse! Perching bar is very much hidden away in a forest. After about a 10min bush walk in inappropriate shoes we found it, there are no signs and we totally thought we were starting a hike. It is part of a high ropes course but it has rope bridges you can cross to reach. We were lucky to get in but I would recommend booking as it is quite small. It is €15 which includes your first glass of local champagne. It was incredibly beautiful drinking champagne up in the tree tops with a beautiful view overlooking the vines below. Inside is amazing interior with swing seats and a swinging champagne bucket to match.
After a couple of hours, we headed home for dinner. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the best time with food during our trip. Being a long weekend both in France and the UK and our lack of organisation meant most of the top-rated places were booked up. Our dinner at Brassiere Le Central (the only place we could get in) left much to be desired….
Luckily breakfast Sunday from Les Gourmandises d’Amaelle made up for it. Amazing baked delights and desserts – Chocolate Eclair for breakfast S’il vous plait. Sunday was all about exploring the Cotes De Blanc which is a 20km route through the lovely villages surrounding Epernay and hosting all the little champagne houses.
This was lots of fun as there are so many; you just drive until you see one, knock on the door and start your tasting. It is about €2 a glass, but it is waved if you get a bottle. Perfect excuse to buy up and if you take the Eurostar you can easily take it home! I would recommend Champagne Voirin-Jumel and Champagne R-Renaudin but part of the fun is to explore the small ones yourself.
After a few hours, we headed back to do a champagne crawl of the houses in the Avenue De Champagne as it was a lovely day. The avenue is stunning and a lot of the places have seating outside where you can perch and enjoy the sunshine.
Dinner this night was improved but still a bit disappointing. We booked into La Cave a Champagne which was highly rated and has a reasonable set menu but didn’t live up to our high hopes. O well, at least we had our stock pile of Champagne to keep us happy.
The last day we squeezed in the Moet et Chandon tour before heading to Paris. The tour was ok but didn’t have the personality of Veuve – a little too sleek – and repeated most of the information. I would recommend only doing 1 proper tour and then just visiting all the others for a glass or three.
In summary a perfect long weekend but learn from our mistakes and book places and be aware a lot of the smaller places are closed on Sunday!