The title of this post doesn't refer to the sparkly spirit. No, it's a beginner's guide to the region where said boisson is made. We'd heard Champagne was pretty, but it was not high on our travel list until our friends Kent and Heather (French canal boat voyagers of the Unexcused Absenses blog) called us to say they were docked near Épernay, and we should come on up. Never ones to turn down a chance to visit with good friends in a great wine region, we hopped in the car and were off. And now, I'd like to recommend you move the Champagne region higher up on your French travel list as well. Photo above: the Hotel de Ville in Épernay. Below, the church on the main Place.
Épernay is the seat of most of the big Champagne houses. And most of these are located on the Avenue de Champagne, which might also be called Château Row. The 'houses' are grand old ladies of a certain age, each more beautiful than the next. Add to that the fact that the town must spend at least half of their budget on flowers and parks, and you've got charm to spare.
Now about that Champagne: the historic Champagne houses there are actually working houses; the wine is made and stored there. There are underground tunnels running all through the town and beyond, and they are so long you can take a small train through the tunnels, to tour them.
Tasting wine everywhere in France is generally free, but not in Champagne. Tasting at the big houses can be pricey. Kent and Heather had discovered something fun, however. Each afternoon at the tourist office, there is a free tasting from a local vintner, often smaller producers. We tasted there and had a long chat with a young vigneron and his wife who were full of passion for their their wine. It was a great Champagne moment. Photo below: Heather, sipping a rosé Champagne at the tourisme.
If you go: The Champagne region is just over an hour and a half from Paris, so it's a great add-on for your next trip there. We ate at a restaurant we loved, called La Grillades Gourmande. Delicious, great service, and the 3 course menus started at 24 euros. We stayed in Les Berceaux, which I wouldn't call memorable but it was well located and perfectly nice, and reasonably priced. Keith and Heather also recommend a stop in the nearby town of Châlons-en-Champagne, known as the "sparkling Venice".
More posts coming up on the Champagne region, so stay tuned!
Photo below: a park in the center of town.
Kent and Ron are both tall, but no worries, this door on the Avenue de Champagne will work for them.
A Champagne House on the Avenue de Champagne.
Another house on the Avenue de Champagne. And the tractor? Someone has to take care of all those flowers!
And more flowers: on a round-about in Épernay.
In the COMMENTS: RE the post on "Caprese Plus", as Suzanne calls it, we have great recipe ideas from Paula and Martin, and from Steve on Facebook. Mary James, those balsamic pearls sound pretty wild, never heard of them!
Favorite Reads: My friend Ellen told me about Delicious!, a novel by Ruth Reichl (she's a famous food writer who was the editor of Gourmet), and I'm reading it now. Fun book for foodies!