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Where To Go in France: Champagne Country

January 19, 2010

The semester I was abroad in Paris was during the year my mom retired after 35 years of teaching.  I called her just two weeks after I left home and she was delighted when I announced that I had an unexpected little break before classes started, and asked if she’d like to use some frequent flyer miles and hop over to visit for a few days.  I called on a Monday, and she was there by Wednesday!

After a couple days of showing her my newly discovered favorite places, my mom suggested we spend a few days out in champagne country, seeing the countryside and tasting some local sparkling wine. As she set out to find us a rental car and place to stay, I began researching the area, and made an unfortunate discovery: peak champagne making (and thus, tasting) season is late spring-summer. It was February. But we figured we’d go for it anyway; it would be nice to get out of the city and spend some quality mother-daughter time – and if there were no official champagne tastings, that didn’t mean we couldn’t still drink some!

Champagne is the name of a region about 100 miles northeast of Paris, where France’s sparkling wine is made. The EU actually has laws in place protecting the word “Champagne,” reserving its exclusive right to refer only to wines made within the region. All the big names in champagne today are made here: Veuve Clicquot, Mumm, Moet & Chandon, to name a few. The capital of the Champagne region is Reims, home to many of the big champagne houses, with others scattered in the smaller towns throughout the region.

My mom and I decided to stay in Epernay, a small town in the Champagne region and second only to Reims in champagne production – and home to the Moet & Chandon vineyards. As soon as we pulled into town in our little silver rental car, we were struck by how incredibly quiet it was – we couldn’t imagine coming during peak season, when the streets are clogged with tour buses.

After checking into our room in a little hotel we set off exploring, driving up and town the hills to see the different vineyards, and pulling the car over to get out and take pictures when the scenery struck us. It was absolutely beautiful!

We poked our heads into a couple tasting shops, and were able to try a few of the champagnes, as well as buy a few bottles. We also went to some wonderful antique shops, and the owner of one took some time to talk to us about the region and its champagne making. Afterwards we went back toward the center of town, where we browsed through a farmer’s market, picking up fresh fruit for later. Then we stopped into a little grocery store to buy some cheese and bread, and went back to our hotel for a delightful meal of French bread, cheese, fruit, and champagne – I could eat that every day!

I would highly recommend visiting the Champagne region during the off-season, unless you desperately want to taste a certain brand of champagne and are concerned about their seasonal hours. The area is calm and quiet, and provides a wonderful diversion from the busyness of Paris. Santé!

– Molli

Come to Normandy with Oldways this spring!

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