Toasting Throughout the Champagne Region of France, and Paris
I've always known that real Champagne can only come from one place: Champagne, France. And on a recent trip this past April to the Champagne region of France, my friends and I learned that the French take their Champagne quite seriously. A group of us started our trip by flying into Paris and taking the TGV to Reims which is in France's Champagne-Ardenne region. It's a little less than a 2 hour train in total with a quick connection in between. After a few days of staying in a beautiful home on the Avenue de Champagne in Épernay, we took the train back to Paris and ended our trip with a few great days in the City of Light.
REIMS, ÉPERNAY, AND THE CHAMPAGNE REGION
We started our trip in Reims at a well known restaurant called Cafe du Palais, which has been open since 1930. After traveling for many hours, we were excited to dive into tagliatelle with foie gras and morels, salads with goat cheese and air dried beef, and quail with potatoes. It was just the right spot to prime our stomachs before a day of Champagne tasting.
Our first stop on the Champagne tour was Veuve Clicquot in Reims. We went down into the caves (from the 1700's), had an excellent tour guide who told us the story of Madame Clicquot, and exited through the gift shop where we tasted the Champagnes. Here's what I learned during my time touring the well known Champagne houses: it's a very corporate experience. Most require advanced bookings and tickets, all take you through a formal tour through the caves and provide you with similar information about the process, and then you end in a gift shop where they hope you'll purchase their items. While I'd highly recommend doing at least one famous Champagne house, I would definitely advise that you go with the smaller and lesser known ones for a more authentic experience. Following Veuve Clicquot we visited G.H. Mumm, and then we took the train to Épernay where we checked into our gorgeous rented home for the week at Magna Quies on the Avenue de Champagne.
While in Épernay we visited Moët et Chandon (the home of Dom Perignon), Charles Mignon, Collard-Picard, and A. Bergere. Some of the houses along the Avenue Champagne do allow for you to visit the tasting room without an appointment and enjoy a glass or a bottle outside. We definitely enjoyed this option after experiencing many similar tours, and it allowed for some fresh air and time to relax and catch up.
Our favorite of all of the Champagne houses was a small one in Ay called Henri Giraud. It was just a few towns over from Épernay and about a 15 minute drive. We had a private appointment and had a chance to sit with the winemaker, learn about their family history, and taste the wonderful Champagnes. I purchased a bottle of the rosé Champagne which I am saving for a special occasion. Because I am unable to find this Champagne in the United States, it was one I was excited to bring home with me.
While staying in Épernay we dined at Brasserie La Banque for a nice dinner, and Le Chapon Fin for a casual lunch. Both were completely adequate, but Épernay is not known for its food. We also enjoyed snacking at the home we stayed at, and we took an afternoon trip to the town of Hautvillers which is the home of Dom Perignon. Hautvillers is definitely worth a visit. It's a beautiful village on a hill with impressive scenery, and we had a wonderful afternoon bite on the back patio of Au 36.
We had a wonderful time working our way through bubbles in the Champagne region. We loved learning about the riddling process which requires winemakers to turn individual bottles of Champagne back and forth in order to ensure the sediment does not stick. Some riddlers are known to turn up to 40,000 bottles a day. We also learned that the primary grapes that are used to make Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Blanc de Blanc is made with 100% Chardonnay, whereas a Blanc de Noir is made with either Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier. Another fascinating discovery was learning about the hierarchy of Champagne. Hundreds of years ago these determinations were made based on the best vineyards within the Burgundy region. Grand Cru is the highest designation followed by Premier Cru or what is also sometimes known as 1er Cru.
After a few days of ingesting many bubbles across Reims and Épernay, we hopped on a train back to Paris to spend some time eating, drinking, and enjoying our way through the city.
Upon arrival into Paris Est Train Station we checked into our hotel and then made our way to La Cuisine Paris for a soufflé class. I had previously taken a croissant making class last fall and loved the experience, so we knew we wanted to include a class as part of our plans for this trip. We had signed up for a private class and made both a goat cheese and chive savory soufflé as well a chocolate one with orange zest. Both were delicious, easy to make, and the school provides recipes so you can remake the dishes back at home in your own kitchen. After taking two classes at this school, I am very impressed with the teachers, the experience, and the final products. I highly recommend checking out their array of classes if you are looking for activities while in Paris.
While in Paris we had an excellent meal at the beautiful Ze Kitchen Gallerie which blends classic French fare with Asian flavors. The restaurant itself is covered with artwork, and the a la carte menu offered inventive dishes that we all enjoyed. Lunch at Au Bon Accueil was sophisticated, yet perhaps too high-end for my friends and I who were looking for a nice lunch after visiting the Eiffel Tower. A lovely spot nonetheless, but I think we all would have been happy to spring for crepes or a croque madame at that point on the day. We all loved drinks at Candelaria in the Marais which is a small cocktail bar hidden behind a taco shop. It was a really fun place to stop before dinner.
I took my friends to an old favorite of mine, Josephine Chez Dumonet. It's a classic French bistro with the best beef bourguignon in the world. A meal there is always a home run.
When out and about during the day exploring Paris, I also love to stop at Café Saint-Régis along the Île. It's nothing special, but they make an amazing cheese plate, a great omelette, a good cappuccino, and it's a perfect place to grab a bottle of wine and take a break. The basket of bread and butter doesn't hurt either. I've stopped here on many occasions and I've never been disappointed.
I spent the last few days on my own in Paris as my friends left to head off to different locations. I stayed at what has become a favorite hotel of mine, the Relais Christine. My friend Julie had spent many weeks at this hotel in Saint-Germain a few years back, and we stayed there together on our trip in April of 2015. I fell in love with the charm and found it to be a haven away from the bustling streets of Paris. The best part about the hotel is the magical courtyard that leads to the entrance. The window sills are dripping with greenery, and the wrought iron balconies add a touch of rustic elegance. I was excited to stay at the boutique hotel again, and it exceeded expectations.
I had two fantastic solo meals on these last few days: lunch at Les Climats, and dinner at Frenchie Bar A Vins. Les Climats has a conservatory-like space that allows you to sit inside while enjoying the view of the outdoor terrace. The restaurant has a Michelin star and is quite high-end, but they made me feel very comfortable dining on my own. There is a choice between a price fixed tasting menu or ordering a la carte. I still remember the lobster ravioli starter, and the fish with pesto and clams. The desserts were also not to be missed. It was a truly a five star experience.
Frenchie Bar a Vins was the perfect spot for a dinner for one. I showed up at around 6pm right as it opened, and was able to snag a table immediately. Within 20 minutes the place was buzzing with all sorts of international accents. The music was pumping with 90's American hits, and I got a spot directly next to the small kitchen so I could watch the chefs plate throughout the evening. The burrata, the veal sweetbreads, and the delicate pastas all made for an awesome dining experience. I love the casual nature about the restaurant, but also the way that is juxtaposed with how seriously the team takes the food. Frenchie Bar a Vins will become a staple in my Paris plans moving forward.
Traveling to France is good for my soul. I loved trying something new and getting the chance to explore the Champagne region, but no matter what, I always find my way back to Paris.