For the last long weekend in May, Aaron and I headed to Paris, France to meet up with some friends from the States who were there on vacation. There were two other couples - Justine and Andrew had been to Paris a number of times before, but it was the first time for Sarah and Scott (and us too!). I have to say, I didn't do a ton of planning for this trip other than organizing train tickets and a place to sleep, I let the seasoned Paris travelers manage most of it :) It was actually quite relaxing and I understand now why Aaron usually doesn't do much with the planning. Extra bonus was that we got to check yet another item off our Bucket List - taste Champagne in Champagne!
Our first day there, we rented a car from the train station and set out early for Epernay, a small town about 2 hours east of Paris. The ride to get there was beautiful. We passed through picturesque, quaint French towns, looked out over rolling fields of poppies, and even got to see a little bit of Paris on our way out of town. The ride wasn't necessarily the most comfortable - the rental agency had messed up the booking and gave us a sedan for 6 people - but we made it work. We pulled into Eperney in late morning. The sun was shining, there was a light breeze, but the temperature was perfect.
Our first stop was one of the many champagne houses along the appropriately names Avenue de Champagne. The residents of Epernay say that this is the most expensive street in the world, even more expensive than the Champs-Elysees in Paris, due to the sheer volume of Champagne stored beneath it. There was house after house that one could go to for tastings. Some of them were smaller and, not being a seasoned Champagne connoisseur, I was unfamiliar with them, but there were also more famous houses that most people would recognize - Dom Perignon, Moet, Mercier, Perrier. Between the houses, we could catch small glimpses of the grape vine covered countryside behind them.
At each house, visitors could taste any of the Champagnes that were offered. To be completely honest, I had no idea there were so many different kinds of Champagne. Just like wine, there was white, rose and reds. Each had been made from either a single variety of grape (most commonly chardonnay), but some were blended with other varieties as well. Almost all the Champagnes we tried were dry, but some were definitely sweeter tasting than others. Over the course of the day, we did find two that we purchased for later. Now, the goal is to save them for a special occasion! Let's hope we are successful :)
We grabbed lunch at a local restaurant, Bar a Champagne, which was accompanied by, you guess it, more Champagne! French food is generally delicious, if a little new to many American palettes, and rich. The portions are smaller than most Americans are used to, but they are packed full of flavor which more than makes up for it.
After lunch, it was back to more Champagne tasting! At this point, it's good to mention that the tastings at each house are more like full glasses, not the tiny tastings common at many wineries. So after visiting quite a few houses, it's easy to see how the drive home might become problematic. Thankfully, Eperney is a beautiful town to walk around, giving you something to do for a couple of hours.
After a full day of walking, enjoying the sunshine, visiting with friends, and tasting all the different Champagnes, it was time to head back in to Paris. Before we even made it back to the highway though, all of us, except for the driver, thankfully, were conked out. All that time in the sun had definitely worn us out. That's my story and I'm sticking to it! I've already told Aaron that I want to go back. it's only about 3 hours driving time from Mannheim, so it's totally doable for a weekend.
Want to visit Epernay and taste Champagne yourself? The best time to go is late spring through early fall. There were quite a few houses that were closed when we were there, but it wasn't quite high tourist season yet. Expect to spend 8 - 12 Euro at each house for a tasting. Some houses do offer flights or discounts for more than one tasting. To get there, just put in Avenue de Champage in Eperney into a navigation system and it should get you right to the heart of the Champagne houses. I'm sure there are also organized tours that leave from Paris, but I did not research this. Some of the Champagne houses do offer underground tours of the caves where the Champagne is aged. If this is something you want to do, I would plan on getting there early (at least before 3 in the afternoon) since they close at 5 PM.
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