This post is LONG....because it was possibly one of my favorite weekends of my life. Buckle up, there's lots of pictures to see!
Brennan and I had planned to visit Paris, Versailles, and the Champagne region of France in the summer of 2020. Obviously, we did not get to do that. We did some fun things that summer (a trip to Ohio, Cancun, Disney's reopening), but the Champagne region has been high on my list of places to visit since then. When we were planning this trip, Brennan asked what I wanted to do for my birthday and this seemed like a great way to make up for that lost trip. Rachel was excited to come with us, so it was decided.
Saying you're going to the "Champagne Region" can mean a lot of different things. For us, we looked for an Airbnb that would work, since there were no hotels that made sense on points. We found a great one in Reims, which is one of the main towns in this area. There seemed to be champagne houses in this town, so I spent a lot of time looking through their websites and found the tours we booked.
It's only a 45 minutes on high speed train from Paris to get to Reims! We arrived on Friday night and walked to our Airbnb. Once we got settled, I walked over to the grocery (by myself!) to get laundry detergent, snacks, and milk for coffee. Once we started a load of laundry, we went to dinner.
The place we went to dinner was called Well K'Home. We found it on The Fork and had kind waitress who helped us pick a bottle of champagne to have with our dinner. We also ordered Croque Monsieur, Rachel and Brennan had steak frites, and I ordered risotto. Everything was excellent.
We stopped at store on way home to get another bottle of champagne, because why not when you're in France? When we got home, we opened the bottle and watched the show, Where are You, D.B. Cooper? on Netflix. As we started it, Brennan said something about knowing a guy named Geoffrey Gray who had written about this case. Geoffrey actually prompted the trip Brennan and I took to Finland in 2017 and we had dinner with him in New York on our way to see the Northern Lights. As we finish explaining all this to Rachel, Geoffrey pops up on the screen! He was featured throughout the series. It was a very strange connection to make. (The show is very interesting too, if you haven't watched it yet!)
Before we went to bed on Friday evening, we all agreed we had to be up and leaving the apartment by 8:30 on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, Brennan was just getting a shower at 8:30. We ended up only being a few minutes late to the 9:00 meeting time for our tour. Thankfully, our guide Suzanne was great and welcomed us. Rachel didn't get a chance to get coffee before we joined the tour and asked Suzanne as we drove to pick up the last guests if she could find coffee somewhere close. Suzanne's response was "Not much is open this early in the morning on the weekends.". It was 9:30....clearly France is a little different than the US!
We met up with the rest of our group in Epernay right by the Moet & Chandon champagne house. We drove down the Avenue de Champagne, which Suzanne told us is the most wealthy street in the world. There are kilometers of champagne caves under all the streets and all the houses are so valuable.
We drove to a small champagne house where the tour began, and the staff brought all of us espressos to drink before we headed out on the bikes! Our tour was scheduled to ride through the vineyards, learning about the grapes, region, and how champagne was made until about 1PM (it was about 10 by this point). We started off on the bikes and began riding by the manmade canal they used to transport the champagne from the houses. We rode e-bikes, which allow you to dial up or down the assist. This was really helpful as we rode through the vineyards, up and down the hills!
We stopped several times so Suzanne could explain the varieties of grapes we were seeing, how they grew, talk about the "champagne police", and so we could take pictures. Growing grapes and champagne production is highly regulated, so there was a lot to learn! The area that can be used to produce the grapes for champagne is limited and they are not adding on more of it. Because of this, there is a lot of collaboration between growers and producers, both large and small. They must use the grapes carefully and pick all of them by hand, in order that they do not get ruined. I had no idea there was so much to learn about champagne and it was really interesting, especially with such an incredible background!
We rode to a very small village and stopped a church in that area. It is famous for being the burial place of Dom Perignon, who is considered the father of champagne. He was a monk who figured out the scientific process that allowed the monks to make champagne in the 1700s. Before that, the monks believed it was evil spirits or the devil who was making the bottles break when the bubbles were produced!
Over the whole tour, we rode about 13 kilometers (a little more than 8 miles). Everywhere we looked, it was beautiful. The weather was perfect with blue skies, a breeze, and bright sunshine. We really could not have asked for a more perfect day to do the tour.
We rode back to the starting house for lunch. We were served 2 kinds of champagne, red wine, bread, lentil salad, quiche, meat wrapped in pastry, several kinds of cheese, strawberry shortcake trifle, and a liquor produced from the grapes after they are juiced. It was an unbelievable meal at a beautiful location. The house is actually a small hotel, so the yard was amazing too. We enjoyed the champagne so much that we bought a bottle to take back to the Airbnb with us-it was probably my favorite we tasted over the whole weekend!
The last stop on our tour was a family run champagne house, Champagne Maitre-Geoffrey. We met up with the owner, because it is not open on the weekends except for prearranged visits. This is very common with the small producers, according to Suzanne. They are not focused on tourism and being open and available at all hours. It is a very relaxed environment (from what we saw) and people are more concerned with having balance in their lives instead of being open as many hours as possible. So different than the way we view tourism in the US!
We saw all of the machines and areas where this company produces their champagne. They load the grapes into large containers and press the juice into different sections of a container depending on the variety or if it is the first or second pressing. The juice goes through a fermentation process and has to sit for months before being bottled, resting, then having more yeast and sugar added for the bubbles to form. They then freeze the necks of the bottle to remove the sediment left over from the yeast. This whole process is highly regulated and monitored by the champagne police. The final step is adding the corks, caps, and labeling the bottles. Because this is a small producer, they do all of these steps in the same area, so it was very interesting to tour and see all of it.
We were not only able to tour the champagne production area, but we were also able to taste 2 different kinds of their champagne with the 5th generation owner. He was very friendly and welcomed our questions about his job and champagne. Rachel decided to buy a bottle before we left for the afternoon.
This was an amazing experience, possibly my favorite tour we have ever done. It was incredible to see the natural beauty, eat the delicious food, and meet people who are passionate about what they make. Tasting several kinds of champagne didn't hurt either...If you ever have a day in Reims or Epernay, book this tour!!
On Sunday, we decided to sleep in. Once we got up and going, we visited the Reims cathedral. This has been said to be the best way to see gothic architecture since Notre Dame in Paris is not available to tour right now. It is significant because it was where kings of France were crowned, but also because it is very beautiful. We walked around, looked at all the stained glass, and took pictures throughout the building.
After touring the cathedral, we stopped to get sandwiches and quiche at a bakery and ate lunch at park, surrounded by apartment buildings. When we finished, we walked toward Tattinger, where we had booked a tour to visit their caves.
Our tour at Tattinger was very different than the previous day. It is a large champagne house, but still run by a family. They are a large producer, with more of a commercialized tour experience and a much larger group for the tour.
We were able to go down to the caves, which were carved out by Romans and then used by monks for a monastery before being used by the Tattinger family to produce champagne. This is only one of their production facilities-they have a much larger one that is more mechanical; this one is mostly used for tours. However, we saw so many bottles of champagne and our tour guide told us they would all be sold at some point in the next several years! The most interesting part to me was the hallways-they were completely stacked up with bottles and bottles, resting. Being down in the caves was very chilly, but it felt special because of all the history that has happened in that area.
We had no plan after Tattinger, but Brennan had looked up and found a place with a self-guided tour through caves. So, we headed there and found the Pommery Vranken champagne house. Unfortunately, the caves were closed when we got there, but we were still able to do a tasting. We tried all 3 types of champagne and walked through their art areas. They were very unexpected, but interesting! I'm so glad we walked over here-it was a very unique experience.
That night, we had dinner at a small hotel on the outskirts of Reims, Ubered back to the apartment, and enjoyed my favorite bottle of champagne we had in the areas. It was definitely a memorable birthday weekend and maybe my favorite part of the trip up to this point!
We're Brennan & Megan
Since June 2022, we have been traveling to learn more about ourselves and the world around us.