Champagne: An Inland Paradise in France
Champagne. We often think of that sparkling glass of goodness during moments of celebration or perhaps that rare occasion when upgraded to first class. During my recent travels to Reims, France, I learned the word “champagne” means so much more than an aperitif.
The names Taittinger, Moët, or Veuve might ring a bell—and all of these prestigious names come from the northeastern region of France. In this region, which is also home to the burial site of the father of Champagne, Dom Perignon, the beverage is served around the clock, as this is of course the area’s drink of choice. You also will learn quickly you can only call this drink Champagne if it is grown and produced in the region; everything else is simply sparkling wine.
I’m a big fan of Paris, but Reims is much more my style. With a direct fast train from Paris Main Station, you will arrive in Reims in just under an hour. The town is quaint—and also home to its own Notre-Dame cathedral—and the ability to walk everywhere in 10 to 15 minutes is what I preferred the most.
Champagne houses surround the city, and tours will pick you up from your hotel to show you the French countryside and nearby villages, which is something everyone must see. While exploring Reims, stop for a menu du jour (“menu of the day”) at the famous Café du Palais. The eclectic interior offers a nice atmosphere with a pleasant staff and, most importantly, fresh food paired with Champagne. (I had salmon pasta with caramel ice cream for dessert.) One thing about France is the freshness and quality of the food is top-notch, and of course you will never run out of baguettes, either.
Since it was my first time to the region I wasn’t really sure which Champagne houses to choose from, so I decided to take a tour with La Vigne du Roy. My guide, Eric, was born in the region and knew everything about Champagne, including the science and harvesting behind it all. The tour offered a mix of famous brands, such as Taittinger, and small organic producers, such as Nicolas Maillart, who specialize in different and unique ways of producing their product.
One of the highlights of the tour was the lunch that was prepared for us. The fresh salads and meat paired with Champagne made for a light meal, and the location was lovely. The tour is also available for those staying in Paris who just want to come to Reims for the day. I recommend it to everyone.
After visiting several local producers, I learned that they really value their product and what a privilege it is to have vineyards in the region. The grapes are treated with so much care from the moment they appear on the vine. When the Champagne has been bottled, the bottles are turned by hand for months so all sediment can move to the top of the bottle. After this, the tips of the bottles are placed into a freezing liquid so the sediment pops out before they are corked. When the year of harvest was unique in many different ways—perhaps because of weather—the Champagne can be declared a vintage with approval from a board of the region.