I have visited Champagne region in France twice. My first trip to Champagne was to the Southern part Côte des Bars and this year we visited the heart of Champagne – Côte des Blancs. My sister came to visit me in Belgium, so we took her there, hoping she might develop a passion for French wine too. And she did! We had an excellent time during the trip and here is what we saw, tasted and learned!
Trip to Champagne – Côte des Blancs
Côte des Blancs is an area that stretches South from Épernay for about 20 km and has about 3,313 hectares of vineyards. As mentioned in a general post about Champagne region, Côte des Blancs is a part where 95% of the local production of grapes is Chardonnay – the only white grapes used in the fabrication of champagne. Wines produced here are elegant and light, with a delicate aroma.
We stayed at the farm Les Chambres de Muguette in Bannay. The house from the 17th century offers rooms cozily equipped in charming country style. The hostess is very nice and talkative, can give you some recommendations on what to visit in the region as she knows some local producers.
On our way from Bannay to Épernay we pass this abandoned Roman church Saint-Martin de Chavot-Courcourt from the 12th century that dominates the surrounding vineyards. It had been damaged several times during the religion battles and Revolution, consequently repaired though. You can find it in the valley Cubry, near the Courcourt village.
An interesting experience worth sharing here is a local champagne producer situated in Bergères-les-Vertus, Mr. Francois Vallois. His job is his passion and he can talk about it in a very interesting way. We could taste almost all of his champagnes such as Brut Blanc de Blancs, Brut Tradition, Millésime, Extra Brut, Brut Rosé, Rosé de Saignée, Demi-Sec. He also produces and sells the local specialty Ratafia (aperitif on the basis of wine).
We bought one Extra Brut, one rosé, few Brut Blanc de Blancs, and a box of Cuvée vielle vigne (on the above picture). This champagne is made of 100% Chardonnay from vineyards 60 years old, with the aroma of peaches and dry apricots. Probably the best champagne I have ever tasted!
Épernay lies in the heart of Champagne and is considered as the capital and economic center of the region. It wouldn´t be myself and my sister if we missed a divine bakery called “Les Gourmandises d’Amaelle“. We spent maybe 15 minutes there just looking at all these divine cakes. At the end, we choose two of them for our picnic later on. Chocolate ball filled with dark, milk and white chocolate mousse and a piece of strawberry mousse and pistachio sponge cake – both were absolutely amazing! 🙂
Then we could finally go for some sightseeing! The Notre-Dame church dates originally from the end of 19th century. But as it was bombarded by Germans during the WWII, it needed to be repaired afterward.
Town hall of Épernay is now situated in the villa that used to belong to Moët & Chandon. The garden is open for public as a park full of flowers.
Must see in Épernay is the famous Avenue du Champagne. Houses of world known champagne producers such as Moët & Chandon, Perrier-Jouët, Mercier, De Castellane, Demoiselle, Esterlin, Comtesse Lafond, Boizel, and others address here are an architectural masterpiece, and thanks to these Avenue du Champagne is often referred to as one of the most prestigious Avenues in the world. And also the most expensive! Under the ground, in the cellars of the total length of 110 km, something around 200 million is being stocked there! Apart from houses of famous champagne producers, you can find here the future museum of archeology of Épernay which is planning to be opened in 2019.
When walking back through Avenue de Champagne to the center of Épernay, we passed a beautiful garden and small ‘souvenir shop’ of Moët & Chandon that invites you to enter. Moët & Chandon is a prestigious World-known champagne and their splendid design bottles are worth seeing.
Here you can see different bottle sizes. From left to the right: Nabuchodonosor (20 bottles), Baltazar (16 bottles), Salmanazar (12 bottles), Mathusalem (8 bottles), Jeroboam (4 bottles).
Dom Pérignon is a prestigious brand of Champagne of Moët & Chandon and these are the vintage Champagne. It is called after Benediktine monk who changed the technique of fabrication of rosé wine to white sparkling wine.
Visiting De Castellane
If you plan your trip to Champagne and especially Épernay, try to avoid Sunday as many cellars and houses are closed. The only ones opened are Mercier and De Castellane. As we knew that Mercier is massively touristic, unlike De Castellane, the choice was done quickly.
The visit start with a small museum, where you can understand how Champagne was produced in the past. Afterward, you visit the cellar and production premises with a guide (English or French). Do not forget to climb the tower, where you can see the whole Épernay as well as the villas on Avenue du Champagne.
There are also shops in Épernay where you can buy bottles of Champagne from various producers. This comes without tasting unless you pay for it. I was fascinated by the swords for opening bottles of champagne for special occasions as well as frames for collectors.
Walk in Les Faux de Verzy
And a cherry on the top of our trip to Champagne was the visit of natural reserve Les Faux de Verzy. This is a forest near Verzy, in the National Park of La Montagne de Reims. During about an hour long walk in the forest, you can see beech trees with bizarre shapes. The origin of these mysterious trees is still an enigma for the scientists. There are more than 1000 beech trees, which makes Les Faux de Verzy the largest reserve of this kind in the world. The walking path is accessible from the parking Les Pins or Les Faux.
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