Cost: 80 euros/day
To the casual wine aficiando it may come as a surprise to learn that that most elegant of all wine regions, Champagne, lies only a hour train ride from the Paris city center. In what Hemingway described as “grace under pressure” I took this staggering news in stride, pulled myself together and boarded the Champagne Express which runs like clockwork from Paris to Epernay, the epicenter of bubbly.
Epernay looks exactly as you feel it should, little French houses, quant avenues with wine shops and one enormous boulevard housing almost every major champagne house in France. After touring the catacombs in Paris I was understandably a bit apprehensive regarding underground tunnels, but the champagne caves running under Epernay are truly a thing of wonder. Moet and Chandon alone exists directly above 20 kilometers of tunnels and caves in which they store and age the wine, some decades old. The original Moet was aided in its expansion by none other than everyone’s favorite pint-sized emperor, Napolean Bonaparte. Napolean was a patron and longtime customer of Moet, keeping his court’s enormous thirst at bay. A monument to him still stands below ground in the caves beneath Epernay.
A typical day here would begin on the train ride in, as rolling green foothills pass by the window of the chugging little engine. From there it’s a matter of picking a champagne house or wine shop with which to start. Ten euros will get you three flutes of the good stuff at most smaller shops, and the real magic is sampling wines that cannot be found anywhere outside of France. Lunch spots abound and it’s simply a test of endurance and desire, how many bubbly discoveries do you want to make before the idyllic ride back into Paris. Fear not, there are plenty of grassy parks and flat benches for a short nap to get your strength back up.
Not surprisingly, the locals work in the champagne or hospitality industries for the most part. This means there is never any shortage of good recommendations for wines that one might never know existed. Therein lies the challenge of Champagne…How does one choose?
Really, it’s not necessary. The options are so bountiful and wonderful that most any shot in the dark in your price range will yield a pleasurable experience.
The lesson I learned in Champagne is that regardless of what faults one may find with the way France is governed, the people now how to live and enjoy every second of it.