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Paris et des Maisons de Champagne.



After plans were postponed with the pandemic, last April we finally rescheduled our mini trip to the Champagne region of France with our friends from Sweden.


They mapped out the drive down from Göteborg with an overnight in Germany and we decided to fly over a few days in advance to spend a little time in Paris ahead of meeting them in Épernay.



PARIS

For this visit, we splurged for a belated celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary and stayed at the Westin Paris-Vendôme - centrally located in the 1st arrondissement - on the top floor with two adjacent balconies overlooking an unforgettable, gorgeous sweeping view of the Eiffel Tower to our right, the Jardin des Tuileries directly across Rue de Rivoli and the Louvre to our left.


Sitting in that spot at the end of each day taking in the evening sunsets and watching the sparkling lights on the Eiffel Tower was a highlight of our stay already accentuated with an incredible array of highlights.




Paris was carefully re-emerging as most other cities around the world during that period and it felt like we largely had the entire city to ourselves. The weather was pure perfection and we opted to cautiously remain outdoors as much as possible.


We walked double-digit miles every single day trying out different cafés lining the sidewalks for a traditional thick, decadent, creamy chocolat chaud à l'ancienne and flaky croissants, grabbing a sandwich au jambon et beurre from a passing boulangerie for an impromptu picnic along the Seine or in one of the expansive gardens, wandering through cobblestone alleys discovering quaint candlelit restaurants to pop into for dinner and shopping the various open-air marchés de puces, brocantes and vide-greniers in the squares.






ÉPERNAY

After the unique experience of Paris without the crowds, we packed up our bags and market finds leaving the Haussmann rooflines behind to hop on the TGV for the short ride to the town of Épernay just 143 km/89 miles east of Paris.


Rolling past colorful fields and clusters of villages with stone houses gathered around churches with steeples seemingly piercing the sky, we reached what is known as the "Capital of Champagne" in about an hour. It is an easy add-on trip to your Parisian itinerary even if for a day with multiple train departures to choose from.



Épernay is ready to explore right as you step off of the train. Located right outside of the station, Avenue de Champagne - a designated UNESCO World Heritage site - is a lovely half-mile walk bordered by several elegant and prestigious Maisons de Champagne - Pol Roger, Moët & Chandon and Perrier-Jouët amongst others.


The succession of magnificent architectural buildings were built back in the late 17th century as head offices or private residences for the Champagne proprietors with paved courtyards and luxurious gardens behind iron gates and a network of intricate levels of cool, dark expansive tunnels below spanning over 100 km/62 miles with storage cellars hand carved out of the chalk - the trademark soil of the region and of ideal conditions for the vines - and delicately housing millions of bottles of Champagne.








We checked into the Champagne André Bergère to join Pierre, Helen, Joakim and Petra who had arrived earlier that morning. The guest suites on the second level included separate living rooms, hardwood floors and hefty metal antique keys for the polished wood doors.


Joakim and Petra had an apartment equipped with a full kitchen with double doors leading down to a walled outdoor space. The kitchen quickly became our favorite gathering place after dinner for one last cup of tea, glass of Champagne or coffee with Swedish treats before retiring for the night.




Aside from leisurely outings soaking up the culture with a drive over to Reims to stop by the iconic Veuve Clicquot Champagne House and afternoons sipping Champagne in sunny courtyards, we had reservations with My Vintage Tour Company for an entire day of learning about the history of the region and adventuring through the hilly countryside.



Our guide, co-founder Maëva, was as charming and sweet as the vintage gray Renault Estafette Allouette van she picked our group up in for our private tour. She shared so much knowledge with us about the Champagne Houses, vineyards and meticulous, secretive Champagne making process - a craft passed down from generation to generation - while expertly leading us along the backroads filled with rows and rows of neatly spaced vines in the spring growing stage known as "bud burst" or "bud break."


Within this first cycle, the growers are tasked with removing superfluous buds, arranging the shoots and limiting aggressive growth to keep the vines focused on producing the finest grapes for the hand-picked harvest instead of an abundance of foliage.





It was a fun and educational excursion organized in detail and orchestrated impeccably from showing us how to saber a bottle of Champagne and providing tastings of different types of bubbly paired with local crunchy biscuits roses de Reims to setting up a fabulous lunch of individual baguettes, charcuterie and cheese boards from Laiterie Gilbert in the heart of the vineyards and touring two Champagne Houses - Vollereaux and Jean-Philippe Bosser - where we were fortunate to observe the bottling phase at one and gain insight on the smaller scaled production of a family-owned business at the other.







On our last evening together before heading out to dinner, Petra coordinated a surprise apéritif in the garden under the trellised gazebo complete with tablecloth linens, capping off and toasting to a trip of a lifetime with an incredible bunch of friends.


The next morning, the Swedes headed back home via the same route - this time laden with boxes of exquisite Champagne - while Magnus and I slipped in to see the Moët & Chandon cellars prior to boarding the train for our next brief stop in Reims.


The story of how the Moët and Chandon families blended to create the House it is today is fascinating and the hundreds of thousands of dusty bottles stacked in the underground maze of galleries aging and developing their own aromas and bubbles are simply impressive - highly recommend if you can only squeeze in one Champagne House tour.






REIMS

In Reims, we toured the Pommery Champagne House founded in 1858 and the cathedral - the coronation site of twenty-five kings of France from 1223 to 1825 - of which we had stunning views from our room at La Caserne Chanzy Hôtel where we could capture the shade variations on the Lutetian limestone façade as sunlight danced, dipped and faded behind the clouds.


One day later, we were back on the TGV to Charles de Gaulle to catch our flight to Washington, D.C.












In our group chat a couple of weeks ago, we reflected on how it does not seem possible that it has already been a year since that trip... maybe it is a good time to start making plans to travel back.


Santé | Skål | Cheers

everyone!



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