May 26, 2013

Starting point Reims

In Reims - Champagne is not just the drink - how about a glass of Champagne
How about a glass of bubbly?
Reims is the main city in the Champagne area, in the north east of France (the link will take you to the tourist information). This is where the main train station is, and this is where we stayed when I visited the region with friends May.

It was my first time to really stop in the area, previously I have driven through, or just stopped for a coffee or a quick meal - this time I had a chance to really enjoy it. We were eating and drinking our way through Champagne - more about the food in a later post.

The champagne region is beautiful, but not very warm, at least not when we were there. It didn't really come as a surprise, the spring in northern Europe hasn't been very warm over all this year, but naturally we would have preferred sun every day, we were on holiday, after all. However the special climate in the area is what makes the wines so special, Champagne is one of the coldest areas where you can grow grapes that are good enough for quality wines - and if that is what it takes, then I can put up with it.

AK-thenextchapter - the cathedral in Reims
The cathedral in Reims
Reims is the biggest city in the region (the others I would more consider towns) but despite being the biggest, it is not that large, and it is very charming. The centre of Reims is very walkable, with plenty of nice restaurants and bars  (as well as some not so interesting). Naturally, all of the bars and restaurants have Champagne on the menu - it is all about marketing your own products.
The big landmark in Reims is the beautiful cathedral; I ended up visiting it three times; The first I only saw it from the outside, the second and third I was inside, but only on my third visit did I get to walk up and have a close look at some things, the second visit there was a service on so I sat down and listened to part of it. Very peaceful, but not great from a sightseeing perspective, so I am happy I had a chance to return the third time, to the beautiful Notre Dame of Reims - the great lady of Reims. I can strongly recommend a visit - next time I will stay longer and do some more sightseeing, maybe visit a museum or two.
From Reims you can easily get to other parts of Champagne: Epernay is 30 minutes away by local train, or you can go to one of the smaller villages around; 10-20 minutes away you have several interesting ones - and of course there are champagne producers in every corner, champagne producers that offer guided tours and/or tastings. You may want to call ahead an make a reservation if you are going to a smaller location though, to ensure that they are available, many of the business are family run and for natural reasons not available every day of the year, especially not if they don't know that you are coming. - Michel Fagot champagne tasting
Talking about and tasting champagne at Michel Fagot's
Our weekend in Champagne we went to a few smaller wineries/champagne houses as well to some bigger, but we were not all together all the time. Of the ones we visited together I specifically enjoyed the visit to Michel Fagot winery, in the small village Rilly-la-Montagne. Our guide was very very skilled guide and spent a lot of time with us, explaining the job showing us around the estate and talking about Champagne. I was hypnotised, it is always great to meet someone with a similar interest and passion for food and drinks. The fact that the champagne was excellent obviously helped, too... This is definitely a place I will return to - I can spend hours talking about food and drinks.

Next time I return to Champagne I will also make a special effort to go to "Ay", a village close to Epernay, where some of the oldest Champagne houses are located - check the link to get to the village's website. It's something we missed doing this time - time was limited and there are only so many places you can visit during one weekend.

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