So we’ve been really diligent doing all our winter jobs – bits of painting, cleaning, fluffing, generally making sure everything is in tip-top shape for 2016 – and we thought we’d have a little mini-break before Easter and the summer season really sets in. We had a friend from Australia (hi Craig!) to meet up with in Paris and join us for our road trip so we figured we’d be half way to the Champagne region and we could come home via Villers Brettoneux – so important for Australians like us.
Every time I drive to Paris (which is a total of three times now) I am a bundle of crazy nerves before hand. In the Normandy countryside, and even in the busier places like Caen, I now know my way around well enough and manage to keep on the correct side of the road. But in Paris they have crazy rules. Like ‘oncoming traffic has the right of way on roundabouts’. And crazy drivers. Like all of them. But then every time I get to Paris I find driving is actually pretty easy. The traffic keeps things nice and slow. If you’re in the wrong spot just put your indicator on and other drivers are generally really forgiving. I think having our department number (14 for Calvados) on our numberplate lets them all know we’re from out of town and they cut us some slack. So don’t be put off too much if you’re thinking about renting a car in Paris.
From Paris we headed to Reims first (unpronounceable in French – you really have to have the rolling r thing happening big time). I’d booked a table at the petite treat Epicerie au Bon Manger – there’s just four tables – and we loved it. Beef stew for the boys, a plate of mixed cheeses and charcuterie and salad for me and coffee and chocolate mousse all round for dessert. Everything made on the premises by the dynamo duo running the place and they specialise in organic and biodynamic wines and champagnes to match. We were well fuelled up for our first tasting tour – Taittinger.
I love Taittinger – enough to forgive them their crazy “you won’t need a booking” and turn up and “the tour is full so come back in 1.5 hours”. Compared to the orderly booking processes of Moet (reserve via email) and even better Pommery (reserve, pay and print ticket before you leave home), I suspect this would be a deal breaker for those travelling in summer. All three of these tours (and four if you count a trip to Veuve Cliquot a few years back) are informative, less than an hour, take you through the caves where they store the bottles (so there’s a LOT of steps down and up again) and my favourite part… exit through the gift shop. While the story behind Veuve and Madame Cliquot is fascinating and the most personable, without doubt our lovely guide Mary at Moet really made that tour shine for us. If you’re hoping for some bubbly bargains at the end, sadly there’s no great discounts to be had at the cellar doors. Instead opt for a glass of the grand cru with your tour ticket – you’d be hard pressed to be able to try these champagnes by the glass anywhere else. I’m now a cuvee Louise fan after a 13 euro cellar tour upgrade rather than the 100 euro a bottle in a wine shop – thank you Pommery.
There’s other ways to try great champagnes here. Reims has some great restaurants with some great champagne menus (and sommeliers to help guide you). The highlight for us was the beautiful Brasserie Flo where it was steak frites followed by the most fabulous gooey warm chocolatey pudding I’ve ever had. I may never put a cake in the oven for more than 10 minutes ever again. A spin past the amazing cathedral lit up at night will walk about two spoonfuls off, but you’ll sleep like a baby afterwards. A slightly drunk baby.