Most people go to Paris and don’t want to leave. And yes, I’m one of those people. But there’s an easy (and very tempting) day trip (with or without a one night’s stay) to Champagne that beckoned me and so on our last visit to Paris in July we jumped on the train and closed our eyes for a quick nap and in an hour and forty minutes were climbing down on the platform in Epernay in the heart of the Champagne region.
Our first trip, we had the address of our hotel in hand (a good thing to do when one’s French sounds like a combination of a native New Yorker and a first year student) as we approached the one taxi waiting outside the station.
“Well I could give you a ride,” he answered in perfect English, “but you’ll find that you can just as easily – and more cheaply – walk the one block to your hotel…it’s on the right hand side of the street around the bend.”
Already we were pinching ourselves. This was way too easy!
We were to spend the night at the Jean Moet Hotel with a tour the next morning at Moet & Chandon that turned out to be right across the street. Why haven’t we made this trip before we were wondering as we briefly unpacked our toiletries in the ultra modern bathroom of the hotel? Checking our watches – it turned out we had time for a quick nap before meeting another #Champagne lover and former LA resident – at a new restaurant and wine bar in town called Banque (yes, a form bank building) just one block from our hotel.
Paris had been cool and drizzly but the warm sunshine of the early evening poured down on us as we examined the wine list of the restaurant on the pretty outdoor terrace. Amazingly, most bottles did not exceed 45 euros ($60 or so including service and tax) and the Billecart Salmon that is so coveted here in the US was only 80 euros ($85 US retail – do the math for the average price in a restaurant – a true bargain!).
Our waitress was super friendly and guided us to a selection from a small producer that we enjoyed with snacks from the bar provided gratis.
Page, our companion, has permanently relocated to Epernay and so she gave us the inside scoop on where to dine that evening at Bar 7 around the block . So while we definitely could have consumed a second bottle, we forced ourselves to bid farewell and off to dinner we went.
Dinner was a bargain too at 35 euros per person prix fixe for 3 courses we were satiated and walked the three blocks back to our hotel looking forward to the beautiful bed. We realized while walking that in a week the Tour de France would be passing right through the center of town but on this night we only saw one other group of two strolling along.
Next morning we arrived at Moet & Chandon with low expectations as we imagined that it would be very busy with seasonal tourists. Not the case. The winery has an impeccably managed appointment only tasting program and we were soon greeted by our guide who led us through the expansive caves of this impressive Chateau. Champagne has been made here since the time of Napoleon and there were all kinds of artifacts and things to mark the long history. Some 25 miles of caves are under the city – and, I do have to admit at one point I did imagine never finding out way out!
On to the tasting. As a visiting journalist, we were indulged with access to the VIP tasting room and given a large wrought iron key to open the gates to access this perfect underground area that may be available for private events. Bottles from the new Imperial release started our tasting which I enjoyed very much as the Imperial strays away from the sweetness of the White Star that has become so popular in the US. We were then treated to multiple vintages – of both Blanc and Rose – as well as what will be a new vintage release, the 2003. We were also given an exceptional taste of a 1992 that will be re-released soon.
It was just coming up on lunchtime when we were beckoned away by our next appointment (and a driver to take us to that destination – our only transportation other than foot for our entire visit).
Happy – and hungry – we bit a hasty farewell to this fine place in history – and a leader in the Champagne industry. We were sad to miss a return to the gift shop on the way out as many things were available there that were not in the US.
Getting There/Staying There
Trains from Paris on the RER leave approximately every 2 hours for Epernay and cost an off peak fare of approximately 44 euros for two one way. No reservation needed.
For the Jean Moet Hotel you can reserve directly with the hotel or (as we did) through www.booking.com. Rates begin at 150 euros per night not including a 20 euro per person breakfast which was our only disappointment. There are other small hotels in town that offer you the ability to walk to Moet & Chandon and other Champagne houses and to restaurants as the town is very small.
For a visit to Moet & Chandon
Open from Monday to Friday (closed on weekends and public holidays) from January 30th to March 23rd, from November 12 to December 28th (check for 2013 dates)
Open daily (from Monday to Sunday, including public holidays) from March 24th to November 11th (check for 2013 dates)
Reservations required for guided touring and tasting of one or two glass tastings of vintage or non-vintage selections ranging from 16 euro to 29 euro per persons (inclusive). To book your visit http://us.moet.com/Visit-us/Visit-our-cellars
Suggested drinking Moet Imperial, Moet 2002 Blanc and 2002 Rose.
Remember to leave time for walking the spectacular grounds.