A town with a big heart, historic Troyes

Troyes was an absolute revelation. I knew little about it before going, and only when there did I learn of the designation that has been bestowed upon it: Ville d’Art et d’Histoire, City of Art and History. That, at least, gives an indication of the delights that await when you get there. Even then most tourists seem to stay further north in the heartlands of the champagne-making region, near Reims and Épernay. Troyes was completely underwhelmed by tourism.

Sculpture, Troyes, Champagne, France

Sculpture, Troyes, Champagne, France

Heart-shaped sculpture, Troyes, Champagne, France

Heart-shaped sculpture, Troyes, Champagne, France

Sculpture, Troyes, Champagne, France

Sculpture, Troyes, Champagne, France

The best way to discover Troyes’ art and history is to walk the compact medieval centre. Diving down narrow alleys between the timber-framed houses that are emblematic of the town. There are small courtyards and squares to discover, and 12th and 13th Century churches hidden amongst the tangle of streets to find. Amongst these pedestrianised streets the past seems to come alive.

Historic Troyes is said to be shaped like a champagne cork. A shape formed originally by defensive walls, and today by elegant boulevards and the River Seine as it twists around the town. The resemblance to a champagne cork can still be seen today despite the town’s expansion. Equally, it could be a mushroom or, if you’re a teenage boy, a more phallic object. I doubt the tourist board will adopt that interpretation any time soon though.

The stem of the cork is where the medieval old town is found. In the bulbous head of the cork can be found the early 13th Century Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul, surrounded by a collection of timber-framed medieval houses. Next to the cathedral in former church buildings is the Musée d’Art Moderne with a pretty sculpture garden, and a treasure trove of works by Cézanne, Degas, Gauguin, Matisse and Picasso.

The walk between the two areas takes you through lovely squares flanked by 17th and 18th Century buildings, and over the Canal des Trevois. The route is dotted with public art, statues and fountains. On a warm sunny day, Troyes is a fantastic place to stroll around. When you’re done strolling, my advice is to head to Le Millésimé on Place Saint-Rémy, near the food market. Relax with a glass of local champagne and watch the world go by.

Troyes, Champagne, France

Troyes, Champagne, France

Troyes, Champagne, France

Troyes, Champagne, France

Troyes, Champagne, France

Troyes, Champagne, France

Musée d'Art Moderne, Troyes, Champagne, France

Musée d’Art Moderne, Troyes, Champagne, France

Sculpture, Troyes, Champagne, France

Sculpture, Troyes, Champagne, France

The historic wealth of art and culture can be traced back well over two thousand years, to when Troyes was founded by Celtic tribes. It became a centre of trade between Northern France and Italy following the Roman conquest of Gaul. Trade links made Troyes wealthy and, in the medieval period, famous for its great trade fairs which established it as an international trading centre.

The decline of Troyes began with the persecution of the many Protestants who had founded industries there, particularly cloth making industries based first on the wool trade and later cotton. A massacre of Calvinist Huguenots in 1572, and a century of occasional persecution, culminated in Louis XIV’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.

Sculpture, Troyes, Champagne, France

Sculpture, Troyes, Champagne, France

Troyes, Champagne, France

Troyes, Champagne, France

Cathedral, Troyes, Champagne, France

Cathedral, Troyes, Champagne, France

Troyes, Champagne, France

Troyes, Champagne, France

By guaranteeing Protestants equal rights the Edit of Nantes brought an end to the French Wars of Religion. The ending of religious, civil and legal protections saw a wave of persecution unleashed on the Huguenots, and a flood of skilled Huguenot workers leave the city. Many of the refugees established themselves in Protestant England and the Netherlands, both of which benefitted economically while the economy of Troyes, and France, was severely damaged.

Troyes went from being a centre of trade to a relative backwater. Something modern visitors should should be grateful for: it’s one of the reasons why its collection of medieval buildings has made it into the 21st Century.

Brexit is just English humour, Troyes, Champagne, France

Brexit is just English humour, Troyes, Champagne, France

The ancient capital of Champagne, Medieval Troyes

Troyes is graced with dozens of beautiful half timbered buildings, narrow medieval lanes, wonderful public spaces filled with statues, and is towered over by its crowning glory, the magnificent Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul. To say it came as a surprise is a gross understatement. It’s not only the fantastic history on display, Troyes is a lively and cultured town with good restaurants and an excellent food market.

There are even champagne vineyards in the surrounding countryside, and tasting opportunities in the town. Despite this, Troyes is pretty much unknown to the world. It seems to be most famous for its singular contribution to France’s culinary reputation: the andouillette sausage, made from the small intestines of pigs. It’s undoubtedly an acquired taste, prompting one BBC food writer to comment that “it absolutely stinks and we’re not talking good stink.”

Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul, Troyes, France

Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul, Troyes, France

Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul, Troyes, France

Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul, Troyes, France

It’s not exactly a glowing recommendation for visiting the town, but the andouillette is famous across France and on every menu in Troyes. Thankfully, ever since a rather unfortunate incident with an extremely unpleasant pigs’ ear stew in Spain, I’ve learned to be a bit more circumspect about local delicacies when travelling.

Troyes is just about as “off the beaten path” as it gets in the Champagne region. We saw hardly any other foreigners. Given its treasure trove of historical buildings, good museums and easy-going friendliness, it deserves to be more popular. After all, there was a time when Troyes was the capital of Champagne, playing host to royalty and claiming centre stage for the dynastic feud between England and France.

Here, in 1420, during the Hundred Years’ War, King Henry V of England married Catherine of Valois, cementing his claim on the throne of France following the signing of the Treaty of Troyes. The Treaty not only made Henry V King of France upon the death of King Charles VI, but the title was to be passed down to Henry’s heirs to unite the two countries under one crown.

This was a claim that would be quickly and bitterly disputed. Eventually, English claims to France were ended by the intervention of Joan of Arc. Following her dramatic capture of Orléans, French forces took Troyes from English control in 1429 while en route to Reims for the coronation of the French Dauphin.

Medieval wood-framed houses, Troyes, France

Medieval wood-framed houses, Troyes, France

Medieval wood-framed houses, Troyes, France

Medieval wood-framed houses, Troyes, France

Medieval wood-framed houses, Troyes, France

Medieval wood-framed houses, Troyes, France

Medieval wood-framed houses, Troyes, France

Medieval wood-framed houses, Troyes, France

Medieval wood-framed houses, Troyes, France

Medieval wood-framed houses, Troyes, France

The town was severely damaged by a fire in 1524, over 1,000 houses burned to the ground, but its medieval centre still evokes those turbulent days. Leaning houses almost touch each other along narrow alleyways, their wooden frames painted jolly colours. The Ruelle des Chats, which is fun to walk down, is named because cats were able to jump from one rooftop to another to cross the street.

Walk the maze of streets and you’ll discover several medieval churches with beautiful stained glass windows, a legacy of a time when some of Europe’s finest master glassmakers worked in Troyes’ once famous glass industry. Many of the streets in the central medieval quarter are pedestrianised, making it the perfect place for outdoor restaurant tables and people watching. Just avoid ordering the andouillette.

Saint Madeleine Church, Troyes, France

Saint Madeleine Church, Troyes, France

Saint Madeleine Church, Troyes, France

Saint Madeleine Church, Troyes, France

Saint Madeleine Church, Troyes, France

Saint Madeleine Church, Troyes, France

Saint Madeleine Church, Troyes, France

Saint Madeleine Church, Troyes, France

When we were there over a summer weekend, there were musicians playing live in the square and a busy outdoor market. All of which makes it even more remarkable that one of the main activities recommended for tourists is to visit outlet stores. Quite why anyone would bother with shopping when there’s so much else to enjoy is beyond my comprehension.

A journey through the Côte des Blancs Champagne Route

The trip through the magnificent scenery of the Côte des Blancs Champagne Route starts, appropriately enough, along Épernay’s Avenue de Champagne. The rest of the journey from Épernay to Sézanne is just as glorious as the champagne mansions you pass leaving Épernay: rolling green countryside filled with neat rows of vines, and dotted with villages that are home to numerous small champagne producers.

Almost all the grapes along this route are of the green-skinned chardonnay variety, rather than the purple-skinned pinot noir and pinot meunier varieties that can be found in the Marne Valley. The chardonnay grapes here are considered some of the best in Champagne, many falling into the superior Grand Cru category. Here the grapes go to make some of the finest champagnes available to humanity.

Mesnil-sur-Oger, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Mesnil-sur-Oger, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Grand Cru chardonnay, Chouilly, Champagne, France

Grand Cru chardonnay, Chouilly, Champagne, France

Marcel Richard champagne, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Marcel Richard champagne, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Grand Cru chardonnay, Monthelon, Champagne, France

Grand Cru chardonnay, Monthelon, Champagne, France

Cramant, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Cramant, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Although the route is well marked with road signs, we still managed to get lost moments after leaving Épernay. We found ourselves in the small village of Monthelon and, while trying to find our way back to the route, we passed the champagne house of Marcel Richard three times. Coincidence? We thought not and decided to stop to sample some of their fizzy delights.

We took a seat in the lovely sun-filled patio and chatted to the Dutch and English speaking Belgian woman who worked there, whilst tasting five different champagnes. Marcel Richard has a couple of hectares of vines and buys additional grapes from a collective in nearby villages to make only 22,000 bottles of champagne a year. That is a tiny amount compared to some producers, but it was so good we left with six bottles.

Back on the route towards Sézanne, we were soon passing through picturesque countryside and picture-postcard perfect villages once more. This really is a spectacularly beautiful region. Before long we passed the giant champagne bottle that guards the entrance to Cramant, a village of a few hundred souls that is famous for only having Grand Cru vineyards.

The villages of Avize and Oger passed by, although not before a detour to see the champagne bottle pouring liquid into a glass on the hillside. The whole region is dotted with these slightly odd symbols of champagne making. Sometimes you’ll see old wine presses, other times large wooden barrels and, on special occasions, giant champagne bottles. They’re a bit kitsch, but a lot of fun.

Avize, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Avize, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Vertus, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Vertus, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Vertus, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Vertus, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Vertus, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Vertus, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Vertus, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Vertus, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Vertus, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Vertus, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Eventually we stopped in Vertus, a pretty little town with a fantastic church, the Église Saint-Martin, dating from the 11th Century. It was midday and hot, as we walked around the attractive streets there were no people to be seen. Eventually we found the main square, and a few people escaping the heat of the day in a couple of cafes. Refreshed we set off south once more.

I don’t remember where we were when we first saw it, the gigantic megalith-like statue standing on a ridge, but we quickly decided it needed investigating. What looked like a huge slab of sandstone turned out to be the rather beautiful Monument National de la Victoire de la Marne. Standing at 35.5 meters in height, it commemorates the First Battle of the Marne in 1914, which played out in the marshlands in the valley below.

Monument National de la Victoire, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Monument National de la Victoire, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Monument National de la Victoire, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Monument National de la Victoire, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Monument National de la Victoire, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Monument National de la Victoire, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Monument National de la Victoire, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Monument National de la Victoire, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Chateau, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Chateau, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Chateau, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Chateau, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

The battle is one of the most important of World War I, and is credited with saving Paris from capture and turning the tide against the German army. It was here that Marshal Joffre gave the order to his troops to attack or to die holding their positions. It ended victory for France, but came at the cost of over a quarter of a million casualties, including 80,000 dead. A similar number of Germans were injured or killed.

There is a small museum on the site but it was closed, so after looking around the church and cemetery we got on our way towards Sézanne. By this time the landscape had begun to change, and we’d largely stopped seeing vineyards. They still exist in this part of Champagne, but not in such densities as further north. We stopped briefly in Sézanne, which has a pretty medieval centre, and then headed for Troyes …

Sezanne, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Sezanne, Côte des Blancs Champagne Route, France

Travelling the Marne Valley Champagne Route

Seen from the beautiful hilltop village of Hautvillers, where Dom Pierre Pérignon is credited with inventing champagne in the 17th century, the lush green rolling hills of Champagne’s Marne Valley are a mesmerising sight. In a region famed for picturesque landscapes and idyllic villages, Hautvillers is a dramatic starting point for a journey through the Marne Valley.

We’d arrived a little late to Hautvillers after a fascinating (and delicious) tour and tasting at Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte near the village of Chouilly. Fortunately, our arrival coincided with lunchtime so, after a stroll around the village and visit to the church where Dom Pérignon is buried, we snagged a table for a leisurely lunch in the shade of a tree in the main square.

Hautvillers viewed through the vineyards of Champagne, France

Hautvillers viewed through the vineyards of Champagne, France

Moet et Chandon vines, Hautvillers, Champagne, France

Moet et Chandon vines, Hautvillers, Champagne, France

Hautvillers, Champagne, France

Hautvillers, Champagne, France

Hautvillers, Champagne, France

Hautvillers, Champagne, France

Hautvillers, Champagne, France

Hautvillers, Champagne, France

As you go from village to village, laid out before you is the very essence of the French notion of terroir: the landscape, soils, climate and traditions that makes a wine unique. Terroir is very big in Champagne. The notion of terroir is a difficult one to grasp for a wine layperson, but whenever people spoke of it they did so with the seriousness of someone talking about their own mortality. It’s that important.

Covered in chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grape vines, part of the fun of travelling this fantastic route is the knowledge that sometime soon you’ll be sampling the fizzy wine that its terroir produces. In each village we passed through there were dozens of small champagne houses, most producing only a small amount of champagne each year. Much of this wine never leaves France, unless in the back of a tourist’s car.

There is a well-defined route for travelling through the main grape growing areas of the Champagne region. In almost every village you’ll see road signs pointing you towards the next charming village, or spectacular view. The route is easy to follow but we got lost a few times. The whole area is so beautiful that it doesn’t seem to make much difference where you go.

Come during the harvest in September (or possibly in October this year due to heavy rains and limited sun), and the fields of vines will be bustling with thousands of people picking the grapes. Harvesting is an activity still done by hand due to the complex rules for making champagne. Early summer isn’t a particularly busy time in the fields, but everywhere we went we saw people tending to their crops, making sure there were no problems.

Admiring these bucolic landscapes, and wandering the narrow lanes of the Marne’s peaceful, near deserted villages, it’s hard to comprehend that this compact area of countryside underpins a vast global business. It’s also hard to imagine the conflicts that have engulfed this region. It was here, in 1914, that the French Sixth Army turned and counter attacked the hitherto all-conquering German Army in the First Battle of the Marne.

Hautvillers viewed through the vineyards of Champagne, France

Hautvillers viewed through the vineyards of Champagne, France

Marne Valley Champagne Route, Champagne, France

Marne Valley Champagne Route, Champagne, France

Châtillon-sur-Marne, Marne Valley Champagne Route, France

Châtillon-sur-Marne, Marne Valley Champagne Route, France

Marne Valley Champagne Route, Champagne, France

Marne Valley Champagne Route, Champagne, France

Marne Valley Champagne Route, Champagne, France

Marne Valley Champagne Route, Champagne, France

Towns, like Châtillon-sur-Marne, which today lie on the Champagne Route, were on the front line of the conflict and were severely damaged. The First Battle of the Marne marked a turning point in the war. The German advance was stopped and reversed, but the French and British couldn’t exploit the opportunity to the full. The stalemate marked the beginning of trench warfare.

There was a Second Battle of the Marne in 1918, a final attempt by Germany to win the war. It failed thanks to stiff resistance from French and American forces, and the Marne proved yet another turning point in the war. The German Army was forced into full retreat and three months later unconditionally surrendered. In village after village you’ll see memorials to those who died and, in some places, cemeteries marked with uniform rows of white crosses.

Marne Valley Champagne Route, Champagne, France

Marne Valley Champagne Route, Champagne, France

Marne Valley Champagne Route, Champagne, France

Marne Valley Champagne Route, Champagne, France

Marne Valley Champagne Route, Champagne, France

Marne Valley Champagne Route, Champagne, France

Marne Valley Champagne Route, Champagne, France

Marne Valley Champagne Route, Champagne, France

Marne Valley Champagne Route, Champagne, France

Marne Valley Champagne Route, Champagne, France

Our route took us along the north bank of the River Marne, which meanders and sparkles its way across the valley floor, until we reached the town of Dormans. We crossed the river here and, weaving our way through picturesque villages travelled back to Epernay on the south bank.

We took most of the day to drive the Marne Valley Champagne Route, but a determined champagne aficionado could take days, or weeks, to complete the circuit. At least once back in Epernay, the designated driver could relax and have a glass of something bubbly.

Going underground in Épernay

When it come to sparkling wine, there’s no substitute for champagne. Well there is, but no ship worth its salt was ever launched with a bottle of prosecco. As the saying goes, “all champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is champagne”. As a global brand, champagne is fervently protected by the producers themselves, by numerous laws, and the many onerous rules of quality control.

I’ve often been amazed at the lengths humanity has gone to produce alcohol but, quite honestly, it’s a miracle that champagne ever gets made. That it does is testament to human endeavour and perseverance.

Tasting at Nicolas Feuillatte, Epernay, Champage, France

Tasting at Nicolas Feuillatte, Epernay, Champage, France

Tasting at Nicolas Feuillatte, Epernay, Champage, France

Tasting at Nicolas Feuillatte, Epernay, Champage, France

Tasting at Nicolas Feuillatte, Epernay, Champage, France

Tasting at Nicolas Feuillatte, Epernay, Champage, France

Only the Champagne region has the right to call its wines champagne, and the region is rigidly defined. The champagne Appellation d’Origine Controlée is even more restricted, only 318 villages can claim the designation – a cause of historic acrimony amongst those grape growers who fall just outside the boundaries. Those 318 villages all have the quality of their grapes designated as Cru, Premiere Cru or Grand Cru, which affects their value.

Growers have to adhere to inflexible rules covering all aspects of getting the fizzy stuff into your glass: the number of vines planted per hectare and the space between them; pressing the grapes and the volume of liquid produced from each kilo; dates and timing of harvesting; the entire wine making process; the date of bottling and the minimum time for maturation in the bottle … the rules are endless.

The méthode champenoise, where the wine goes through a second fermentation to naturally produce bubbles and stays in the bottle until it’s drunk, is the stuff of legend. Only producers from this region have the right to use the term. Other sparkling wines can only to refer to their production method as ‘méthode traditionnelle’. Take that cava and Australian sparkling chardonnay.

To understand the méthode champenoise we visited some of Épernay’s champagne houses, toured their production facilities, and stood surrounded by thousands of bottles in their cellars as the process was explained. Each tour ended by sampling the finished product, for research purposes, obviously.

Épernay is a small town of 24,000 people, but it plays an oversized role in the history of champagne. There are dozens of grand champagne houses, but what’s on the surface is nothing compared to what goes on beneath these splendid mansions. In Épernay, the real action takes place underground, amongst the millions of bottles of champagne being lovingly nurtured to maturity.

We toured the slick Moët & Chandon facilities, the much more down-to-earth and entertaining Champagne de Castellane, and the great champagne collective of Nicolas Feuillatte, located amidst rolling vineyards just outside Épernay. The tour of Nicholas Feuillatte was a lot of fun, and they produce some extraordinary champagnes to drink with food rather than as an apéritif.

Champagne de Castellane, Epernay, France

Champagne de Castellane, Epernay, France

Avenue de Champagne, Epernay, France

Avenue de Champagne, Epernay, France

Avenue de Champagne, Epernay, France

Avenue de Champagne, Epernay, France

Avenue de Champagne, Epernay, France

Avenue de Champagne, Epernay, France

Champagne de Castellane, Epernay, France

Champagne de Castellane, Epernay, France

Ironically, bubbles in wine were considered a defect in the 16th and 17th centuries, and wine producers, including Dom Pérignon, spent their time trying to rid champagne of its fizz. Even more ironic, it was the English who started the craze for sparkling wines from Champagne in the late 17th century. France followed the trend shortly afterwards … the rest is history.

Until the 19th century champagne production was a lottery. Producers didn’t fully understand the role of sugar in the second fermentation, and much wine went to waste; huge numbers of bottles simply exploded because the pressure inside was too much for the inferior glass. Whole batches were lost. Perfecting the process took two centuries of experimentation.

Moët & Chandon, Epernay, France

Moët & Chandon, Epernay, France

Cellars at Moët & Chandon, Epernay, France

Cellars at Moët & Chandon, Epernay, France

Cellars at Moët & Chandon, Epernay, France

Cellars at Moët & Chandon, Epernay, France

Cellars at Moët & Chandon, Epernay, France

Cellars at Moët & Chandon, Epernay, France

Cellars at Moët & Chandon, Epernay, France

Cellars at Moët & Chandon, Epernay, France

Today, the occasional bottle still explodes, but the production of champagne is now a science that leaves little room for error. That extends to the blending not only of the chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes, but to the testing and blending of several years’ worth of wine from numerous different estates. This ensures the non-vintage champagne tastes, more or less, the same each and every year.

This massive global industry seamlessly merges the ancient rules of champagne making with ultramodern technology and science. I’m still no expert, but I do have a far greater appreciation of what I’m drinking after our underground adventures in Épernay.

Épernay, a town with fizz

There’s only one place in the world that has an Avenue de Champagne; only one with a 3km road lined with champagne houses, where sampling the sparkling delights within is pretty much obligatory; only one place on earth with well over 200 million bottles of champagne, stored in 110 km of underground tunnels. That place is the self proclaimed Capital of Champagne, Épernay.

Champagne, Épernay, France

Champagne, Épernay, France

Épernay must count as one of the most extraordinary places in France. Less for its many opulent-looking champagne houses lining the Avenue de Champagne, than for the contents of the damp and musty cellars beneath them. Virtually all the champagne houses offer tours or tastings, or tours and tastings, making it easy to sample some of Épernay’s buried treasure.

This is where Moët et Chandon, Perrier Jouet and Mercier, some of the world’s largest champagne brands, rub shoulders with dozens of lesser known labels. It sits in the middle of a region gloriously blanketed by vineyards, where each picturesque village is home to numerous small champagne producers and various cooperatives. It’s a small and friendly, yet oddly ordinary, place. If it wasn’t the epicentre of champagne lore, you’d probably pass through without giving it a second glance.

This ordinary town has a global reputation though. It was none other than notorious boozer and British wartime leader, Winston Churchill, who declared the Avenue de Champagne, “the most drinkable street in the world”. Churchill certainly did his bit to help the town flourish, midway down the Avenue is the champagne house of Pol Roger, producer of Churchill’s favourite fizzy wine.

The town was badly damaged during both World Wars, one reason why it has a lot of uninspiring architecture. Even during the conflict champagne production continued unabated, with few men available it was the region’s women who kept the wine flowing. Unsurprisingly, the German army had a headquarters here, as did the British and Americans during the liberation of Europe. Given the other options, a posting to Épernay must have been keenly sought after.

Moet et Chandon, Épernay, France

Moet et Chandon, Épernay, France

Avenue de Champagne, Épernay, France

Avenue de Champagne, Épernay, France

Moet et Chandon, Épernay, France

Moet et Chandon, Épernay, France

Driving from The Hague, we arrived late at night to discover a chilled bottle of champagne awaiting us in our city centre apartment. It was from a small producer, Fred Legras, from the nearby village of Chouilly. It seemed a little degenerate to be popping open a bottle at midnight on a Tuesday, but when in Champagne … it was delicious and gave us a taste of things to come.

The next morning we had a coffee in a nearby cafe and set off to explore the town. We wandered around until we found the Tourist Office, handily located at one end of the Avenue de Champagne. Even in the tourist office there was a champagne tasting available. Two champagne houses were offering samples, and tourists got to try them for free … it seemed rude not to.

Épernay, France

Épernay, France

Champagne, Épernay, France

Champagne, Épernay, France

Avenue de Champagne, Épernay, France

Avenue de Champagne, Épernay, France

Across from the tourist office is the home of the world’s most famous champagne, Moët et Chandon. We decided to start our tour of the Avenue de Champagne there, reasoning that it was the benchmark by which to judge the rest of our champagne experiences. Outside there’s a statue to Dom Pérignon, the monk credited with invented the process to make Champagne, and someone whose name is treated with reverence in these parts.

Moët et Chandon definitely offers a more glitzy tour and tasting than most, and it has a fully ‘pimped out’ gift shop, but it also felt a little sterile. In other places we visited the passion of the makers was obvious, and the tours cheaper and more fun. The Moët experience was a bit too corporate and, for champagne, a bit too serious … but more of our time in Épernay’s cellars later.