Epernay in the Champagne Region
Epernay is a quaint little town in the East of France. Easily accessible as it is only about an hour and a quarter from Paris and there are direct trains out of Paris Est. It is said to house 200 million bottles of champagne in 100km of subterranean cellars.
There are numerous cellars that you can visit and enjoy a tour and tastings. We booked ourselves on two of these tours in the three days we spent in Epernay. The champagne houses are mainly located along the aptly named Av. De Champagne.
Moet et Chandon
Moet and Chandon produce more bottles of champagne than anyone else and this was the first of our two tours. We chose the tasting with two flutes of champagne. We wrapped up warmly and headed down into the cellar via a lift. This is the one piece of advice I can give you if you are doing a champagne tour, wrap up warmly. Oh and don’t both to straighten your hair. If you are like me and prone to frizz, you’ve no way of preventing this. The cellars are cold and damp - perfect for fermenting champagne. The tour was absolutely fascinating and I have so much appreciation why champagne can be a little on the pricey side when you see the work that goes into producing just a single bottle.
The Moet et Chandon tours vary in price. The tour we choose currently costs €28 per person and lasted an hour, but the visitor centre is currently shut for renovation until October 2015.
Mercier is the most popular champagne brand in France and probably not one you’ve heard of. This is a great value champagne and extremely quaffable. This was also by far the more entertaining of the two tours. For this tour you sit on a little train, which is guided by a laser. Upon researching this tour, we found out that the train has a habit of veering off. This happens when photos are taken using a forward-facing flash.
So we were asked to only take photos with the camera facing only the side or the back. During the tour you could quite easily see the dents in the structures housing the bottles, where the train had veered off and crashed into it. Mercier is known for flashy PR stunts and quite clearly not adverse to a certain amount of danger around their tasty champagne. In 1950 they hosted a car rally in their cellar. Amazingly, not even one bottle of champagne was damaged.
The tour lasts around 45 minutes and start at a very reasonable €13, including a glass of champagne. We took the Miss Mercier's tour, which includes a tasting of both a Brut and a Brut Rose. We also visited the gift shop and purchased some Demi-Sec Rose, which is a sweeter champagne, than the drier, more well-known Brut. For more information, visit the Mercier website.
If you are staying for a couple of days, you could also choose to do vineyard tour. The one that we researched was the Champagne Domi Moreau tour. The tour starts with a pick up at the Epernay tourist office and lasts half a day. The cost is €30. You’ll see the whole process first hand, before a tasting session. You can even do the tour by bike, as they have a package that includes bike hire. It costs €25 and includes the loan of a bike. The bike tour should take about 2 hours. Although we didn’t do the vineyard tour, I would like to do this should we return.
We stayed in the Hotel de la Cloche, which was centrally located for everything we wanted to do in Epernay and just 5 minutes’ walk from the train station. The hotel, although only a 2-star, was ideal for our requirements and budget. The hotel was very pretty from the outside with bright blue shutters and great value. Two nights at this hotel will cost you around £80.
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