France

A grand tour around France’s best sparkling vineyards

A virtual synonym for luxury and indulgence, Champagne has been enjoyed by the great and good of the world for centuries. The fertile soil and unique conditions of the Champagne wine region in northeastern France create a vintage with a truly exceptional flavour. Visiting this unique area will give you a fascinating insight into this legendary beverage and its history.

Sommelier Pier-Alexis Souliere notes the Montlouis-sur-Loire, Triple Zéro from Domaine de la Taille aux Loups as one of his recommendations for sparkling wine from France. He says, “The no-added sugar Jacky Blot sparkling wine is all about purity, integrity and luminosity. You'll find in the glass the aromas of crabapples, William pears and fresh lime zest. It's delicious and best appreciated served chilled, and we recommend pairing with a smoked trout, sour cream and chives canapé.” He also recommends the Vouvray, Brut, Champalou “Vouvray is the heart of Tourraine and Champalou have been a staple in the region since the 80s. Three different years in this non-vintage blend contribute to loads of complexities. The vivid acidity blends well with sweet honeysuckle tones to make this bubbly the perfect partner for the end of a meal. Pair this with an orange cake or even sea salt, vanilla beans and caramel…”
Quote supplied by Pier-Alexis Soulière.

As only sparkling wine produced in the region can be called Champagne, the area has developed its own distinctive character and identity. During your tour you can explore the various wineries and cellars that dot the region, see the Champagne grapes being grown and sample some of the best fizz France has to offer.

On why this region is so significant, Pier-Alexis Souliere says “The Loire valley is just a stone's throw away from Paris, and its multiple chateaux are magnificent to behold, but the real King here is the Chenin Blanc grape. Sparkling wines here are just charged with energy and that's what makes them so food-friendly. From apéritif to dessert they will take you on a journey.’’

Located within this famous region you’ll also find a number of historic towns and cities including Reims, Ay and the aptly named Bouzy. Boasting excellent restaurants, important cultural sights and rich history, these settlements make fantastic overnight stops on your oenological odyssey.

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Day 1 - Paris

As many of France’s best wine regions are located within a few hours’ drive of Paris, the country’s capital is the perfect place to begin your tour. Flights to Paris are available from airports around the world, with European destinations especially well connected to the city. If you’re arranging car hire, Paris has two main international airports, Orly and Charles de Gaulle. Make sure you check which you’re flying into before booking your vehicle.

A good choice of Paris hotels can be found across the city centre. Book a room in one of the city’s characterful neighbourhoods or near some of its major sights to make the most of your night in the capital. As any local will tell you, there is a fantastic choice of sightseeing in Paris. From climbing the Eiffel Tower to viewing masterpieces in The Louvre and people-watching in Montmartre to soaking up the bohemian atmosphere of the Left Bank, you’ll find plenty to keep you busy during your stay in this magnificent metropolis.

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Day 2 : 121km
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Day 2 - Moet et Chandon

Begin your journey into the heart of France’s winemaking tradition by driving two hours’ northeast of the capital to the town of Epernay. There you’ll find the cellars of world-famous champagne makers Moet et Chandon. Established by wine trader Claude Moet in 1743, the company has been producing outstanding vintages for more than 250 years. In fact, it was Jean-Rémy Moet, grandson of the founder, who introduced Champagne to the world. Leading figures of the day, including the Marquise de Pompadour and Napoleon, soon became enamoured with the sparkling wine and it quickly became the drink of the rich and famous.

Visit the Moet et Chandon cellars in Epernay to learn more about this historic brand and its world-famous produce. Walk through the centuries-old cellars and sample rare and unique champagnes from the company’s 2,840-acre estate. A choice of different tours is available, allowing you to explore the type of champagne that interests you most. You’ll be led through the tasting process and given the chance to fully appreciate the subtle tones and tastes that make up each exceptional bottle.

If you want to make the most of your visit to the champagne cellars, book a room in one of the nearby Epernay hotels and stay overnight in the area. The town itself has a lot to offer, with a characterful old centre, pretty churches and a good choice of restaurants. The grand Avenue de Champagne, the town’s main attraction, is home to many of the world’s leading champagne manufacturers and you can purchase locally made champagnes from a number of shops in the area.

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Day 3 : 191km
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Day 3 - Reims

Forty minutes north of Epernay is Reims, the largest city in the Champagne region. The pretty old town is compact and easy to explore on foot. Discover its atmospheric streets, shop for bargains in the weekly market or visit one of the city’s excellent museums. The most famous sight in Reims is the breath-taking cathedral. The spectacular building was constructed in 1211 and for hundreds of years it was where the kings of France were crowned. There are many excellent Reims hotels in the area around the cathedral, making it easy to visit this historic church during your stay.

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Day 4 : 195km
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Day 4 - Veuve Clicquot

Another incredibly famous name in the world of Champagne, Veuve Clicquot is based just outside of Reims. The company was first established in 1772 by Philippe Clicquot-Muiron, but initially it dealt in wool-trading and banking as well as wine production. In 1798, Philippe’s son François Clicquot married Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin and in 1805, François died, leaving the company to his widow, or veuve in French.

Madame Clicquot decided to focus the company’s energies on wine production, becoming the first woman to run a champagne house in the process. During the Napoleonic wars, Madame Clicquot made a concerted effort to introduce her sparkling wine to the royal courts of Europe. By the time she died in 1866, Veuve Clicquot had become one of the best known Champagnes in the world.

A visit to the historic cellars of Veuve Clicquot is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the production of Champagne and the heritage of the company. Tours last up to two and a half hours and you’ll have the chance to taste a choice of excellent Champagnes during your visit.

In the afternoon, head to the nearby town of Ay, another important centre of champagne production in the region. You’ll find a number of good quality Ay hotels within easy reach of the town’s most famous champagne houses.

Spend your afternoon exploring the town’s picturesque streets or visiting one of the prestigious wineries in the nearby Vallée de la Marne.

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Day 5 : 382km
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Day 5 - Metz

The capital of Lorraine, Metz is home to outstanding restaurants, excellent museums and breath-taking architecture. Spend your afternoon strolling along the city’s leafy streets, relaxing in one of its waterside parks or soaking up the atmosphere from a pavement café. Delve into Metz’s history by visiting the Musée de la Cour d'Or or learn about its contemporary culture with a trip to the Centre Pompidou-Metz. Most Metz hotels are located in and around the city’s old town, making it easy to explore the main attractions during your stay.

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Day 6 : 581km
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Day 6 - Boeckel

Although Champagne is the most famous type of sparkling wine produced in France, it’s by no means the only bubbly vintage the country makes. In Alsace, a couple of hours to the east of Metz, you’ll fine a number of excellent wines including the effervescent Crémant d’Alsace. Made in almost an identical way to Champagne, the wine has a rich creamy texture and a distinctive flavour.

One of the most famous producers of Crémant d’Alsace is Boeckel. Located in the town of Mittelbergheim, in the heart of Alsace, the winery makes some of the best sparkling vintages in the region. In 1853, the Boeckel family began producing wine in large quantities and by the mid-20th century Boeckel was one of the main winemakers in the area.

Today, Boeckel is known for producing a number of outstanding vintages including Grand Crus, vins de terrior and organic Rieslings. However it’s for the company’s Crémant d’Alsace that the brand is best known. Visit the winery to sample Boeckel’s Crémant Brut Blanc de Blanc, its Crémant Chardonnay Extra Brut and its Crémant Brut Rosé. Each of these sparkling wines is made to strict rules and each showcases the unique flavours and aromas of the region.

Mittelbergheim is within easy reach of a number of picturesque towns and villages in the Alsace region. Seltz hotels are all conveniently located for wineries in the area as are hotels in Colmar, Strasbourg and Haguenau.

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Day 7 : 724km
Day 7 - Nancy

Nancy was once the capital of the Duchy of Lorraine and even today, the city’s rich past can be seen in its impressive buildings and elegant boulevards. Many of the best hotels in Nancy are located close to Place Stanislas, a spectacular neoclassical square that dominates the heart of the city. Designed by Emmanuel Héré in 1750, the square is home to the impressive Opera National de Lorraine and the Hotel de Ville.

WEATHER

Most of the region you’ll be exploring on your wine tour has a semi-continental climate with hot summers and cold winters. Snow is not uncommon in the winter months, especially in Alsace and Lorraine, while the Champagne region generally experiences milder winters and cooler summers.

(C) Pier-Alexis Soulière. Used with permission. View Pier-Alexis' site here.