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Epernay is a commune situated in the Champagne-Ardenne region of northern France, about 150km northeast of Paris. It is most well known for the Avenue de Champagne, said to be the most expensive avenue in the world because of the millions of bottles of champagne stored in the wine cellars underneath. Perhaps most well known of all is Moët and Chandon, and yes, you are able to tour the cellars.
I visited Epernay as one of a party of five. Given our numbers, we decided to book a private driver/tour guide for the day. As I was not the one responsible for the booking, I’m not sure what company was used. However, a quick google search led me to this website, which offers Champagne day tours from €98 per person or private tours in an 8 person minivan for €615. As you can see, if travelling in a small group, it may be worthwhile or even cheaper considering hiring your own driver/guide for the day for more personalised service.
We began the day with a bright and early pickup from our front door. Our escort for the day was pleasant, attentive and obliging, asking us right off the bat if we required breakfast and whether we had thought about what we wanted for lunch. The answer to both questions was yes, therefore our journey was broken up with a side trip to a quaint small town where we had pastries and strong coffee in a local pub.
After a brief stretch at a lookout point to admire the French countryside, we pressed on towards Epernay. Our guide dropped us off at Moët and Chandon, organised tickets for our tour, then set off to organise our lunch.
The house of Moët was founded by Claude Moët in 1743, but it was his grandson Jean-Remy Moët who was responsible for introducing their bubbly wine to the world at the turn of the century. Today, Moët and Chandon boasts the largest cellars in the Champagne region, spanning 28km beneath the Avenue de Champagne.
The cellars can be visited Monday-Friday from Jan 27-March 23 and daily including public holidays from March 24. The tours run between 9.30-11.30am and 2-4.30pm, with ticket prices for adults ranging from €21-35 depending on how many champagnes you’d like to sample at the end of the visit. Admission is €10 for under 18s (no tasting) and free for children under 10.
20 Avenue de Champagne, Epernay
By car – 1.5hrs from Paris on the A4 motorway.
By train – 1hr 20mins from Paris Gare de l’Est to Epernay. Moët and Chandon is a 5 minute walk from Epernay station.
After the tour, we took a short stroll through the Parc de Maigret to arrive at out lunch destination. La Grillade Gourmande was recommended to us by a friend, and when we suggested that we would like to lunch there, our driver informed us that this was a local favourite. Luckily for us, he was able to secure us the last available table that afternoon.
This meal rates as one of the best I have ever had, and in particular, the escargots have not been topped anywhere since. They were the perfect balance of saltiness and richness, little succulent morsels packed full of flavour and perfectly offset by equally tasty and crispy croutons. This was followed by duck wrapped in pastry and a selection of cheeses, both of which were every bit as enjoyable.
The service was without fault, with chef Christophe Bernard personally taking our orders and very amicably posing for photos with us at the end of the meal. The dining room is small and cozy without feeling crowded. The decor is minimalist but with rich contrasting tones of red, black and white, a palette which is echoed in the menu. The cost at the time was €55 for a 3 course tasting menu. This may even have included champagne, though my recollection is somewhat hazy and I cannot recall the a la carte prices.
Getting there: 16 Rue de Reims, Epernay.
Tel: 03 26 55 44 22
Verdict: Delicious and very reasonably priced to boot. I would eat there again if I found myself in Epernay once more.
Feeling immensely satisfied, we were then taken to the small village of Hautvillers, where we visited the Abbey of St Peter. This was the home of the famous Dom Perignon, a Benedictine monk who made significant contributions to wine making.
Our final stop was at a small boutique vineyard, where we sat outside enjoying more champagne while admiring the views and a quick stretch before our drive back to Paris.
This was a very memorable day trip for us from Paris, and certainly one for you to consider too. Do let me know if there are other vineyards worth visiting in the region, be they smaller boutique cellars or one of the other big names.
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