We had booked a day tour to the Champagne region with ‘Paris Champagne Tours’. Trong was our guide for the day and his tours came highly recommended on Tripadvisor. There were 5 of us on the tour for the day: Alison, from California, having her own ‘gap year’ now that her last child was in College, Donna and Patti, from Fort Nelson in British Columbia, who worked in Education and us. They were all very friendly and chatty ladies and this made for a most enjoyable day. BTW: Fort Nelson sounds interesting. It is only a small town but you need to be careful of bears; grizzly, brown etc. They are quite a problem and people have to be very vigilant about them when out walking etc. Patti explained about the warning systems and procedures for the public and at school zones and it was fascinating stuff given it is so out of our kind of normal life at home.
The trip to Champagne from Paris took about 1.5 hrs and Mark and I were picked up from our apartment at 7.35am. During the outward trip Trong chatted to us all about the sights we were passing on the way leaving Paris, fed us a breakfast of petite but yummy pastries and explained much about the Champagne region and what we would see throughout the day, all whilst navigating through traffic on the French highways!
Our first stop was to some vineyards where Trong explained about the 3 main types of grape varieties grown in the region and, more importantly, about how they are maintained; pinot noir, c******nay and pinot meunier. The two pinots, although black grapes, produce a white juice. He also explained about how there are vast underground expanses of chalk in the area and how this contributes, not only to the growth of the vines but also, to the ideal conditions for the cellaring of the champagne.
Our second stop was to visit the Champagne house of a young couple, Frederic and Cedric Mouzon. They produce about 15,000 bottles of champagne per year and they also sell about half of their grapes to other, larger champagne houses. Frederic took us on a small tour of their premises and explained all the stages of Champagne production; with excellent English translation provided from Trong. We later tasted three of the Mouzon Champagnes which were most delicious and we all left with bottles under our arms! I now have a clear understanding of the difference between ‘vintage’ and ‘non vintage’ Champagne!
Our next stop was in at Reims to a traditional French restaurant for a 3 course lunch. It was more than what we all needed but it is a tradition of the area to eat heartily for the midday meal.
Following lunch we went on to visit the beautiful Gothic Reims Cathedral with a history dating back to the 6th century and this cathedral has been the setting for coronations of many French Kings. The stained glass windows here were just magnificent.
Our next stop was to the Champagne house of Taittinger where we were shown around the vast underground chalk cellars, part of which was the crypt of an old Abbey that used to exist there. The cellar walls were solid chalk which is ideal for keeping an even and cool temperature all year round.
Our final stop was to have a quick look in at the Pommery Champagne house which is also a popular function / wedding venue.
From there we headed back to Paris after a very full and interesting Champagne filled day. It was a pretty drive back into Paris as the sun was out and the rolling hills seemed much more green and inviting without the early morning shroud of fog.
This was an excellent day and I would highly recommend a visit to the Champagne region with Trong. Trong was a most interesting character and I would have liked more time to hear more of his life story. What I did gather so far though is: Trong was born in Vietnam in 1970, but his family left Vietnam in the political unrest around 1985 and they ended up in the Philippines before then moving to France. Trong studied at Colombia University in the US and has worked as a banker for a Japanese banking firm across Australia, New York and Singapore. He said that his days now working in tourism, whilst long, are filled with much less stress. I wish him luck in this chapter of his life and hope to cross his path one day again.
Mark and I ended up back in Paris by about 6pm. We walked to an internet cafe to print our boarding passes and then stopped off in our little street at a small bar for some wine and a cheese plate before heading to buy our last gelato for this Paris part of our trip and then heading home. It was a full and most enjoyable day.