Today we leave the hectic city lifestyle behind and say goodbye to crazy traffic jams. We are driving to the Champagne Region and our first port of call is Epernay. Within an hour of leaving Paris we have chosen to avoid the toll roads for an extra 8km of driving and are driving through quiet countryside and meandering through tiny villages. It is not the season for fields of green vines and plump grapes, so we drive past rows and rows of twigs, even so it is still beautiful.
We arrive in Epernay at our Aire for the night, it is central, free and next to a church and pétanque pitch. When we arrive at 3.30pm we have the last spot for the night. I dread how busy it would be in peak season.
Today is hot, even more so than in Paris and I am dying for a cold glass of champagne to drink at a champagne house in the famed champagne capital. The walk up Avenue De Champagne is quiet, very quiet. The buildings are modern and luxurious but they are also stand offish and not too inviting. Moet & Chandon are here along with Perrier Jouet and friends. These Champagne Houses are head quarters, tasting bars and places to visit the cellars. If you want to drink champagne in a beautiful setting from world famous vineyards then here is not the place. Make sure to book a tour to the vineyards. These houses are impersonal and expensive but stopping at at least one is a must for the bucket list.
We find a public garden to rest under the shade of a tree and admire the flowers and pond. If only there was a champagne bar here and I would have stayed all afternoon.
We walk back to our aire after buying our dinner from the local supermarche and set up our seats behind our van in the shade. Our carbon monoxide alarm says our van is 41 degrees Celsius! This might take some getting used to!
So we crack open a beer and watch the locals play pétanque on the pitch behind us. Now this I enjoy. Maybe tomorrow we can find a smaller village with a more authentic champagne experience.
Today we leave Epernay for our next stop. We are on our way to Belgium and the route is a little undetermined. We need to do some more research on what we would like to see on our way through to Amsterdam.
But first, we need to taste a glass of champagne before we leave the Champagne region, as they say- when in Rome! Or in this case, the Champagne region!
We visited the Office De Tourisme and asked for some advice on visiting the smaller vineyards. They printed off a list of champagne makers open today and pin pointed them on a map. The vineyards shut from 12pm until 2pm so if you have a late morning start you need to be prepared to wait until the afternoon before you can visit them. We didn’t think we would have enough time to visit one out of town due to our schedule so decided that we had to visit a Champagne house on Avenue De Champagne if we wanted that special glass.
So we visited the only house that looked inviting, De Venoge and sat in their front terrace drinking a rose champagne. It was 8€ for 10cl and did taste pretty delicious in the sunshine. If you want to do a tasting here it is 16€ for two glasses. They let us wander the gardens but we preferred the front terrace for the architecture of the buildings.
At the office De tourisme they told us to make sure we don’t take the main road (d951) on our departure and drive through the villages. This was fantastic advice as you get to drive through vineyards in Mutigny and the cute champagne making villages.
We drove from Epernay through Ay which is a twin town with Newton Abbot in the UK where Phil went to school (interesting fact of the day) Then on to Mutigny through the winding vineyards, here the views were breath taking even though the vines weren’t green yet. On through Fontaine-Sur-Ay where we stopped for lunch and finally Mailly Champagne. From here we drive to Bogny Sur Meuse where our next aire is.
The aire is free and located next to the River Meuse. There about 8 campervans here already, mostly French. There is fishing here and a fantastic cycle route along the river. Phil and I take some time to research our route for the next week settling on some free aires and paid camping before we hit Amsterdam. We then go for an evening bike ride in opposite directions to see what route is best. The evening sunset was stunning with geese flying overhead and eating our dinner alfresco. Tomorrow we leave for Belgium, the second country on our European adventure.