Hi Frugalistas! The second of this week’s guest posts is courtesy of Andrea Powis, the Chief Diva of the wonderful Australian tour company Travelling Divas. Here, Andrea takes us on a decadently divalicious journey to Champagne……
The word ʻChampagneʼ always evokes a sense of excitement and celebration to those who are lovers of this divine drop. Mention the region of ʻChampagneʼ and it conjures visions of rolling vineyards, elegantly dressed people, gastronomic delights and rivers of delicious bubbles. Not to mention the honey-coloured buildings housing dynastic families, big corporations and vast cellars of Champagne just waiting for you to plunder them!
I am here with a group of girls to celebrate all that is wonderful about Champagne. The sense of excitement amongst my gaggle of Champagne lovers is immense and increases with every moment. We donʼt even bother going to our hotel but decide to taste first and check in later!
First stop on this delightful adventure is the Maison de Billecart Salmon, founded in 1818, and one of the few remaining family-owned houses. Gerard, our expert, meets us and a few other guests, and guides us through the process of champagne production from picking to pressing and fermentation, to bottling and finally to tasting. It is an easy and intimate initiation into a complex process that has to be very precisely managed, and goes along way to explaining the price of French Champagne! We are then escorted to the tasting room where we are treated to a glorious (and generous) selection of bubbles from brut through to vintage….sublime! This house is by appointment only and cannot be visited as a walk in.
We are sad to leave, but are soon anticipating our next stop at Moet & Chandon, whose owner LMVH is the biggest producer of champagne in the world and owner of 50% of the Champagne regionʼs vineyards.
As we head down the Avenue de Champagne, I hear the girls murmuring about the elegance and symmetry of the buildings that line this famous avenue, and about how tasteful it all seems to be.
The House of Moet & Chandon is beautiful and we take a picture with the statue of Dom Perignon next to the entrance, adding to our excitement. I buy the tickets for our vintage tasting and cellar tour and join our group of about 15 people. This is a slick affair, with a welcome video, a quick tour of the vast cellars that showcase a far bigger production process, followed by an equally quick tasting of our vintage bubbles. It is no less fascinating than Billecart Salmon due to the sheer scale and importance of the brand, however, by the time we are ushered out we feel as processed as the bottles we have just seen in the cellars. Tastings/tours can be booked as a walk in but are subject to availability.
Our final tasting of the day is at the house of Chateau Comtesse Lafond, a small producer, also situated on the Avenue de Champagne. The drawcard here is not just the bubbles, but the extraordinary chateau the owner (and one of the richest men in France) has restored to its original glory. We enjoy a guided tour through the castle, which is small but perfectly proportioned, and it makes me think of Walt Disney fairytales and princesses!
The day is so glorious we sit in the manicured gardens and all that is required from us is to taste.
The champagne strikes a chord with us all. The Brut on offer is our favourite, dry and refreshing and the glass size is generous. This is so totally different to Moet & Chandon, that we breath a sigh of relief at the simplicity of the experience. I pre-booked our visit to ensure the guided tour of the castle.
It is now time to check-in to our home for the next two nights. There are plenty of places to stay in Champagne, from quaint bʼnʼbʼs through to 5-star luxury, such as Les Crayeres and Royal Champagne, where Napoleon used to stay. On this occasion I have decided on simplicity and elegance, plus the lively eccentricity of our host Stephanie, and we stay at the Manoir de Montflambert, a beautiful guesthouse in the village of Mutigny. Rooms are large, and very well decorated with comfortable beds, lovely bathrooms and views from some rooms looking straight out over their vineyards (yes they produce 60,000 bottles per year, of a very nice and reasonably priced Champagne). As there is no kitchen at the Manoir you can sit in the grounds and enjoy a picnic if you donʼt feel like eating out, drinking in the serenity and a fine champagne.
Our guide takes us to a local 1-star Michelin restaurant in Epernay. Whilst the restaurant itself is stylish, it is not grand and we dine on a degustation menu that is out of this world. Naturally we work with the sommelier to match champagne with each course. The food is sublime and the champagne is from brands that are not familiar to us. One is Vranken Diamont, sister brand to Pommery – what makes it even better is that we are heading there tomorrow for another day of “champagne tastes”.
Andrea Powis is the Chief Diva of Travelling Divas. You can also find Andrea at: