When your living abroad, traveling back to your home country for Christmas can seem like a whole lot of work. It’s not just the trans-Atlantic flight or the juggling of family and family politics when you get there, it’s also that you are trying to do it at the most hectic time of year when expectations are really high. Sometimes it seems like a better return on your investment (price of tickets, time off work, etc) to see your family when things are less busy and there’s less pressure to squeeze so much in. Although, I’m sure my mother disagrees.
That’s why this year Husband and I opted out. Instead of heading to the States, we headed to Normandy to stay with Suse in her picturesque converted barn in the countryside. Since we were already going through the trouble of crossing the channel to France, I figured we might as well throw in some time in the Champagne region.
Visions of hopping from winery to winery tasting champagne replaced sugarplum fairies in my head. Unfortunately, since it was winter, bicycling the Champagne Route and ending up in Epernay turned out to be a damp, cold and unpleasant option. So instead of hopping on a bicycle, we parked ourselves in Reims to check out a few of the wineries there.
While in Reims, we toured the Taittinger and Pommery caves, two Champagne houses with two completely different approaches to their tours. Both included tastings at the end, but Taittinger took a grown up, classy and clear approach to explaining their process while Pommery made an odd attempt at turning their cellars into an art gallery. The Pommery tour came off a bit Disney-fied and frankly, weird. But there was still Champagne at the end so I can’t say it was bad.
The entire experience was very interesting historically. The caves of Reims, many of which have been there since they were carved out of the chalk subsoil by Roman slaves, have housed everything from monks, to refugees of World War II. You can even glimpse ancient carvings that have been made into the walls.
Other highlights in Reims include the Brasserie du Boulingrin, a traditional brasserie opened in 1925, and the Cathédrale Notre Dame, a beautiful gothic piece of architecture whose history goes back to either 400 AD or 1211 AD, depending on how you look at it, and includes Joan of Arc and the decapitation of Saint Nicaise. I have no photographic evidence of the hedonism we experienced at the Brasserie du Boulingrin, however, I can tell you that the highlight of the meal was the chocolate souffle dessert paired with a lovely serving of Calvados. Just thinking about it makes me melt into my chair. As far as the Cathedral goes, I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
A return to the Champagne region is certainly on my list. However, next time there will be sunshine. And bicycles.