The French are known for their food, but if there's one thing that could contest a golden croissant for excellence, it's a cool glass of bubbles from the region that gave the beverage its name.
By definition, only Champagne produced in the region can don that label. The grapes must be grown in a specific area, then the produce has to be aged and bottled to an exact standard. Anything else is merely 'sparkling wine'.
So how can you best enjoy this effervescent, delicious treat during a visit to France? Here are just a few top ideas to get you started.
Visit the heart of Champagne country
Epernay, approximately 1.5 hours drive from Paris, is the self-proclaimed and widely accepted Champagne capital of the world. It also looks exactly like what you'd expect of a quaint and charming French town.
Start with a wistful stroll down the aptly named 'Avenue de Champagne', where you will find yourself surrounded by the names of the biggest Champagne suppliers in the business. Wander past Moet et Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Pol Roger Mercier and Perrier Jouet.
Take a guided tour of the 17 miles of underground caves underneath this street to see rows upon rows of Champagne bottled in storage. Of course, tours will almost always let you taste some of this liquid gold.
Take a seat at any restaurant in town to enjoy the food the French are famous for, paired with more bubbles. For a traditional French feast, book a table at Restaurant Le Theatre. The dining room is over 100 years old, and the menu is updated every few weeks based on the fresh food available locally.
Another popular spot is Reims, which is the heart of Marne and offers plenty more Champagne excellence with its gothic cathedral, numerous cellar door tours and plentiful cafes and restaurants. Try La Table Anna for a taste of France and a quirky atmosphere.
Travel the Champagne wine route
Taste the bubbles from the lesser known Champagne suppliers on a relaxing tour around the region and learn about how this drink is created as you go.
There are a number of ways you can enjoy this experience, such as on an organised tour, by hiring a car or van with a group of friends, or even by staying in a village and visiting the surrounding vineyards by bike on day excursions. The trails around the area are well sign posted and it doesn't take long to get from one producer to the next!
Aside from the big names, one of the must-visits is Champagne Gardet in Chigny-les-Roses in the Marne department. This establishment is over 100 years old, produces about 1 million bottles a year, and offers an hour-long tour and tasting in their expansive cellar. Gardet defines its style as a balance of tradition and modernity, incorporating the best of both the create top-quality Champagne that they supply to establishments such as the House of Commons.
A trip to Bistro La Madelon is a more laid-back and affordable approach. You'll find it amongst the Cote des Blancs vineyards of Mancy, with a cosy atmosphere and ravishing menu. The wine list offers 30 Champagnes from the local region, a five-course meal in the evening and a collection of world war one memorabilia. As the area was heavily involved in this event, the restaurant pays homage to its history, allowing you a chance to enjoy the produce and the culture of this small area.
For more ideas on how to spend your escape to the French region of Champagne, just ask your experienced Travel Associates consultant, who will have plenty of advice!