When my parents came to Paris recently, I wanted to do something special with them to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. They’ve been to Paris so many times now, and although it’s never difficult to find new things to do, I was still looking for something out of the ordinary. After a few weeks of unsuccessful searching, my good friend Laura suggested that we go on one of her day tours with City Wonders. I jumped at the opportunity and after choosing Champagne as our destination, I couldn’t wait for the tour to come around!
Our meeting point was the Place de la Bastille, where we hopped on a very luxurious Mercedez Benz mini bus at 8.30 am and headed straight out of Paris towards Champagne. Our wonderful guide introduced herself and told us a little bit about how the tour would work, where we would be going and what we would be doing there. The trip to Champagne takes around an hour and a half to two hours depending on traffic so it’s the perfect distance for a day trip (not too far)!
Our first stop was at the picturesque town of Épernay to visit the very famous and best-selling Champagne house – Mercier. Founded by Eugene Mercier in 1858 when he was just 20 years old, this hugely successful Champagne house is an incredible place to visit! As you walk in the door you’ll see an enormous wine cask, created by Mercier in 1870 to get people talking about his wine. The barrel was transported all the way to Paris for the 1889 Exposition Universelle and became one of the highlights of the Exposition. It contained up to 200,000 bottles of wine and weighed over 20 tonnes!
After admiring the wine cask you can listen to your audio-guide (as my father is in the picture above) and learn more about the incredible story behind this barrel! You’ll soon be called into another room by your guide where you’ll descend into the cellars of the Champagne house to visit the miles of underground chalk cellars in a small train. Your audio-guide will tell you all about the cellars and how the Champagne is produced, as well as giving you more of an insight into Mercier and his legacy. Last but not least you’ll end the tour with a tasting of Mercier’s delicious champers with your very own sommelier. It was actually my favourite of the day! The gift shop also sells some beautiful products such as the Mercier champagne glasses, I couldn’t resist and bought two for our new apartment! Laura also gave us some great extra information about the champagne which was really interesting. Did you know, for example, that the Champagne region produces 300 million bottles of champagne per year?! That’s a lot of thirsty people!
After visiting the first Champagne house it was almost lunchtime so we had time to take a break and fill our stomachs before we continued drinking more alcohol! We had lunch in Épernay in a typical French bistro and had free time to ourselves before we had to get back on the bus. Our next stop was a beautiful little village called Hautvillers, where you’ll discover a beautiful Benedictine abbey whose cellar master was none other than a monk called Dom Pérignon (maybe you’ve heard of him)! You’ll discover the village, its history, its beautiful views and have the opportunity to do some more champagne tasting too. Keep an eye out for the gorgeous little signs around the village, used in the past to help illiterate citizens understand what kind of shop they were entering (the first photo in the article is an example).
After visiting this gorgeous village, we made our way to a very different kind of Champagne house. After seeing a large, more mainstream seller, our guide took us to Le Gallais; a family run business tucked away in the rolling hills of Champagne. A local expert walked us through every step of the champagne-making process and showed us around the estate, which included a magnificent view of Veuve Clicquot’s private château (who built the château for her daughter when she married). We then visited the pressoir where the estate’s award-winning champagne is made and had a chance to look at all the fascinating machines used to make champagne, including the riddler which rotates the champagne clockwise and anti-clockwise to displace yeast sediment. You’ll then get a chance to look at the cellars and even see the champagne in the fermenting process!
The final tasting takes place on a stunning terrace overlooking the vineyards of this exceptional estate, rounding off what has already been a fabulous day. My parents and I couldn’t say enough good things about this tour. Our guide was fantastic – informative, knowledgeable and very enthusiastic, and I’m not just saying that because I know her – she really is an exceptional tour guide! We had so much fun, learnt so much, saw so much and of course drank so much delicious champagne. I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to spend my Friday! I highly recommend City Wonders as a tour company and encourage you to go on one of their tours with Laura (if possible) to see Paris or another part of this breathtaking country!