Mitch and I managed to take a trip together every summer we were living abroad while Luke was in America for summer camp. In 2020, we were literally on the first flight out of England to Croatia during the pandemic for a few days on Hvar. In 2021, when the world opened a little more, we spent a week on the southern coast of Portugal. This year, life was hectic as we prepared for our move back to America. But with Luke and Bailey gone, after Mitch’s last day of work at SAS UK, we scheduled some time to explore a few areas of Europe that were on our wishlist but we hadn’t gotten around to yet. And no 14-year-old wants to spend a week with their parents in wine country, so it was the perfect time to visit the regions of Champagne and Alsace in northeast France.
We flew to Paris and rented a car to travel through the area that has changed hands between France and Germany for hundreds of years. Decidedly French since the end of WWI, we stopped first in Epernay, the home of champagne. In 1693, monk Dom Perignon famously discovered the bubbly after experimenting with double fermentation during the wine-making process. “Brothers, come quickly!” he said. “I’m tasting the stars!”
In Epernay, we booked a tour and tasting at Moet & Chandon, the home of Dom Perignon champagne. The house is situated on the Rodeo Drive of the region, Avenue de Champagne, alongside other noteworthy names like Perrier Jouet and Mercier. You can stop for a tasting at most of the houses or book a tour to learn the unique process and visit the underground storage caves (Moet has 18 miles of them!).
The little village is quaint and at the Hotel de Ville (city hall) you can picnic in the park admiring the vibrant flower beds or rent bicycles to ride along the nearby Marne river for the afternoon. On our bucolic journey from Epernay to Damery, we stopped at Blaise Lourdes for a tasting in the family garden.
The nearby city of Reims is also worth a visit with a few towns to taste in along the way. Start early in Reims at the stunning cathedral and then work your way around to Bouzy and Hautvilliers. If you are tiring of bubbly (but how could you?!), Bouzy is known for a red pinot wine called the Bouzy Rouge that is worth a taste.
In Epernay, we ate lovely meals at La Grillade Gourmand (fancy), Les 3 Domaines (casual) and Les Progres Brasserie (traditional). All were quintessentially French and we dined on chèvre salads, steak frites, escargot and their regional specialty of stuffed pigeon.
The champagne region has more than bubbly, and we stopped in at two spots with fascinating WWII history. The Chateau Perrier in Epernay is a gorgeous palace/museum where the Brits and Americans utilized their wine caves as barracks. And we lucked out to find that it’s free on the first Sunday of every month! In Reims, the Musee de la Reddition became Eisenhower’s headquarters toward the end of the war as the Allies were moving across France and into Belgium and finally Berlin. After watching a thorough film of original war footage, you can actually see the room where the Germans surrendered to the Allies on May 7, 1945. For any Band of Brothers fans, the HQ was also where the 101st Airborne was stationed as the Battle of the Bulge was planned. An invitation to a friendly Christmas Day football game reminded me that they were just boys fighting for the fate of the world, and the game was never played since they were called down to Bastogne.
After three days of tasting stars, we continued our drive south to Alsace. Strasbourg is the larger city of the region, but its incredibly quaint neighborhood of La Petite France is picture perfect and worth spending an hour to stroll. We had a divine outdoor lunch at La Corde a Linge by the colorful timbered houses dripping with flower boxes over the canal. Our final destination was Colmar for three nights and it was as cute as a fairytale village, the houses boasting their 16th-century birthdates carved above the doorways.
We enjoyed a walking tour of Colmar and rented e-bikes from Le Vilo Libre for a full day to explore the smaller villages nearby. If you are up to the challenge, from Colmar you can ride a five-hour loop through vineyards and villages to Eguisheim, Kayserberg, Riquewihr, Hunawihr and Ribeauville. Each is worth a stop to walk around and enjoy the ambience and history of the region. If cycling is not your thing, you can easily reach the towns by car and fill a day wandering their ancient streets.
Colmar is not without its touristy restaurants, but we had the best meal of the trip at La Atelier du Peintre. Boasting a Michelin star, we decided the three-course lunch was more affordable and it exceeded our expectations at every turn. It was the perfect spot to celebrate Mitch’s birthday, but I would use any excuse to go there again!
One of my goals in 2022 was to have more France in my life. Champagne and Alsace satiated our love of French food, wine, history and culture. If you haven’t been to this charming region before, it will not disappoint.