The food of thy soul is light and space; feed it then on light and space. But the food of thy body is champagne and oysters; feed it then on champagne and oysters; and so shall it merit a joyful resurrection, if there is any to be.
The Champagne region of France is beyond lovely. The countryside, at least. It has rolling hills and picturesque vineyards and just generally everything you see in the brochure. The cities, however...well. I wouldn't recommend Epernay or Rheims for an extended visit.
Okay, Epernay first. We stayed at a lovely hotel in the country, 15 minutes or so from the center of town. We had a balcony off the back of the room, with a fabulous view, and we had our wonderful breakfast out there every morning, in spite of the chill. The hotel was great--Epernay, less so. There's really nothing there, and it's not a charming, Olde World kind of nothing, either. It's more of a dusty-roadwork-traffic circle-one-day-this-might-be-a-real-city-but-until-then-it's-not-even-a-cute-town kind of nothing. There's one particular stretch of road, though, that is the address of quite a few famous Champagne houses. Perrier-Jouet, Mercier, Moet et Chandon, etc. The Champagne houses themselves are stunning--very impressive and imposing, and all as individual as the different wines they make. Of course, once you get past the exteriors and the public rooms, one cellar tour is much like another. There are only so many times you can hear about la methode champegnoise and degorgement. It's a fascinating process, but they all do it the same way. They all use the same grapes, grown in the same place. Sort of the point. What's interesting about it is the different results each house obtains from that process.
I happen to adore champagne. It was the first wine I truly loved to drink, and I've devoted more time than is strictly healthy or rational to developing my taste for it. So obviously, the tasting portion of the tour is the best bit, for me. We took the Moet et Chandon tour, all very traditional, and although we didn't get to have any Dom Perignon (MeC's highest level stuff), we thoroughly enjoyed (read: swilled back) the regular vintages they had on offer. Our tour guide was a seriously delightful woman of a certain age, with short, silvery hair and enormous dark blue eyes. Her makeup was flawless and understated, and she wore a bright red wool wrap against the chill of the caves. Meg and I decided her name was Clothilde. It might have been. Anyway, we loved her, and we loved the wine. But we didn't love Epernay, on the whole.