Nice – Carnaval in Cote d’Azur

The French Riviera – with Nice at its core – is a world-renowned vacation destination where millions travel each year to experience the warm weather, great vistas, and beautifully fresh cuisine.

Maybe because it was February, maybe because it was Carnaval –  but we didn’t quite feel this way. We had such high hopes for a beautiful old world beach town and our first sight of the Mediterranean. While we certainly enjoyed our time away from the big metropolitan cities of the north (and finally getting a sun break or two), it was far from the pristine picture in our minds – grubby in spots, very commercial, and the beach made entirely of rocks.

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Venturing towards the water’s edge from the main commercial area of town (and the train station), the cute little old town of Nice was very typical of the many other old towns throughout the country. Small, dark, winding streets full of shops and restaurants in an old-world opulence kind of way. Getting lost amongst the cobblestone streets was part of the fun, as many of the stores in the heart of old town had local provincial goods.

The Markets

Every morning between 8:00AM and 1:00PM along Cours Saleya (a parallel street to the water’s edge where stunning arches allow the blue water of the Mediterranean to nod hello to those passing by) market stalls are set up selling wonderful local produce, meats, olives, sweets, and ceramics. Unfortunately for us, we did not have a well-equipped kitchen in our Airbnb or we would have taken full advantage of the beautiful goods and cook in a couple of nights (after all, the chef needs to keep up his skills rights?). Vendors are likely to make deals after the 12:00NOON cannon goes off- a LOUD boom notifying the vendors it’s time to begin packing up- which completely caught us off guard our first day in town! The beginning of the street hosts a flower market, Marche aux Fleurs, which stays open until around 4:00PM. I imagine each household in Nice always has a lovely bouquet on their table.

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The fun comes on Monday morning, when all the food items are put away and thousands of antiques are unloaded. Such a wide range of items from furniture and kitchen wares to weapons and old advertisements – I’m pretty sure we will be taking a trip back to Nice in the future to load up a suitcase or two! Because who doesn’t need battered up copper pots, mixed silver, and a vintage Chanel bag?

 

Château de Nice

Just past the dark streets of old town, castle hill rises straight up out of the Mediterranean waters. Taking advantage of the free workout, we climbed the winding staircases to the multiple vista points overlooking Nice’s red-tiled roofs and spanning view of the Sea. This site has been occupied since ancient times, more recently by a medieval castle which was conquered and dismantled by Louis the XIV in 1706. An absolute highlight of the city, this peaceful forested oasis peppered with ancient ruins and stunning views from all sides, cannot be missed!

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Cuisine

Ahhh the first taste of the Mediterranean. Gone were the days of preserved, rich and fatty foods. Bring on the fresh seafood and local produce!

La Merenda – 4 Rue Raoul Bosio, 06300 Nice, France

In this tiny little 24 seat restaurant, a 2 Michelin star chef gave up the “fame” and stars to open this location run by he and his wife. A small menu written in chalk, features dishes he feels like cooking up that day. We started the meal with the fresh Pates au Pistou (spinach pasta with French pesto), and it was some of the best we have ever had. Complex stockfish stew and tripe sausage, both local rustic specialties, did not disappoint. Our meal was finished with a plate of young goat cheese drizzled in Olive Oil. While the server had that rude French attitude we had yet to experience (and questioned our American palates multiple times which to us, was insulting) all the dishes were so simple, yet bursting with flavor. A top contender for best meal in France!

Boulangerie Jeannot – 8 Rue Saint-François de Paule, 06300 Nice, France

A lovely bakery just on the edge of Cours Saleya Market, perfect for your morning pastry or that afternoon espresso and savory delight. On par with some of our favorite spots in Paris, this busy spot did not disappoint. We especially loved the small breads twisted with items like jamon and cheese or gorgonzola and walnuts.

Nicoise Classics

You cannot wander the streets of old town and the market without running into about a dozen places selling Socca. This chickpea pancake is a classic Nicoise street food, chopped up and served piping hot from a huge round pan. Pissaladiere, another delicious classic, is a caramelized onion tart topped with a single olive. Both good inexpensive snacks to grab while bustling on to your next destination or exploring the streets when most other places are closed.

 

Carnaval

dsc09397-1European Mardi Gras – a two-week celebration full of entertainment and energy. While it was not quite what we had expected (a full blown nonstop street party), the two parades that we attended were still enjoyable. During the day, the flower battles featured floats dripping with fresh arrangements and young women dressed up in a themed costume complementary to their float. The excitement of this parade is the throwing of flowers into the crowd (by the end their floats are completely bare of any bloom!). Between each float a troop of performers from drum lines to traditional Bolivian dancers, entertained the crowd.

At night, the parade route comes alive with multicolored lights and patrons in costume. 17 imaginative floats, this year in the theme of the King of Energy, proceed around the route showing off a year’s works of artistry. The floats were incredible, many as tall as three stories and one float even close to 50 feet long across multiple wheeled platforms! Political Satire is also a common subject for many of the floats, this year featuring Donald Trump, The US and China, as well other European political leaders. Many of the same performers from the flower parade were positioned between the evening’s floats, but outfits and routines altered for the high-energy festivities

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Unfortunately, the world is a changed place this year especially in Nice where a terrorist attack last summer has left the city on edge for large gatherings such as “the biggest carnival celebration in Europe”. Due to this, security was heightened, and the parade was contained to a small circular area around Place Massena. It was a relief that no one seemed apprehensive, and at no point did we feel nervous. It is our hope that these events will become a distant memory and Carnaval can return to the large open celebration it once was!

 

Our Stark Perspective (Tips)

  • We wouldn’t make a trip to Nice especially for Carnaval, but if you happen to be in the south of France, be sure to check out the much more entertaining light parade in the evening and for less than half the cost!
    • Buy a standing room ticket in Zone A to get the best action and views of the floats and performers.
  • Accommodations near the water or in old town will allow for a much better and more authentic feel of the city.
  • If you can, take advantage of the market – especially sampling the socca and fresh olives.
  • While the weather may be mild, it can still get chilly in the winter evenings. Spring and Fall would be the best time to visit, to avoid the huge tourist crowds.

 

Useful Resources

 

 

 

 

 

Lyon – Millions of stairs and Michelin Stars

If Paris is the heart of France, Lyon is certainly the stomach. The chef and I arrived, prepared to eat! Our first day in the city lead us down the main streets of town in search of the gastronomic glory it had become known for.

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Chef Paul Bocuse, based in Lyon, is known as one of the most prominent chefs associated with the nouvelle cuisine – a less opulent and calorific style than the traditional cuisine classique. It was he who began the movement in French cooking to stress the importance of using the highest quality fresh ingredients. His restaurant ‘Auberge du Pont de Collonges’ just north of the Lyon town center has retained their 3 Michelin stars since 1965. He is also the name sake of the Bocuse D’or, also in Lyon and held every two years, a live culinary competition where twenty-four of the most promising chefs in the world experience two days of intense competition – a “Culinary Olympics”.

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Drew with Paul Bocuse depicted in one of the cities many murals

But back to the city of Lyon! There was a different feel here, one of young modern urban culture. The streets of the main downtown area were filled with 20 and 30 somethings, strolling from one music or rock shop to the next and a tattoo shop every couple of streets.  An interesting contrast from the main arrondissements of Paris, and certainly from the other neighborhoods in Lyon where the French classic chefs and their patrons would reside.

dsc09116We found our way to Le Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse – a gourmet market with stalls selling some of the best French foods in the world – the nicest looking cheese, meat, sweets, wines, amazing bakeries, and fresh seafood. But unlike many of the other markets we had come across in France, this one featured small restaurants bustling with locals on their lunch break. A visit to Le Halles would not be complete without a purchase from Mere Richard, famous for its Saint Marcellin cheese – a specialty of the Rhône-Alpes region – and revered throughout France. A coupe other things to indulge in Lyonnaise cuisine, like some foie gras, and we were set! Again – another trip, we would have left with lighter pockets and a bag full of gourmet products!

After taking in the sights and smells we were starving, having decided not to eat at the market due to the amount of people in each restaurant stall. We wandered over to LEpicure 8, a laid back casual spot for students with great tartines such as warm pear with chevre and honey. A wonderful break from the hustle and bustle of the city and the market. Leaving completely satisfied, we took the Finacular to La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière, situated high on the hill on the west bank of the Saone river, to get the best sweeping views of all of Lyon before headed back to the AirBnB to relax before dinner, indulging in some of our market goods.

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The view of Lyon and the Saone River

For dinner we found ourselves at Le Balthazart – a small place on the hill with Bib Gourmand Michelin recognition – and kitchen full of women! (The chef does happen to be a man, but I guess he has formed a staff of all women. A nice surprise, especially for France). At 30 Euro per person, their Prix Fix Menu (popular at many French restaurants) included 3 courses of seasonal, delicious, and well thought out menu items. A wild game and foie terrine and a lovely squash soup with mussels started out the meal.  For the main courses, an excellent variation on a Shepard’s pie (In France?!)  made with confit lamb and dried fruit and Cod ala plancha with sweet potato and crab coconut cromesqui, was just as delectable. To finish off the meal, the Salted Butter Caramel ice cream with a gooey chocolate cake, was not only the best dessert on this trip, but a top contender for best ice cream we’ve ever had.  The food was great! Innovative, beautiful and exceptionally well priced. Certainly worth a visit on a trip to Lyon. Not quite ready to turn in for the evening, a visit to Soda Bar offered the perfect nightcap – a small trendy bar with inventive cocktails and a nice atmosphere.

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Day 2 was yet again centered around food! Our first stop for the traditional French breakfast of pastries lead us to Boulangerie Saint Vincent for literally the best croissant I have EVER had! You absolutely cannot miss the ‘les brioches pralines ou chocolate’. It was so good, I forgot to take a picture before devouring half. Due to the boulangerie’s location, a stroll through old town which dates back to pre-roman times, was a great way to see the buildings before the tourists begin to fill the streets. But not soon after, it was time for lunch!

 

La Bijouterie was the first time in the trip where we would break from “local” cuisine. This tiny restaurant with fogged up floor to ceiling windows, only opens for a couple of hours at each service. Wonderful little dim sum bowls featuring homemade sauces just exploded with layers of flavor. Two kinds of rice, natural and mushroom, steamed in a banana leaf and served fresh out of the basket. It was a welcome experience.

Another walk, this time to fully explore the streets of old town of Lyon and take in the sights of such unbelievably old and well-preserved structures. Lyon Old Town (Vieux Lyon) is France’s best concentration of well-preserved Renaissance buildings, built when the city grew rich from trade fairs and banking.

After the positive experience at La Bijouterie, we took the sous chef’s (and many others) recommendation and headed to Café Sellion for our last dinner in Lyon. This restaurant is no different that the transformation happening throughout the culinary world, a young chef moving away from the classics and opening the door for nouvelle cuisine. With a very small prix fix menu of 2 options per course, it was very easy for us to order each item on the menu that evening.

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The amuse of cockles, grapefruit, and chowder broth

An amuse of cockles, grapefruit and chowder broth was easily the best thing we ate all night. A perfect couple of bites with tremendous flavor. But like many of these new progressive menus, the harmonious flavor combinations took a back seat to odd pairings, ingredients, and techniques. While in winter fresh ingredients are not as abundant as warmer months, the innovative uses like pomelo 4 ways on the fish dish, including huge pieces of the bitter rind, just seemed to miss the mark. Our server was very soft-spoken, forgetting half the components on the dish, and spoke very little English. This paired with the fact that we were unable to distinguish half of items on the plates, left us unsatisfied and a slightly confused, not the what we were hoping for on our way out-of-town. Plating was beautiful and we applaud the creativity, however a few tweaks would have transformed the menu.

dsc09161No trip to Lyon would be complete without a meal at a certified Bouchon Lyonnais.  Before catching the train to Nice, we headed up the hill one last time (Did I forget to mention that Lyon has a MILLION stairs!) to Daniel et Denise. This brassiere was exactly what Drew thought we would find more of in Paris. Small family run, a couple of front of the house staff, and all the French classics on the menu. We were the only ones in the restaurant under the age of 50 and speaking English, a true sign we had found a local spot! Local “Silk Weavers” Stew, a boiling hot pot of pork cheek, pork rind, thick-cut bacon and Lyonnais sausage, and Lyonnais salad were accompanied by sides of crispy potatoes and a pasta dish of the day. A traditional and delicious end to our gastronomic discovery of Lyon.

 

 

Paris – Walking off the Calories

Paris – The city of lights. The city of love. The Heart of France.
There are a million sites and sources on what to do with your time here – a French New York City with world-famous places and beautiful architecture. But we went for 1 real reason – to eat and absorb the culinary scene that’s arguably the basis of all western cuisines today. So instead of reiterating what many others would say, here is our culinary point of view (with a couple other non-food related notable findings) as we spent a week walking and eating throughout this magnificent city.

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Restaurants Recommendations

Ahhh the food…. Some not so good, some AMAZING! As with any big city and especially one where food is so highly acclaimed, there will be may places that cater to the tourist palate and aren’t quite up to par. They may talk a good a good game, but as always it comes down to execution. Here are a couple of places we thought excelled!
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The Frenchie Bar (5 Rue du Nil, 75002 Paris) – The amazing owner from Le Coq Rouge in Reims, yet again did not fail us. He sent us on a quest to find this small wine bar up in the 2nd arrondissement (they also have a sit down fixed price restaurant, a takeaway storefront, and now a wine shop all on the same street). At 6:30pm each night the doors open to this lovely hidden gem of a wine bar. Rustic and warm, the interior features communal high tops and an open kitchen. Behind the glass, 3 chefs intricately prepare wonderful small plates that were some of the best we had our entire week there. This place is not to be missed during any food lovers trip to Paris!

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L’Avant Comptoir (3 Carrefour de l’Odéon, 75006 Paris) – Creperie in the front (takeaway only) and standing tapas bar in the back. This small place hangs their menu from the ceiling and features some French style and traditional Spanish tapas. Great little nibbles for your mid-day hunger when wandering around Le Jardin du Luxembourg.

 

L’Assiette (181 Rue du Château, 75014 Paris) – Traditional French Brasserie filled with locals! Cozy and casual (although the woman next to us was dripping in Chanel jewelry and designer clothing) this lovely little spot served up an amazing Cassoulet – bubbling hot and filled with a wonderful mixture of meats

La Brasserie de l’Isle Saint-Louis (55 Quai de Bourbon, 75004 Paris) – Another French classic brasserie (this time filled with the typical French servers and GIANT espresso machine behind the bar), we were pleasantly surprised by the steak frites served with caramelized shallots and the onion and bacon “tart”. Beef Tartare was being prepared tableside at nearly every other table – a specialty of the house I can imagine.

dsc09089Les Fables de La Fontaine (131 Rue Saint-Dominique, 75007 Paris) – Michelin 1 Star Restaurant serving a 25 Euro lunch, what could go wrong? This little place offered up beautifully plated food and great flavor. And for the price, it couldn’t be beat. *Many places offer a set prix fixe menu, in which the dishes are already decided. We ended up going with one set menu and 2 al la carte options so that we had different dishes*

Pastry/Sweets

On every block, there are at least 2 boulangeries (bakeries) and 1 passelling sweets, chocolate, or macaroons. Nothing is better than walking up to the local bakery, buying a fresh baguette, and devouring half of it before you even get back to your apartment. While we had our fair share of mouth-watering pastries (honestly how could there be a bad butter flakey croissant?), the below were exceptional!

Du Pain et des Idees (34 Rue Yves Toudic, 75010 Paris) – With a line out the door, and rightfully so, this place should be sought out. Specializing in “pinwheel” pastries, this amazing patisserie had many flavors to choose from. We settled on the Praline version and it was absolute heaven! I am glad this was not near our apartment, or I would have been there every morning and sampled them all.

Pierre Hermé Paris (multiple locations) – What’s a trip to Paris without purchasing some delicate Macaroons? Pierre Hermé was awarded the title of World’s Best Pastry Chef in 2016 by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. His shop features interesting and innovative flavor combinations, which were a treat to enjoy.

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Food markets

With the best ingredients stemming from every square mile of the country, Paris has some amazing establishments dedicated to the regions’ finest. The sights, the colors, the smells, the quality – these markets were a food lover’s dream! (Too bad we have a long way to go on this journey, or our suitcases would have been full!)

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Galeries Lafayette Gourmet (35 Boulevard Haussman, 75009 Paris) – This multi-level food hall reminded us very closely to Eataly, only focused mainly on French ingredients. The displays so beautiful – everything from mounds of colorful spices, to the best dry aged meats, and legs of pate negra hanging from the ceiling – you feel bad disrupting them in order to purchase what they have to offer.

La Grande Épicerie de Paris (38 Rue de Sèvres, 75007 Paris) – smaller, less crowded and a little more approachable, this gourmet market does not disappoint. A staple stop on every trip to Paris!

Culinary Streets

Although the sights and smells of gourmet foods can be found on every street in Paris, there are a couple notable streets where the industry has found its niche. At each store front you can find either a café, brasserie, or merchant proud of their local ingredients. A feast for the eyes, and hopefully the stomach.

  • Rue Cler (7th arrondissement)
  • Rue Buci (6th arrondissement)
  • Rue Montorgueil (1st/2nd arrondissement)

Other Sights & Activities

Despite what the chef may have liked, our trip to Paris could not have solely been spent hoping from one restaurant to the next, filling our stomachs with yet another traditional French dish. Many of our days were spent walking through neighborhoods taking in the architecture and ticking off the “must sees” on your first trip to Paris. Below are a couple other places we felt were worthwhile.

Palais Galleria – Not only is Paris a food capital but it is also a fashion capital of the world. Having a bachelor’s degree in Fashion, this was on MY must do list. Beautifully preserved garments, some dating back to the 18th century, this collection of garments told the story of French fashion and its notable designers through the 1990’s. The museum does not take long to go through, so if you are in the Trocadero area and enjoy fashion – I highly recommend it!

Fontainebleau – By the end of the week, we had explored pretty much all of the notable arrondissements in Paris and were looking for something a little different. In lieu of the Versailles day trip, we decided on Fontainebleau – a château said to have inspired Versailles, with a fraction of other tourists. We boarded Train R out of Gare de Lyon’s main platforms and within 50 minutes we arrived to the local station where a quick trip on the city bus dropped us off at the château.

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The Throne Room at Fontainebleau

As we wandered our way through staterooms and halls once occupied by the kings of France dating back to the 1100’s, often times we were the only ones in the room allowing us time to take in all the intricate details. In the warmer weather months, the grounds feature ponds, gardens, fountains, and a huge forest with walking trails. This château was equally impressive and for only €11.00, was certainly a day well spent

  • The City of Fontainebleau is a quaint town with a main street riddled with shopping and restaurants. Trains run every half hour back to Paris so some time can easily be spent wandering the streets.
  • We stopped for lunch at Bistrot 9, a small place situated on a side street just before the entrance to the grounds. This authentic French bistro served up some delicious plates of French classics. (The Beef Tartar was the best we had all week and the baked camembert with honey… need I say more?!)


The Louvre
 – This museum goes without saying, it’s worth a trip. In for some inclement weather? A full day can easily be spent wandering the thousands of rooms. We were fortunate to hit the days just right and scored free entrance. Given the timing of our visit, we concentrated on Decorative Arts/Europe – an in-depth continuation of our trip to Fontainebleau . With so much to see it can be quite overwhelming, so focus on the collections that interest you most.

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Until next time Paris! We will be back!

Our Stark Perspective (Tips) –

  • If you plan on doing a lot of walking, purchasing the 10 Pack of tickets should be sufficient for a week in the city. If you plan to go to Versailles and/or Fontainebleau, purchase the week pass (Navigo Découverte) is worth the extra cost.
  • Trocadero is the best view of the Eiffel Tower and can be easily reached on the metro. Best advice I ever received – the first time you see the Eiffel tower up close and in person, do it at NIGHT! It’s magical (Bonus – At the top of every hour it twinkles)
  • Many local businesses are closed either Sunday or Monday (sometimes both).
    • Except in the tourist areas where hours are continual – businesses generally close around 2 or 3, before reopening again around 6. For restaurants, many stop serving lunch at 2 and do not open again for dinner until 7 or 8pm.
  • Bus Route 72 (you can use a regular transit ticket to board) runs along the Seine and is a virtual rolling tour of Paris, connecting many of the main sights. While we did not get to take advantage this trip, it is a great way to see the city of lights especially at night!
  • 95% of the city’s museums are free on first Sunday of every month. If you are able to coordinate your schedules around this, it could be a large savings.
  • Supermarkets with great ingredients are plentiful. To save a couple of dollars during the day, stop in a purchase some cured meats, cheese, and fresh-baked bread to assemble your own sandwiches, just like they sell on the street.

Helpful Resources

Reims – Champagne, France: Underground Chalk Tunnels filled with Golden Bubbles

Upon arriving into Charles de Gaulle Airport from the snowy, icy Iceland morning we boarded the local TGV high-speed train for a quick 50 min trip to Reims, the epi-center of the Champagne region. Gone were the days of preserved seafood to withstand the winter and a language we couldn’t barely comprehend. Hello golden bubbles, fresh baked carbs galore, and the beginning of our culinary exploration.

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The Notre Dame of Reims

First things first, we headed to the closest Champagne house to find out that there were no more English tours for the day. While this was not the ideal scenario, the guide quickly sent us in search of our first glass of bubbles at a local wine bar, ran by two young men in their early thirties. Sounds right up our alley!

It’s 5pm at this point and we stroll up to LE COQ ROUGE. No one is inside but 2 men and a small boy, sharing conversation and espresso. We pop our head in and ask if they are open. Why yes – but the kitchen does not open for about another 3 hours (Our first experience with the European timetable). We sit and enjoy a couple glasses of wine, the first a taste of the local gold, Champagne. After asking where we should go for dinner, the owner advised we should stay but we would have to come back around 8. Heading out for a quick stroll to see the town in the evening, we return for dinner to a completely full restaurant.

The food was OUTSTANDING! A 22/23 year old young woman chef with the drive to explore beyond traditional French cuisine. On the menu – Incredibly deep Bone Marrow roasted to perfection with Herbes de Provence, Rich Pork Rillette mixed with Coffee (a combination that soon grew on me), Jamon Croquets (mini grilled cheese filled cured ham and bits of winter truffles), a fresh fish Sole terrine (who does that?) with vegetables in a puff pastry crust, and for dessert a rich molten chocolate cake and homemade ice cream. Words can just not describe the tastes and smells coming from our plates. Tired from an early morning flight and being in slight food coma, we headed back to our Airbnb still talking about the outstanding dishes we had just consumed.

The Champagne Process in a Nut Shell

Before visiting, neither Drew or I had any real knowledge of how Champagne differs from the production of “still wine” – so here is our quick review for you!

  • 3 grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier) are harvested from each Cru or village in the Champagne region – the villages that produce the best quality grapes are called Grand Crus.
  • Every single vineyard and varietal is kept separate – they are crushed immediately and put stainless vats for the first fermentation process.
  • Blending is then done with these still wines to ensure the product is identical from year to year (a process that could utilize over 200 different wines!)
  • Once blended, the wine is bottled and yeast and sugar are added or a second fermentation (finally causing the bubbles). The bottles get stacked into the caves sideways to begin the aging process. Once the yeast dies, sediment forms and releases flavor. Champagne can only age if there is sediment in the bottle.
  • After aging is complete (a minimum of 15 months), the bottles then begin the riddling or turning process to move the sediment into the neck of the bottle. For the best bottles this is still done by hand by a Riddler.
  • With the sediment in the neck and a ton of pressure built up, the bottles are turned upside down and dipped into a bath to freeze only the tip of the neck, capturing the sediment in the ice.
  • The top metal cap is released, the ice shoots out expelling all of the sediment, and a small amount of sugar and champagne are added back in. At this point the bottles get corked and are now ready to consume!
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A Diagram showing the aging a riddling process. As the bottles are turned by the riddler, their angle in the rack gets more severe so that the sediment ends up in the neck.

The Champagne Houses

During our time in Reims we were able to visit 3 of the main Champagne Houses – TAITTINGER, G.H. MARTELL, AND G.H. MUMM. Each tour was uniquely different which allowed for a rounded view of both past and present production techniques. Underneath Reims is a web thousands of pyramid shaped chalk tunnels. This chalk was quarried in order to build the city and is also why the soil in the region produces varies for the growing of the champagne grapes. Today these medieval tunnels store millions of Champagne bottles in optimal conditions, a constant cool temperature (11-12°C) and level of humidity (90-95%).

TAITTINGER – 1932

The Taittinger headquarters sits on the site of a 13th century Abbey which was destroyed during the French Revolution. The caves below were used by the monks for the storage of their wine, and today it is where Taittinger’s premier label is kept aging for up to 10 years. Over 3 million of these bottles are turned by hand by 2 riddlers. Their caves were magnificent and it was great to see the product amongst them.

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At the end of the Taittinger Tour, enjoying a glass of their bubbly!

G.H. MARTEL – 1869

Martell had some of the oldest caves, dug between the 4th and 15th centuries. With modern technology they have since moved production away from the original caves in Reims. The tour of this house served more as a museum, showing some of the original equipment.

MUMM – 1827

Mumm was situated a little outside of the center of town, but this was due to the fact that all production is done on site (except crushing which is done as close to the vineyard as possible). This was the largest facility that we toured, around 25 million bottles produced each year! The city of tunnels underneath their headquarters were newer than the others, but VAST. There are so many meters of tunnels that they treat it as a city, giving each a “street name”. The too had a large collection of old production equipment which served as a museum. Overall a very nice tour of an impressive company.

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Aging bottles at G.H. MUMM

 

Most of our time was spent wondering around this lovely city (we had the BEST cured ham and chevre cheese panini from a tiny little shop down the street from the basilica). Quaint but bustling with locals on Friday night and Saturdays. On the way to dinner Friday evening in the Boulingrin area, we stumbled upon the Reims start of the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique. All over Europe, cars that took part in the actual Rallye Monte-Carlo from 1955 until 1980, leave their city and all convene in Digne les Bains at the same time for the start of the years race. What an incredible event to have just come across! We had a lovely time in Reims and look forward to visiting again, when the grapes are growing and we can explore further Champagne houses. Now on to Paris!

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One of the classic cars in the Rallye

Our Stark Perspective (Tips):

  • It is a very quick train ride from Paris, but save some money by getting to the center of town via the tram from Champagne TGV, instead of switching trains.
    • There are also two bus companies (similar to Megabus) directly from Paris for much less.
  • Reims has a Notre Dame, just like Paris. The exterior of the Reims Notre Dame is more ornate and Drew actually found it more impressive than Paris.
  • Food was hit or miss. Whatever you do, go to LE COQ ROUGE. Boulingrin is a good area for a wide variety of restaurants, frequented by the locals, however we had a couple dishes that weren’t so great.
    • LE BOCAL is a seafood in the area which we were told was great. Both nights they were full, so try and make reservations ahead of time – even just by walking in.
  • Spring/summer is optimal time to go, as this month many of the Champagne houses were closed. While there will be more tourists, the vineyards will be lush and all of the houses open for tours.