7 Tips for a Day Trip to Champagne from Paris

Champagne is synonymous with France.  After all, the bubbly glasses of goodness originated in northern France and only sparkling wine from that region can bear the prestigious title of “Champagne.”  Visiting the home of one of the most famous drinks in the world was at the top of my life long list of dreams, so on our last day in Paris—and the final day of our trip to Spain and France—Heather and I took a day trip to France’s Champagne region for some wine tasting.

Tasting a glass of Veuve Clicquot Champagne in Reims, France.

Tasting a glass of Veuve Clicquot Champagne.

I had visions of sipping fizzy Champagne all day and wandering around the historical region without a care in the world, but the reality was much different.  We didn’t realize the region was divided into two cities (and arrived in one when we had a tour scheduled in another), among other bumps in the road.  So learn from our mistakes!

Here are 7 tips for a day trip to Champagne from Paris:

Glasses of Moët & Chandon Champagne at Moët & Chandon Champagne House in Epernay, France.

Tasting some of Champagne’s best Champagne: Moët & Chandon.

1. The Champagne region is about an hour’s train ride from Paris.
The easiest way to Champagne from Paris is to take the high speed TGV train.  The region’s two major centers are Reims and Épernay (more on that below) and the train stops in Reims (45 minutes away, about 15€) or Épernay (75 minutes, about 22€).  Trains run back and forth all day and tickets can be purchased at the station before boarding or in advance online.

The view from the train outside of Epernay, France.

The view from the train just outside of Épernay, France.

2. Champagne is made up of 5 small areas, but stick to Reims and/or Épernay.
All five regions of Champagne produce sparkling wine, but the towns of Reims and Épernay are the centers of the area.  A note of caution: Reims and Épernay are not that close together!  We made the mistake of taking a cab from Reims to Epernay and it cost us around 100€!

If you want to see both regions, jump back on the train.  It’s an inexpensive 9€ and is much quicker (about a half hour on the TGV high speed train) than taking a cab or the bus.

A row of Veuve Clicquot Champagne glasses at Veuve Clicquot in Champagne, France.

Tasting glasses of Veuve Clicquot Champagne at the winery.

3. Épernay is like Sonoma while Reims is like Napa.
After our 100€ cab ride to Épernay to tour the Moët & Chandon caves, we made the best of being in the other city and visited a smaller Champagne House (what the wineries are called), called Georges Cartier.  Georges Cartier is a smaller winery that doesn’t export to the United States so we’d never get to taste it stateside.  We got one-on-one attention and a private tasting of their entire line of Champagnes.

We wandered around Épernay for the rest of the morning (yes, our Moët & Chandon tour was at 9:45 a.m.) and enjoyed the peaceful, small town.  It felt a lot like Sonoma.  When we finally explored the much larger, more touristy Reims (where we toured Veuve Clicquot), it reminded both of us of the more touristy Napa.  That’s not good or bad, just worth mentioning for those who have been to California’s wine region and have a strong preference for one side over the other.  But…

The caves aging thousands of bottles of Moët & Chandon Champagne in Reims, France.

The caves aging thousands of bottles of Moët & Chandon Champagne.

4. Wine tasting in Champagne isn’t like it is in California.
If you’ve been wine tasting in California, you know that wineries welcome visitors to drink, relax and oftentimes eat.  In Champagne, most wineries obviously want visitors and they want you to try their wines, but none of the houses we visited offered any food (which can become a problem after drinking Champagne all day!) and often shuffled us to move on after our tours.  In Napa and Sonoma (where I went wine tasting last summer), I felt like I could spend all day relaxing at the wineries but in Champagne I felt like they wanted me to buy a bottle and move on.

Another major difference: Champagne is aged in underground caves so most of the tours take visitors underground to natural vaults created by chalk and/or limestone quarries, some dug out during the Roman times.  It’s incredibly impressive.  But keep that in mind when deciding your attire because the caves can get chilly!

The Moët & Chandon Champagne House with a statue of the famed Dom Perignon outside.

The Moët & Chandon Champagne House with a statue of the famous Dom Perignon outside.

5. Research what Champagne Houses you want to visit beforehand. 
There are a ton of Champagne Houses in the region, so have an idea which ones you want to visit before you go.  This will help decide if to go Reims, Épernay or both.  Épernay is home to Mercier, Moët & Chandon (open since 1743!) who also owns Dom Pérignon; while Reims hosts Veuve Clicquot (1772), Mumm (1827) and Tattinger (1734).  Wikipedia has a helpful list of houses here and Reims Tourism lists houses and languages spoken at each.  Reservations can be made at most Champagne houses online beforehand.

Bonus tip: With good food comes good wine.  In the case of Champagne, it’s the opposite: with good wine, comes good food.  Champagne is home to 11 Michelin-rated restaurants, so make reservations for those before heading there, too.

The Abbey of Saint Remi in Reims, France.

The Abbey of Saint Remi in Reims.

6. The region has an incredible past so don’t forget to indulge in history, too.
Because of its geographical position between many different countries, the region has seen a lot of history, particularly in the form of war.  The Romans defeated the Huns in Champagne in 451 A.D., many battles of the Hundred Years’ War took place there, and it was bombed repeatedly during both World Wars.  In fact, the caves of Veuve Clicquot were once used as a hospital during World War I and the remnants of a hospital cross are still visible on the cave walls.  And Reims is actually the place where Eisenhower and the Allies received the German surrender on May 7, 1945.

Reims is also home to the Notre Dame de Rems Cathedral, where the coronation of every French king has taken place, and the Abbey of Saint Remi, the largest Romanesque pilgrimage church in northern France.

A carving on the wall of the Champagne caves of Veuve Clicquot in Reims, France.

A carving on the wall of the Champagne caves of Veuve Clicquot in Reims.

7.  Consider taking a guided tour.
We managed to visit the Champagne region on our own, doing a lot of research beforehand.  We pulled it off, but not without some hiccups (like the 100€ cab ride).  At the end of the day when we were exhausted from getting lost, we wished we would have signed up with a guided tour.  There are plenty online and I’m sure they are all much easier and less stressful than doing it on your own!

Champagne is such a contrast from Paris.  It’s definitely worth dedicating a day to explore the countryside and taste France’s most famous drink.  While parts of our day trip to Champagne was hectic, it was a sparkling end to an amazing trip through Spain and France.

Related :: 5 Incredible Facts About the Paris Opera House, 6 Things I Hated About Paris, and 7 Reasons to Take a Day Trip to Toledo.

Utah Updates & Events :: July 2014

We are in the heart — and heat — of the summer, folks.  But a little sunshine and a lotta warmth never stopped anyone in Utah from having a little fun.  (Especially those of us who don’t like winter… wink, wink, nudge, nudge.)

There is plenty going on in Utah these days and even the mountains have come back alive (especially since it’s not too hot up there).  Here are just a few of the Utah events happening in the next few weeks:

Hops on the Hill featuring Epic Brewing at Stein Eriksen.

Hops on the Hill featuring Epic Brewing at Stein Eriksen.

Hops on the Hill at Stein Eriksen :: Every Tuesday in August
If your Tuesdays are feeling a little bland (and seriously, whose aren’t?), head up to Stein Eriksen Lodge at Deer Valley for Hops on the Hill, the beer pairing dinner on their deck with the breathtaking view.  Then stick around for the free outdoor concert while the sun sets.  The featured beer and band change every week.  Hops is $35 or $40 at the door.  The line up is here.

The Kimball Arts Festival :: August 1-3
Park City’s arts festival showcases artists from around the country.  Like the Utah Arts Festival, the Kimball Arts Festival has music in addition to visual art.  The surrounding restaurants also jump in on the fun with tons of specials, some even offering 2-for-1 deals (see all dining discounts here).

The Flying Monkey and Glinda-licious Wicked-themed cocktails at Bambara.

The Flying Monkey and Glinda-licious Wicked-themed cocktails at Bambara.

Wicked on Broadway & Wicked Cocktails at Bambara :: Now til August 24
The sensational Broadway hit Wicked tells the story you haven’t heard about the Wizard of Oz and it’s playing at the Capitol Theater in Salt Lake City til August 24.  I may be a die-hard opera lover, but even I fell for the catchy tunes and clever story.  Go for pre-show dinner and Wicked-themed cocktails across the street at Bambara.  Try the Flying Monkey with Absolute Vanilla, coffee liqueur and espresso.

Free Yoga in the Grand America Courtyard :: Every Wednesday
Burn off all the calories from Hops on the Hill at the Grand America‘s free yoga class on Wednesday evenings.  Set in the beautiful courtyard of Salt Lake City’s most luxurious hotel, enjoy specialty-priced appetizers and cocktails in the lobby bar after the class.

Taste of the Wasatch :: August 3

And don’t forget Taste of the Wasatch is next week at Solitude Mountain Resort.  Here are all the details from last week’s post but the gist is 50+ restaurants at Solitude and all proceeds go to charity. Need I say more?

Ruth Lewandowski Wines, Made in Utah

As a born and bred Utah native, I get teased a lot when I travel.  Much of that teasing comes in the form of ridiculous questions meant to poke fun at how weird the rest of the country thinks my hometown is.

“Are you a polygamist?” “Is everyone there LDS?” And, “is it even legal to get a drink in Utah?” are just some of the things I get asked on a regular basis when I leave the state.

The last question is my favorite for many reasons.  While Utah has plenty of strange liquor laws (and admittedly they are constantly being challenged), I’m always proud to answer that it’s home to award-winning beer breweries, whiskey distilleries and even wineries.

So to answer the question: yes, we can drink in Utah.  And you bet we do!

A bottle of Ruth Lewandowski Naomi Wine near a waterfall in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Getting ready to enjoy a bottle of Ruth Lewandowski wine at a summer barbecue.

What amazes me about the spirit makers in Utah (the alcohol-based ones, not the religious ones) is that they are not just existing here, they are raising the bar and pushing boundaries in their respective realms.  One of those people is Evan Lewandowski, owner of Ruth Lewandowksi Wines.

Ruth Lewandowski Wines are sustainable, all natural wines made with California grapes–for now, until Evan gets Utah-grown vines in the ground.  The wine is bottled and aged in Salt Lake City, qualifying the “made in Utah” label.

Barrels of wine at Ruth Lewandowski Winery in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Barrels of aging wine at the Ruth Lewandowski “urban winery.”

Evan uses grapes and wine-making practices that aren’t widely seen, creating incredibly unique vino.  Instead of taking the easy, everybody-will-like-em route, Evan chose to go the road not normally taken.  (Isn’t there a poem about that?)

Purposely unique wine means that not everyone understands or loves them, but that’s what’s great about Ruth Lewandowski wines: they challenge drinkers to expand their wine horizons beyond Chardonnay and Cabernet.  Each sip makes you stop to question what it is you like (or maybe not like) about wine and why.

Evan Lewandowski, owner of Ruth Lewandowski Wines, sharing his wine knowledge at Pago.

Evan Lewandowski sharing his wine knowledge at Pago.

Evan has a wine resume to impress any connoisseur: he’s worked in vineyards from Napa to New Zealand, France to Italy and done everything from labor along the vines to help with the bottling.  His expertise is astounding.  But he’s so unpretentious that he’s an absolute delight to drink with.  Every time I share a glass with him, suddenly I’m learning all sorts of wine knowledge without even realizing it.

A bottle of Ruth Lewandowski Feints and a glass of Naomi wine.

A bottle of Ruth Lewandowski Feints and a glass of Naomi wine during a recent tasting.

This year’s batch of Ruth Lewandowski wines include one called Feints Cuvée Zero, a light red/dark rosé that smells of peppery raspberries and tastes slightly acidic but refreshing.  It’s already sold out by the bottle but is available by the glass at Pago (where Evan is the sommelier), Finca and Beer Bar.

Ruth Lewandowski Naomi wine is a whole-cluster pressed white wine.

The Naomi has a beautiful, peachy color to it.

The other, Naomi, is my favorite.  It’s a Grenache gris grape that was whole-cluster pressed the day of harvest that was fermented solely as juice, with a slightly rocky/citrusy taste that is a perfectly refreshing wine to sip on during a hot summer evening.  Naomi is available at Pago, Finca, select wine stores and at Ruth Lewandowksi wines by appointment.

Ruth Lewandowski is also releasing a skin-fermented white wine called Chilion in the near future.  It’s technically a white but has the mouth-feel of a red (also known as an orange wine), that’s absolutely stunning.

Keep your eyes peeled for Ruth Lewandowski wines.  So next time someone from out of town asks you if Utahns know how to drink, tell them we not only know how to drink, we are experts in making what to drink.  And we have the wine makers, whiskey distillers, beer brewers and bartenders to prove it.

6 Things I Hated About Paris

Life is but a dream in Paris.  It breathes romanticism–and I don’t mean the era.  The city is beautiful from every angle (as long as you look beyond the dirt), the food is outstanding and there is charming intimacy around every corner.

Paris was the final leg of our 15 day trip through Spain and France but it was the city I was most anxious to experience.  Once there, it charmed me beyond my expectations.

The Eiffel Tower from below in Paris.

Paris’ famous trademark, the Eiffel Tower.

But don’t get me wrong :: I didn’t love everything about Paris.  In fact, there’s a handful of things I hated.  Here are 6 things I hated about Paris (balanced by 5 things I loved).

A street in Paris with a streetside cafe.

From the decorated rooftops down to the charming cafes and the detailed balconies in between, the architecture of Paris was stunning.

1. I hated the Palace of Versailles. 
Admittedly some of my favorite photos from France were taken at the Palace of Versailles.  But the experience itself was nearly excruciating.  After buying tickets to the tourist attraction online the night before our visit, we still waited in line for two hours before entering, then were herded through the palace halls like cattle.  Most of the anticipated awe was replaced by claustrophobia.

But I loved the architecture in Paris.
Throughout Paris the architecture was phenomenal.  Not just the masterpieces like the Notre Dame but the regular, everyday apartment buildings that lined the streets.  I had to stop myself from taking a picture every ten steps because I found every building, every door and every gate to be beautiful.

Croque Madame at Au Bouquet in Paris.

One of the most memorable meals in Paris: Croque Madame at Au Bouquet.

2. I hated the Paris Metro.
The Paris Metro is one of the densest subway systems in the world, transporting more than 5 million passengers per day through 245 stations in the city.  That staggering number of people explains how disgustingly dirty the metro is, which is understandable, but besides being clogged with gritty grime, the metro is a mess of mismatched tunnels that are often hard to understand.  Needless to say, it was easy to get lost.

But I loved the food, even in the metro station.
Many people told me that food in France wasn’t that good.  Well, those people are nuts. :) Every place we ate, from the bakery tucked away in the metro station to the random café on the side of the street and even the Japanese-fusion bakery, it was amazing.  Snails, octopus, macarons, green tea muffins, Belgium waffles (those aren’t even French!), everything was delicious.  Ok, with one exception: the ramen wasn’t what I expected.

The Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

The Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

3. I hated the tourists. 
There were so many of them—everywhere—and they walked so slow or were so annoying.  I realize the irony in that I’m a tourist, but really, there is no need to hold hands and take up the entire sidewalk while walking slower than my 92-year old grandma.  Please try harder.  Thank you.

But I loved the people of Paris.
The locals, however, have this funny reputation around the world as being terribly rude.  So many people warned me before my trip that Parisians are stuck up.  But honestly, Parisians are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met while traveling.  One cab driver nearly drove over a curb (and almost injured some pedestrians in the process) just to get me to the opera on time.

The catacombs in Paris.

The catacombs in Paris.

4. I hated that everything required waiting in line.
We waiting in line for more than two hours to get into the Palace of Versailles.  The Catacombes required roughly 2 hours of standing; the Notre Dame’s quick-moving line only took a half hour, even though it looked long.  By our third day in Paris, we joked that Parisians must love standing in line because everything required doing so.  And it sucked.

But I loved the city’s amazing history. 
Paris has been known for its arts and culture since the 12th Century.  Walking through the city conjures images of episodes from history, and while the past isn’t as apparent as it was in Toledo, parts of it peek through in certain areas.  One of those places was the Catacombs, where the remains of 6 million people were buried in the 18th Century.  Amazing!

Outdoor seats of a cafe in Paris.

A common sight in Paris: outdoor seating with the chairs facing the same direction.

5. I hated that our to do list was dictated by tourist traps.
There are so many famous icons in a city as celebrated as Paris, from the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Troimphe, and we felt like we had to see them all with our own eyes, even if it was just to say that we did.  On one day of compacted touristy sightseeing, we got off the metro to see the Moulin Rouge windmill, snapped a few photos and jumped right back on the train.  I drew the line at seeing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre and refused to step foot in the museum.

But I loved the cafés with outward-facing outdoor seating.
The best moments in Paris were when we were far from the touristy traps and the annoying people selling mini Eiffel Tower statues, immersed among the locals enjoying the energy of France.  Often we’d find ourselves in these moments while sitting on a patio at a little café with all its seats facing the street, perfect for people-watching.  We’d sit for hours without ever being pressured to leave and we’d sip on rosé wine while taking in the spring air.  Those are the moments, more than any, that I loved about Paris.

A beautiful door topped in wisteria in Paris.

The most beautiful door I have ever seen. (I love doors and wisteria!)

6. I hated that I had to leave Paris.
And those moments made me wish that I didn’t have to leave Paris so soon.  That I could stay a week, or maybe a month, more.  I’d be completely content wandering her streets and tasting her sweets day after day, stumbling upon street musicians and flower stands bursting with life; reminding me that the simplest pleasures are what make life so beautiful.

Related :: 6 Days in Paris, A Day at Versailles and 5 Facts About the Paris Opera House.

Upcoming :: Taste of the Wasatch

Have you ever wished that you could taste a bunch of Utah’s best restaurants all in one sitting?  Or have you ever wondered what the food at a particular restaurant was like but didn’t want to devote an entire meal to it just to experiment?  Well now you can do both at the Taste of the Wasatch event!

Wine and beautiful weather at last year's Taste of the Wasatch event at Solitude Mountain Resort.

Wine and beautiful weather at last year’s Taste of the Wasatch event.

Taste of the Wasatch is one of the best culinary events of the summer and it’s happening on August 3, 2014.  The event showcases more than 50 of Utah’s best restaurants all in one place.  And not just any place, but the beautiful background of Solitude Mountain Resort.

If that’s not good enough, all–yes 100 percent!–of the proceeds go to fight hunger in Utah.  How awesome is that?  So not only do you get to try a bunch of awesome food (and wine!), meet some of the people behind the restaurants as they serve food, hang out at Solitude Mountain Resort, but you’re also supporting a great cause.

A plate of treats from Taste of the Wasatch at Solitude Mountain Resort.

Last year I started my feast with dessert.

Here are just a few of the great restaurants participating in this year’s event (with links to my reviews):  The Aerie, Del Mar al Lago, Log Haven, Pago, Finca, Pallet, Red Iguana, Riverhorse on Main, Trio and more!  The full list of restaurants and courses is on The Utah Review here.

Taste of the Wasatch is Sunday, August 3, 2014 from 12-4 p.m.  Tickets are $125 for VIP (which includes a reserved seat) and $90 for general admission.  Click here for tickets.  But act fast, last year the event sold out quickly.  You must be 21 to attend.

Faustina in Salt Lake City

Faustina is one of those places that tends to hover below the radar—or at least, it used to be.  It’s a little bit off the beaten path, just far enough from downtown Salt Lake City to give it a neighborhood vibe.  Yet once inside, the classy decor and creative menu immediately makes me wonder why everyone isn’t always talking about it.

The restaurant has been serving New American dishes for years but last year Faustina quietly changed chefs–and with him, menus.  Joe Kemp took over as Chef de Cuisine in late 2013 and transformed the menu, introduced an entire selection of small plates and revived the seafood dishes with years of expertise from his hometown of Iceland and his previous work in Maryland.

Scallops with tomato risotto at Faustina in Salt Lake City.

The night’s scallops special with tomato risotto.

While many people may not have noticed the change behind the scenes at Faustina, they noticed the change on their plates and palates.  Last weekend my friends and I stopped by for dinner on Faustina’s patio before heading to the Jazz Festival (the music one, not basketball kind).  We focused mainly on small plates but couldn’t help but dive into some of the larger dishes on the menu.

Crab cakes with corn and avocado at Faustina in Salt Lake City.

Light and lemony, I could eat a dozen of the crab cakes.

And because it was a hot summer evening and a Friday night, we ordered plenty of wine.  Faustina’s wine list is filled with glasses and bottles picked to perfectly compliment the food on the menu as well as based on the practices of the winery.  Many wines are from wineries focusing on sustainable practices while still being affordable.  We picked an Atrea rosé (one of my favorite rosés) and a Spanish Albarino.

We started with Lump Crab Cakes ($12) off the small plates menu.  Lemony and light, the cakes strike the right balance of fried crunchiness and flaky crab-ness.  They come two to a plate, with a heap of roasted corn, slices of tomato and avocado and dill aioli for dipping.  Trust me on this one: ask for two orders right off the bat.

Bacon-wrapped dates with balsamic vinegar at Faustina in Salt Lake City.

Bacon-wrapped dates delicious enough to win over non-date lovers.

Teamed with the crab, we ordered Bacon-Wrapped Dates ($6) that were sensational enough to turn one of my date-adverse friends into a fan after one bite.  Bacon-wrapped anything is good, but the rich balsamic drizzle and sweet soy compounded with the sweet dates doesn’t hurt either.

Chicken Pillow Pastry at Faustina in Salt Lake City.

Chicken Pillow Pastry, like a chicken pot pie.

For the main event three of us shared a duo of small plates and shared the entree special: three scallops on a bed of tomato risotto with roasted cauliflower and smoked bacon, then topped with chive oil and micro greens (pictured at top).  The risotto was heavy on the tomato flavor, but was incredibly light (as opposed to the overly rich version).  I loved the cauliflower and mixture of summery flavors.  While it was the night’s special, rumor is it might be on the regular menu soon.  (It has my vote to be added!)

Lamb chops with apples and jalapenos at Faustina in Salt Lake City.

Little lamb chops topped with crunchy apples and spicy jalapenos.

The small plates we picked were Lamb Chops ($10) with soft polenta (like thick mashed potatoes) topped with an apple/jalapeno mixture with a side of roasted peppers, altogether delicious enough to make me wish the chops weren’t so small.  (The lamb chops are available in entree size for $24.)  And Chicken Pillow Pastry ($8), chicken stuffed in puff pastry with cranberry, sage, pine nuts and balsamic reduction that was like a homemade chicken pot pie.  It was a little awkward to share and I felt like it was more of a cold-weather dish, even though we enjoyed it.

Stuffed beef tenderloin medallions with asparagus at Faustina in Salt Lake City.

Beef Tenderloin to the extreme!

The fourth person that opted to order only an entree got the Stuffed Beef Tenderloin Medallions ($28), a juicy, salty slab of steak with cipollini onions and shiitake chips covered in creamy peppercorn sauce with a team of roasted fingerling potatoes and asparagus.  The whole dish was amazing.  It wasn’t trying too hard, just good basic flavors done really well.

Faustina’s desserts are also made in-house by Chef Kemp but we didn’t have room for the blueberry souffle with honey lavender cream sauce or the apple tarte tatin with Slide Ridge Honey gelato (!!).  Maybe next time I’ll go back for just wine and desserts on the patio.  Ok and maybe a crab cake or two.

Go to Faustina for :: a nice lunch or dinner with dishes that speak true to the flavor of the ingredients.  Notes :: Open Monday-Friday for lunch (from 11 am to 3 pm) and dinner Sunday-Thursday 4:30-9 pm and Friday-Saturday 4:30-10 pm.  Also serving brunch on weekends from 9 am-3 pm.  Reservations are available online here.  Follow Faustina on twitter and facebook for special events like beer and wine pairing dinners.

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