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September 2016

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When visiting France, the backpacker’s first instinct would be to explore the popular, well-loved city of Paris. Sure, Paris has the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Musée du Louvre and many charming bistros and patisseries. However, if you want to have a taste of fresh, sparkling champagne, you must visit Reims.

Planning for the Trip

All you need to get to this beautiful and time-honored city is to hop on a train at Paris’ Gare de l’Est. You have about an hour and a half to prepare yourself to begin tasting some bubbly.

The trip may be fairly easy, but do note that most champagne houses will require you to make reservations well in advance. This is, therefore, not an experience you can get at the spur of the moment. You may want to give your chosen champagne house a call in advance.

Many large champagne houses like Taittinger and Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin offer tasting tours that mix history, production and samples. But tour prices in these popular houses tend to be a bit steep, at least €15 and above.

The backpacker’s secret to finding a good champagne tasting experience is to visit the lesser-known houses and villages just out of town. These houses tend to be rustic, at least in comparison to the splendor of large champagne houses. However, they’re a great way to get to know a different side – but just as delicious – side of France.

Champagne M. Brugnon

Tour and Tasting Price: Free

First on our list is Champagne M. Brugnon in the commune of Ecueil, a ten to twenty minute drive from the Reims city center. The Brugnon family has been creating champagne for five generations. The family champagne house was then established by Maurice Brugnon 70 years ago. They offer a free tour, which includes a taste of four of their vintages.

As you might expect from such an old and intimate house, the good-natured owner Alain Brugnon is passionate about wine. He usually takes time to conduct tours through the vineyard and give you an in-depth explanation of the process of making bubbly. Our favorite part? How Mr. Brugnon takes time to explain the interconnectivity of everyone in the champagne-making process, from the small grape growers to the production houses.

R. Blin & Sons Champagne

Tour and Tasting Price: Free

Another intimate, family-run champagne house is R. Blin & Sons Champagne, found in Trigny, a cheerful little commune about twenty minutes west northwest of the Reims city center. Like Champagne M. Brugnon, they also offer a free and friendly tour that will most likely be conducted by one of the Mr. Blins!

They’re pretty well-versed in the art of champagne-making, which you will see from their in-depth explanations. The tour itself is an in-depth journey through the process, taking you from the grape to the bottle.

Pré en Bulles

Tour and Tasting Price: €7

If you’re willing to try something different and go a bit further from Reims, try visiting the commune of Trépail. It is a thirty-minute drive southeast of the city center. There, you will find Pré en Bulles, a museum dedicated to champagne! For an entrance fee of €7, although you can knock down the price to €6 for large groups, you can view the innovative exhibit dedicated to the creation and glorification of champagne. After this spectacle, you may proceed to a sampling of local champagne.

 

Apart from its world-famous landmarks and museums, Paris is flocked by travelers from all over the globe because of its astonishing array of gourmet restaurants and cafés. However, some people fail to experience French gourmet because of the general idea that it is expensive. The truth is, gourmet doesn’t need to be expensive and for the past years, this has become apparent in the streets of the culinary capital of the world. Even backpackers with a reputation to stay way below their travel budgets would agree in this claim.

If you are heading out to Paris anytime soon, you would certainly want to include the following gourmet establishments in your itinerary.

Hidden Foodie Treasure

Run by a religious charity group, Foyer de La Madeleine is a hidden foodie treasure in Place de Madeleine. Located in one of the churches’ passageways, the restaurant is a favorite of many tourists, shoppers, office workers, pensioners and students. During lunchtime, expect the 300 pax dining areas of the restaurant packed with this interesting mix of patrons.

On your first visit, you may be charged a one-time membership fee of $7. But it will be worth it as you would have numerous chances on different days of trying French food classics like the red herring served with potato salad and oeuf mayonnaise. You can also try their cod in tomato sauce cooked using the traditions of the French Basques. If you fancy a simple dish, the restaurant also serves grilled chicken glazed with lemon sauce.

Vegetarian Street Food

Located in the Jewish neighborhood of Le Marais, this sandwich shop is known to serve one of the world’s best falafels. It’s even recommended by famous singer Lenny Kravitz. If you are in the mood for some fresh greens and deep, fried Falafels wrapped in hot pita bread and served with your choice of dressing, head on to this shop. Just makes sure that you’ve packed enough energy and patience to keep up with the long queue to the shop’s order window.

Asian in Paris

When in Paris, food is not all about the French classics. As the food melting pot of the world, you can easily be transported to the Orient when you try Asian restaurants lining its busy streets without shelling out too much of your money. There is the Asian vegetarian restaurant Tien Hiang in Rue Bichat and the Japanese ramen house Higuma at the Palais Royal.

Breads and Pastries

Your French gourmet experience would not be complete without tasting any of their world-favorite breads and pastries. While going around the city, you’d come across countless shops offering freshly-baked goods. But you might want to be particular with this pastry shop owned by one of France’s most respected chefs, Cyril Lignac. With four restaurant and pastry shops, La Patisserie by Cyril Lignac serves freshly-baked organic baguettes, loaves, sweet pastries and cakes.

Chocolate

Lastly, ending your day with a cup of real hot French chocolate would make your food experience in France truly memorable. Highly-recommended is the one served by Angelina, which is located along Rue de Rivoli near the Louvre museum.

 

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