This morning brings us to Epernay, the heart of the Champagne region. The drive in offers an up close view of the harvest – the size of the job ahead beggars belief. Endless kilometres of vines will need to harvested over the next few weeks and despite the bus loads of pickers already at work, they’re mere dots in the fields.
I don’t envy them their task – picking is backbreaking work. Makeshift camps are set up everywhere, and for once the shops and parking areas with height barriers have been lifted to allow campers, vans and trucks in. I guess you can’t expect pickers to work without being able to buy supplies.
Amongst all this activity, Epernay is a still oasis. More focused on champagne tourism than vines, the central L’Avenue de Champagne boast all of the big players in the champagne world. It’s built upon 110 km of cellars which house over 200 million bottles. That’s a lot of celebrations. The first cellars here were excavated in the 18th century when street was original called the Street of Trade, only becoming L’Avenue de Champagne in 1925. We had a tipsy time touring many of its cellars a few years ago. Today our focus is a little more specific – get settled then select a restaurant for tonight.
That doesn’t mean we give up sight seeing altogether.
There’s still time to pop into the gardens, see the Hotel de Ville, pop into the village, and stop by my favourite building, an art deco bit of loveliness.
I’m also very fond of this 1500s ruin:
New in town is the Epernay balloon. It baffled me on the drive in, as I could see it was a ballon in the distance, but an odd, perfectly round shape. Mystery solved; it’s a viewing platform ride that simply ascends and descends, all on cables.
There are also cake shops to spy on,
tiny cars to admire and giggle over
and a rather imposing church.
The local “boys” play a mean game or six of boules nearby.
By late afternoon, a restaurant is picked, Chez Max, and we meet our friends for a drink. It’s a relief to be able to babble on in English with company. They’ve had a rough flight over, beset with delays and missed connections. Drinks lead to dinner; Chez Max’s reviews have proved correct.
The food and service are excellent: turbot, sole meuniere and chateaubriand for mains, with ile flotante and chocolate pear tart for desert. Accompanied by great company and local wine, we have a fabulous evening.