Journeying from Paris to Épernay, the city of twinkling lights soon faded, and the moon ahead was glowing, much like ourselves in expectation for what was to come in Champagne. Winding through the French villages felt like we were driving through an endless storybook marked by stone farmhouses and ornate flower boxes hanging beneath every window.
Around 10 o’clock, we arrived at the home of our hosts, Emilie and Tibo. They stayed up to greet us and offered recommendations for champagne houses and places to visit while in the Rhône Valley, where we’d be heading to after Champagne.
Strolling out around 10:30 for dinner (a pattern we would find ourselves in all too often during our trip) proved to be a risky choice as nearly every place was closed.
Twenty or so minutes later, however, we sat in a silent bliss as we devoured a plate of moules frites, or mussels and fries. With nearly 50 mussels among slivers of onions and parsley enveloped in a savory broth, accompanied by a heaping pile of fries, it was the most delectable way to end our first full day in France.
C h a m p a g n e
The following morning we woke up early, as suggested by our hosts to beat the crowds, grabbed a couple pastries at a bakery in town and headed north to Hautvillers, just 10 minutes from Épernay, the heart of Champagne.
Picture a quiet, French village, lined with chardonnay and pinot noir grapes and walls cascading with thick ivy, and you’ll find yourself basking in the beauty that is Hautvillers. Sleepy in September, it seemed to be the perfect time of year to get near-private tastings of champagne. First we stopped at Champagne G. Tribaut where we tasted nine different champagnes—blends of their own pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay grapes, which are the most widely used grapes in champagne.
What makes Hautvillers so intriguing is that it is also where you’ll find the monastery and home of Benedictine monk Dom Pierre Pérignon who pioneered the early champagne-making techniques. Today, you can enjoy a bottle of Dom Pérignon, the superior vintage champagne named after him and produced by Moët & Chandon—for a hefty price tag.
After tasting more bubbles at J.M. Gobillard et Fils, we made our way back down to Épernay, to the Avenue de Champagne, where several champagne houses, many within mansions, line the renowned street. We strolled into one and grabbed a glass to enjoy in the beautifully landscaped courtyard before making our way south for the longest leg of our trip to Valence—5 and a half hours.
V a l e n c e
Following a pit stop in Dijon, where we enjoyed a quick lunch and grabbed some gifts for our nieces, we landed in Valence late at night to a lovely home tucked away in the countryside, just about 10 minutes from the city center. Greeted by our sweet host, Brigitte, we then dashed out for yet another late dinner.
We stumbled across Le Bistrot des Clercs, where we’d have one of the most memorable dinners we’d have our whole trip. Though we were the second to last table dining, the waiter made the experience unforgettable. Warm and intentional, the staff was truly welcoming and had a passion for sharing their delicacies.
A bottle of 2014 Vieilles Vignes, a wonderfully silky blend of syrah and grenache grapes by Domaine de Grangeneuve, was the perfect pairing to our meals. Roasted cod rested upon these green pillows of herb- and cow’s milk-filled ravioli reminiscent of pesto, drizzled with seasoned olive oil, while Cody savored every bite of his tender, hearty lamb with risotto.
Once our waiter described their vacherin, a layered dessert with hazelnut ice cream, meringue and crumble with salted caramel on top, we found ourselves with two spoons and the sweetest end to our evening in Valence.
While it was often stressful trying to decide where we were going to eat, oftentimes we found that our best plan was to not have a plan at all so we could stumble upon places such as the true treasure it was to have dined at Le Bistrot des Clercs in Valence.
Our Cozy Room in Valence
The next morning, the sun rose through our window, and we walked downstairs where we were greeted by a quick breakfast with Brigitte in her sunroom. Lined with what was left of the season’s lavender, the door out to her terrace was left open ushering in the fall breeze. Her home, originally a farmhouse, was a dream with exposed beams overhead and terracotta floors. She had a passion for refinishing furniture including the very table where we were sipping our coffee.
We parted ways from Brigitte with a special place reserved in our hearts for Valence. Next on the itinerary was Tain-l'Hermitage, a small town in the northern Rhône Valley just 30 minutes from Valence, a tip from Emilie and Tibo.
Stay tuned for more on our trip to Tain-l'Hermitage and the Rhône Valley. You can read about our first day in Paris here.