Pre-Game Coverage: Arrival in France and Transit to Champagne
Bonjour! I am on the ground in France, at the beginning of the epic journey that will take me through Champagne, Burgundy, the Rhone Valley, Provence and finally… Tuscany. However, before the wine part of the adventure begins, I have a few thoughts about the “getting-here process” that I wanted to share. Many of my friends know that I’m a big football fan (Go ‘Dores!), so I like to think of this post as the pre-game coverage, in which I’ll give some insights into my game plan for this trip.
Game Plan Item #1: Deciding on the Regions
Some folks have asked how I chose the regions I did, and others have asked why I’m not visiting certain regions (e.g., the Loire Valley and Bordeaux) that I probably should. Don’t get me wrong – I’d love to spend time in every region of France (and the world, for that matter!) where quality wine is produced. For this trip, I focused on logistics. Through the wonder of Google maps, you can see that Reims (the heart of the Champagne region) is about 90 minutes east of Paris, and then from there, you can almost draw a straight line down through Burgundy and the Rhone Valley, with Provence just to the east of the Rhone. Hop a quick (and cheap!) flight from Marseilles to Rome, and you’re in Tuscany within a few hours.
I also wanted a more in-depth view of each region – more than a 2 or 3 day stay in each location could provide. As a personal preference when traveling, I love to unpack and stay awhile, instead of living out of a suitcase for an entire trip. More on the lodging strategy below…
Game Plan Item #2: Including “Pre-Game” in The Plan
I arrived on Sunday and my first winery visit won’t be until later this week, but this was part of the plan. And it’s already paid off. Between jet lag and getting used to French food (cream and butter, anyone?) , I haven’t felt on top of my game for the past few days. Plus, everything just moves a bit slower in France than in the U.S., and making that adjustment takes time.
For example, the somewhat glacial pace (3+ hours!) of the process required to obtain my rental car in Paris could have been an immense source of frustration, but I’d built in plenty of flexibility in my schedule to allow for such delays, and happily read my Kindle during the wait times. I like to think that a by-product of my patience and sunny disposition also scored me an upgrade to a sweet Mercedes with a navigation system that speaks to me in the King’s English (an example: “continue straightaway on the road”), and omits that annoying and judgment-filled “recalculating” message when you (inevitably) miss a turn.
Game Plan Item #3: Staying Local – and Asking Locals
Other than transit-related hotel stays at the beginning and the end of the trip, I’ve booked all stays at houses and flats through HomeAway. Using this method is helpful for several reasons. First, such options are usually a lot less expensive than a hotel, and you’ll usually have a kitchen, so you can cook a nice meal to accompany that great bottle you bought at a tasting. Also, the owner of the property is usually a local – and can provide the “inside scoop” on where to shop for groceries (to cook that great meal) and where to eat out (if you don’t feel like cooking). Some can also provide good leads on local wine purveyors.
To that end, I always ask local wine professionals – folks who provide winery tours and work in tasting rooms, local sommeliers in restaurants, etc. – where they would take family or friends who were on a visit to the region. Asking this question in wine regions around the world has resulted in some of my most rewarding and fascinating tasting experiences. Each time I travel – this time included – I set a handful of appointments early in the trip with producers I know that I’d like to visit, but leave big blocks of time unscheduled, so that I can fill them with these local recommendations. My day Friday looks to be booked solely with these “new discoveries,” so stay tuned for updates on the blog for tastings in each region.
For now, I’ll sign off with a few “pre-game” photos, including visits to the amazing cathedrals in Paris (the famous Notre Dame) and Reims (the less-famous, but historically important as the location of the coronations for 26 French kings, Reims Cathedral).
Until next time, from Broyes…Santé!