Thursday, May 26, 2016

My Bubbly Birthday in Champagne

We left straight from school on Friday afternoon, winding through France's Champagne region from little Luxembourg. Our rental house was located in Vertus, a charming and quiet champagne-centric town where we were surrounded on all four sides by budding vineyards. Our only sightseeing was scootering (as in literally riding scooters) through the country roads, pulling aside when the field hands came and went for the day. Friday night we put the kids to bed and Rob and I sat in the gorgeous garden out back, sipping local champagne. The pace of life in the last two months of school had ramped up to a frantic, barely-sustainable fever pitch; this trip was just what we needed. It was a lovely way to celebrate my birthday, and since my mom's birthday is the day after mine, I felt like we were soaking up the beauty around us in her memory as well.
Wild poppies
The next morning we made a big pancake breakfast and drove 25 minutes to Epernay, the heart of the Champagne region. The drive was one of our favorite parts of the entire trip, passing through rolling vineyards for the big champagne houses like Veuve Cliquot; the roadsides were dotted with wild poppies. We arrived in Epernay just as shop owners were unlocking their doors. The streets were quiet so we let the kids ride their scooters through the squares and past mural covered walls. 
A mural you can practically smell...
Then we headed over to the Avenue de Champagne and took a fabulous tour of the Mercier Maison de Champagne (champagne house), riding a 30 meter lift down into the 18 km of caves where the champagne is produced and stored. We were delighted by the way our four young children were not just tolerated, but absolutely catered too. In fact, our guide asked everyone to step aside so that Madeline, Charlie and John could have a front row "seats" in both the entertaining elevator ride and the laser-guided train, which zipped us through the caves. I even watched him tie a special knot in John's listening guide so it would be just his size.

Bas Relief in the Caves
We saw a Caterpillar skid steer in the champagne caves!
While Rob took the big kids to grab sandwiches for lunch, Bitsy and I strolled the Avenue de Champagne, where Moët & Chandon is located, peering through the iron gates at the mansions and neoclassical villas that were rebuilt after World War I. We drove back to Vertus, taking a different, equally-gorgeous route to our 2 o'clock tasting at Champagne Doyard Mahé. Its grounds reminded me of the Secret Garden with hidden doors peeking out from ivy-covered brick walls, an arched footpath beside a bubbling stream, and romantic trellises. The proprietor welcomed us here too, and once again catered to the children! She was on her hands and knees playing ball with Bitsy, evening bringing out special refreshments and art supplies for the kids, and happily chatting with Rob and me. A beautiful rain drizzled outside while we made our selections…a couple of dry champagnes and a bubbly rosé, which we'll look forward to for future birthdays and anniversaries. 
Champagne Doyard Mahé
I loved all the French titles.
We headed home and spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the sunshine and taking another leisurely family walk through the vineyards. The kids collected snails and the boys handed me handfuls of poppies. The next day was an easy two-hour trip home. It was such an elegant, relaxing vacation that Rob and I are already planning when we will come back.

(Here's a flashback to some highlights from May 26....a gorgeous breakfast with friends at Ladurée and special gifts from loved ones...)
Kristine, Angie, Leanne, Megan, Mary, me, little Sabina, Anna and Meredith

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