No travel experience would be complete without a bit of champagne, don’t you think? When we visited the champagne district in France a few years ago, in addition to our unforgettable visit to the Veuve Clicquot caves (if you read our blog regularly, you’ll know that it is our preferred brand), we visited the resting place of the monk Dom Perignon who is credited with “discovering” champagne. Upon first tasting his concoction, he is reported as having said to a fellow monk, “Come quickly! I am tasting the stars…”
There really is something special about the experience of champagne; something a bit festive – a feeling that these discerning travelers relish when taking in new travel experiences. Perhaps it’s the bubbles; or it might be the sparkle of a pristine flute. Or maybe it’s that pop of the cork that has us conditioned to expect something a bit more special than our ordinary lives. Whatever it is, that notion of something beyond our everyday existence is at the heart of discerning travel experiences in our view. And we’ve just returned from yet another remarkable trip that started in – of all the unexpected places – Manchester, UK. But the champagne connection…we’re getting to that.
When we were spending wonderful afternoons sipping champagne at the Veuve Clicquot champagne bar on a trans-Atlantic voyage on the Queen Mary 2 a couple of years ago, we never considered that a visit to Manchester (as a prelude to a tour of Ireland) to see our son in the UK tour of Cats, the musical that we’d find ourselves visiting a champagne bar three times in five days. But there nestled on the second floor of a rather modern building among the history in Manchester is the unexpectedly wonderful Épernay.
Named for the city 130 km northeast of Paris in the Champagne district of France where you can find the cellars of famed champagne producers Perrier-Jouët and Moët& Chandon, among others, this Épernay is a real find.
We stumbled upon it at the end of a long day of a self-directed walking tour covering the entire downtown are of this interesting city. We first spied the lights outlining the bottom of the second-floor windows and looked up to see tables topped with sparkling glasses which set us off in search of the entrance around the corner. It turned out that had we approached it from the opposite direction we would have found that it was a stone’s throw away from the Opera House where Cats was in residence for the better part of the month of April.
We ventured up the stairs and emerged into an outer bar area which led into the charming main area decorated by a line of empty champagne bottles of every label and vintage. We settled into leather seats by the floor-to-ceiling windows and ordered a glass of Veuve and a plate of pitta (their spelling) bread and dips. While savoring our reward for a wonderful day of new city experiences, we struck up a conversation with one of the very personable servers who recommended a champagne cocktail. Oddly, we had never experienced a classic champagne cocktail before that time, always wanting to savor champagne in its purest form. Of course we’d had Bellini’s, Kir Royale and other concoctions, but never a classic one. And so we ordered.
We have discovered a new cocktail experience, enjoying it so much that we took our son back there after a performance two nights later so that he could have his first one. Why have we never had one before? And it’s so simple. A sugar cube is placed in the bottom of a champagne flute, a few drops of bitters are added and then the cube is soaked in cognac. Fill up the glass with champagne, and you have heaven in a glass.
Or maybe it’s just the thought of a those bubbles. F. Scott Fitzgerald is said to have been moved by drinking champagne saying: “I had taken two finger-bowls of Champagne, and the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental and profound.” That’s it: significant & profound, as every discerning travel experience should be.