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Exploring Champagne by bike

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  November 26, 2012 10:58 AM

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By Megan Lisagor, Globe Correspondent

So much of travel is about living a cliché, about experiencing a specific idea of a place. A trip’s success can hinge on how close it comes to meeting or exceeding those expectations. In this regard, Paris is almost always a sure thing; it’s “an idea of happiness we hope to get to, and the small miracle is that, when we get here, the images we get are not entirely wrong,” writer Adam Gopnik explains in the anthology “Americans in Paris.”

Living here for two years, I seem to have applied this attitude to all of France, perhaps explaining my fixation with seeing Champagne by bicycle. I had a picture in my mind of coasting through the countryside, which led me to a tour organizer offering a package that included tastings with small and large producers. The rate, however, was prohibitive (nearly $400 per person)—even for a special sister’s weekend without the kids—and there weren’t any cheaper choices.

I reluctantly refocused my energies on our accommodations, deciding to stay outside of town at the Hôtel les Avisés (59, rue de Cramant; 326577006; www.selosse-lesavises.com), which cost almost the same as the tour for a double room and opened last year. It’s about a 15-minute taxi ride from the train station in touristy Épernay; we weren’t sad to leave the city, which boasts several big-name houses (Moët & Chandon, for one) but strangely not much else. The stores seem to have cornered the French market on creepy mannequins.

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In contrast, the hotel is situated in Avize, a small village in the Côte des Blancs, without a single tourist trap, or shop for that matter. It’d look right at home in an Elle Decor spread, with furnishings that feel both comfy and chic in shades of white and grey. The pièce de résistance is the restaurant, where we had breakfast and dinner. The latter was a sophisticated steal at $70 for the prix fixe, which covered a bottle of bubbly and a procession of dishes starting with foie gras.

The food and surroundings would’ve been enough to leave me satisfied despite my earlier visions. But then Anselme Selosse—who runs the estate with his wife, Corrinne, and makes an exclusive Champagne on the premises—showed us to the shiny bikes. Selosse directed us across the street, where we rode on paths through the vineyards past buckets brimming with grapes harvested during the vendange. Back at the hotel, he showed us barrels frothing over.

It was educational and experiential just as I’d envisioned, unlike the Disneyfied version we encountered on our big-name tour that afternoon. And yet, I hardly read a write-up about the place in all my research. Perhaps it’s the herd mentality that directs travelers to the same so-so spots (in this case, Épernay and Hôtel Jean Moët). Granted, les Avisés is relatively new. Whatever the reason for the low profile, it improved on the image in my mind, as real gems do.

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