I love champagne. I mean really, truly, bonafide, over the top, never need to have any other drink lover of all things bubbly. There’s something about that tall, thin flute of glass filled with fizzy golden liquid that always makes you feel like you’re going to have fun. So naturally, when I got the chance to visit the home of champagne and take a tour of some of the finest producers, I jumped at the chance! Technically “Champagne” is a region of France, sort of like a county or state in the US. Within Champagne there are two major stops for tourists, Reims and Epernay. Both cities house the major names in champagne production – Pommery, Veuve Clicquot, Taittinger, Lanson, Ruinart, and Mumm in Reims and Moet et Chandon, Mercier, and Perrier Jouet in Epernay – as well as tons of smaller producers scattered along the hills and caves of the surrounding towns. I have only visited Reims, which was recommended to me based on the beautiful architecture, stunning churches, and number of tours that begin from the Reims train station. The Champagne region is a perfect day trip from Paris. Only 45 minutes away by train or 90 minutes away by car, it’s easy and inexpensive to hop over in the morning and come back that evening. I recommend skipping the car and opting for the train, as both cities are very walkable and you’ll be able to take advantage of all the tastings without worrying about being impaired for the drive home. Train tickets range anywhere from 30-100€ round trip, depending on the date and class of travel and how far in advance you book your tickets. Ticket prices can skyrocket the week of travel, so I recommend buying your tickets in advance whenever possible. RailEurope.com is the English-language train ticket site, but you’ll get cheaper prices (and sometimes more flexible ticket options) if you can manage the French-language site, Voyages-sncf.com. You can also purchase tickets directly at the train station on your day of travel. Upon arriving at the Reims Centre train station, you’ll have a short walk into the city proper. There is a small tourist office just outside the train station – they can offer you a map and give you walking directions, as well as assist you in making reservations for tours at the champagne houses. Most of the major houses book up in advance, with the exception of Pommery, which seems to always have space available and runs tours around the clock. If your heart is set on visiting any house in particular, you should email 1-2 months in advance to request a reservation. Be sure to leave at least 30-45 minutes between reservations, as the houses are a bit spread out and may require a lot of walking or a bus ride. We chose to do the Pommery tour, which was a fascinating look into the inner workings of a large champagne house, though a bit commercial and impersonal. The tour mostly consists of a walk through the caves (where the bottles are stored during the aging process) and a quick tasting. The real highlight of our day was a half-day tour and tasting experience provided by Cris-Event Tours. This tour was arranged at the Reims Tourist Office at the very last minute – less than two hours before departing! – so we were very very lucky to get a spot, and even luckier to find out later that Cris is one of the most highly rated tour guides on TripAdvisor! Cris’ tour was absolutely wonderful, including tours and (very generous) tastings at three small champagne houses. At one producer they even gave us the opportunity to open a champagne bottle with a samurai sword, which was really fun and a great way to end the day! We also drove through the beautiful tiny town of Hautvilliers and stopped at some scenic overlooks to take photos of the vineyards in bloom, as well as a quick trip to the chapel where Dom Perignon, the Benedictine monk who helped to invent champagne, is buried. Although we didn’t spend much time in the city of Reims itself, it actually has quite a few non-Champagne related attractions of its own, including many beautiful churches, museums, and famous houses that can make for a nice break from all of the drinking during longer stays. If you’re planning to stay overnight or for the weekend in Champagne, I recommend Les Crayeres (pictured below, on right), a breathtaking luxury chateau nestled between some of the biggest champagne houses, regularly rated one of the top hotels in Europe. If you’re in France celebrating a honeymoon, anniversary, birthday, or other special event, it’s worth the splurge on one of their stunningly appointed rooms and/or the champagne-inspired tasting menu at their Michelin-starred restaurant.The bottles above are piled up for miles in the caves, collecting dust. There are literally tens of thousands of bottles laying around, covered in dirt and dust and grime. At first I thought they were just for decor or ambiance – then we found out these bottles are in the midst of the aging process, and will someday be cleaned up, labeled, and sent off to stores! If you buy a bottle of Pommery champagne in the future, there’s a good chance I walked right past it! The wines in the center photo below represent some of their oldest vintage wines, including one from as far back as 1874. Although the very oldest bottles are kept as historic pieces, some of the other vintages are still available for purchase, for those who have very deep pockets.After the tour came the best part – the tasting! There are a number of tasting options that you choose when purchasing your tour ticket. My friend and I each chose to taste two champagnes, and we chose a total of four vintages so that we could share and try several kinds. These ranged from very sweet to very dry, and it was interesting to taste the subtle differences between each type. Personally, I am a fan of semi-sweet wines, so I fell in love with the demi-sec!The image below shows the stages of a champagne cork. On the far right is the original cork, whereas the cork on the far left has been aged in a bottle for a very VERY long time. Most everyday champagnes will look like the 3rd cork from the right, which has been aged for only a few years.The images above and below show the chapel of Dom Perignon, the so-called “father of champagne.” His grave rests inside the chapel, which is in the heart of the Champagne region and is allegedly the spot where he invented many processes that are still used in champagne making today.The Champagne region is a must-do for all bubbly lovers, and a great side trip for anyone wanting to see the less urban side of France. If you have any questions, or if you’ve visited the Champagne region and have some advice to offer future travelers, leave your thoughts in the comments below!
It’s so crazy to think that a few short months ago, these two adorable people were drinking wine, riding bikes, and gallivanting around Paris – and now they are only weeks away from being brand new parents!! These two are such fun, loving, wonderful people and I am so happy for them to be welcoming little Kate Louise into the world. And what better way to celebrate the greatest adventure of their lives – parenthood – than to remember the second greatest adventure – Paris! Here are a few of my favorites from their session.
You never know what you’ll see when you peek through the trees in Paris…
Whether you travel once in a blue moon or every chance you get, you know that the luggage you bring can either make or break your travel plans. I used to be a big believer in buying cheap luggage (like the cutesy colorful polka-dotted variety you see at mall stores) and just replacing it before every trip. Then I ended up hauling a carry-on around Europe in my arms for two weeks thanks to a mangled handle and a broken wheel, and I swore off cheap luggage for good. Investing in some high quality luggage has been a great decision for me, as my bags often get heavily mistreated. I’ve never been the type to treat anything I own gently – whether it’s expensive or cheap I will toss, drop, yank, shove, overstuff, sit on, and generally put my baggage through the ringer. I’m also an unapologetic bag lady – collecting bags and totes and duffels and suitcases is a guilty pleasure I just can’t seem to stop. With all of this in hand, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite luggage brands, all tested and reviewed either by myself or people whose opinions I trust. Most travelers choose their bags based on one of two categories – function or looks. I’ve covered each in separate groups, with suggestions for both men and women alike.
A side note: Most of the suitcases mentioned here are listed at carry-on size, because I’m a big big big advocate for packing light and never bringing more than one carry-on when you travel. However, virtually all of the bags are available in full-size checked baggage dimensions as well. Also, none of the links provided are affiliate or sponsored links. If I listed a bag here, it’s because I love it, not because I am getting paid to promote it!
Travelpro is THE name in suitcases for frequent travelers, regularly voted the best carry-on option by flight attendants and pilots. Their bags are extremely well made, as evidenced by the lifetime warranty that they offer for all of their luggage. My husband owns a Travelpro carryon and absolutely loves it. It’s lightweight, sturdy, roomy, has lots of great pockets and organizing accessories, and has held up beautifully over many trips. I recommend their Platinum Magna line, particularly the Expandable Spinner Suiter which has eight wheels for effortless rolling. If you’ve never had a 4 or 8 wheeled suitcase before, I’ll tell you now, it’s impossible to go back to two-wheeled bags. Being able to push my heavy suitcase through airport corridors with just a light push of the finger is a traveler’s dream come true! If you’re on a budget, their Crew 9 Suiter was rated the best budget suitcase on the market, and comes in at just around $150 for the carry-on size.
For me, Hartmann is the perfect mix of traveling smart and traveling stylish. They have been around for well over a century, and their classic designs have remain largely unchanged for decades – for good reason! Their bags get high ratings by Consumer Reports and frequent flyer surveys (the harsh critics at FlyerTalk rave about their Hartmanns), but they still have the style and elegance of expensive designer brands. I adore their two toned leather and tweed collection, but for the smartest travel, opt for the Packcloth Spinner. This carryon has an outer lining of packcloth, a durable fabric that is resistant to both tears and moisture. I had a Hartmann that I loved dearly and was sad to sell off when I moved abroad. If you want well-made luggage that will handle frequent flying well, don’t want to spend an arm and a leg, and still want to look trendy and elegant while traveling, Hartmann is a great option.
If you’re a weakling like me, or just don’t like to lug around heavy bags, World’s Lightest Luggage is an aptly-named brand touting astonishingly light 3-5 pound suitcases. Unfortunately what you get in lightness you sacrifice a little bit in aesthetics and build quality (personally I would not use these bags for checked luggage), but if you truly want to pack light, there’s no better option. Some airlines weigh carry-on bags (Air France is notoriously strict about this) and have absurdly low weight limits, some as low as 15 pounds, so if you are very adamant about not checking your bag then these pieces will help to achieve that. They’re also very affordable – the four wheel spinner clocks in at 4 pounds and only $70 on Amazon!
For those who prefer backpack-style bags, this post by Snarky Nomad lists a number of good options. I especially like the Tortuga L 44, which has a lockable laptop sleeve, padded shoulder and hip belts, and a durable outer fabric that is resistant to cutting from pickpockets’ knives. And unlike most travel backpacks, this bag has a full zipper for all around access and lacks the dangly cords and straps that can snag or rip. Adventurous Kate is a solo female traveler who makes her living backpacking across the globe, and she strongly recommends the Osprey Sojourn, a backpack/wheeled luggage hybrid. Multiple reviews on luggage sites (virtually all glowing and positive) list the wheels as smooth and durable and the backpack feature as comfortable and secure, even over long distances, making it the best of both worlds. The Osprey has a lot of extra features that make it ideal for long-term travelers, including a mesh back for ventilation, a small top pocket for carry-on liquid bags or items that need to be frequently accessible, a removable backpack and harness system, compression straps, foam siding for protection, and a waterproof rain cover. For those who are traveling “backpacker-style” through buses and hostels, these are both good options.
When it comes to good looking luggage, the discussion has to begin with Louis Vuitton, a brand that was built on travel bags and trunks. LV got famous making travel gear, and today it still remains one of their signature items. I personally own the Louis Vuitton Pegase 55 Business NM and I have mixed feelings about it. Fashionwise, it’s a head-turner. Classic, elegant, and chic. The craftsmanship, as expected with any LV item, is top of the line, and I love all the many accessories and features (all weather cover, garment bag with folding metal hanger, massive dust bag, personalized luggage tag, several interior pockets, and a sweet front pocket that has a perfect place for everything). However, it is extremely heavy, and the tradeoff for the sturdy hardware is limited interior space. The heaviness is the hardest part, as I have difficulty lifting it over my head when empty, let alone full, which poses a problem when I am flying by myself. However it is a great investment in the sense that I have traveled all over the world with it, overstuffed it, and even knocked it all the way down an escalator, and it still looks brand new (and protected my laptop very well in the aforementioned escalator incident). I know this is a bag that will last a very very long time. I would never give this beauty up, but when traveling alone or traveling light, it sometimes (sadly) gets left behind. If you prefer duffle-style luggage, the Keepall line is a great alternative. I also have a Keepall and it is one of my favorite pieces for overnight or short weekend trips, and has stood up VERY well over a lot of hard use. I have a friend who always uses a Keepall as her checked luggage, and despite all the many things that can destroy checked luggage, hers is still in perfect shape and has actually developed a beautiful weathered patina.
The Little Market trunks have been on my wish list for a long time. Although trunks aren’t the most convenient gear to travel with, these beauties make up for it in many ways. They come in several colors, from trendy maroon to classic white and black to my personal favorite, the lovely feminine blush pink. The hard-sided luggage will protect all of your belongings from damage during transit, and when you’re not traveling, they can do double duty as a stylish home accent decor piece. An added bonus – their backstory. These trunks are made by Nappa Dori, an Indian fashion house that funds local female artisans with interest-free loans and also donates a portion of its profits to Harmony House, a community center for the women and children of the Delhi slums. I also love Nappa Dori’s leather overnight bags as well (how stunning is this ivory lionhead overnighter bag, with an umbrella clip and weather-resistant shoe compartment). If you like the idea of a steamer trunk but need something a bit more functional, Steamline has a ton of colorful travel trunk options, including the gorgeous full leather Diplomat line with wheels and extendable handles, and at just under 10 pounds, they technically qualify as “lightweight luggage.” I’ll be dreaming of that gorgeous blush pink beauty for weeks!
For those who are prefer leather goods, American artisan Frank Clegg is renowned for his timeless and high quality pieces. Frank’s commitment to workmanship and quality materials has earned him well-deserved recognition in the luggage world, and his bags have graced the arms of some of America’s top celebrities and executives, been featured in men’s magazines like GQ and Esquire, and shown up on multiple runways during New York Fashion Week. His signature piece is his travel duffle, a no-frills staple that will appeal to men and women alike. The leather is buttery smooth, the interior Sunbrella lining is both weather resistant and nearly tearproof, and the bag is available in a number of different color options. The recently unveiled collaboration between Michael Bastian and Frank Clegg looks to be even more impressive.
Do you have a favorite suitcase or baggage maker? Do you own one of the bags above and have a lot to say about it? Do you have a unique need that makes finding the right piece of luggage difficult? If so, let me know in the comments below! Check out the rest of our Travel Tips series by clicking here.