Champagne is located in the North-eastern part of France, (less than 100 miles, and roughly 45 mins away from Paris by high speed train). Champagne is the name of the world famous sparkling wine and also the name of the region where this wine is made. The area boasts beautiful landscapes and many scenic routes with picturesque villages, superb vineyards, and of course so many types of Champagne to sample.
I went on this adventure a few years ago with my sister, we both love champagne, so for us it was a once in a lifetime experience! We spent a few days in Paris to kick off the trip, then went by train from Paris to Reims (where we were staying) then on to Epernay, the train from Reims to Epernay takes less than 30 minutes.
NB: If we were to take this trip again we would have gone straight to Epernay and based ourselves there as it was so much nicer than Reims (in our opinion). We used Reims as a base and travelled to Epernay and back each day we were there.
There are several champagne houses in Reims, with Mumm, Piper-Heidsieck, and Taittinger offering public tastings. We went to Tattinger as we had read that most insiders agree Tattinger is the best organised and most insightful of the visitor experiences – and the tour was indeed fantastic showcasing the art and the production that goes into making a bottle of champagne. Visitors go down 18 metres below ground level into the Gallo-Roman chalk quarries. It is VERY interesting, and of course you get some Tattinger champagne at the end of the tour. You can book online here: https://www.taittinger.com/en/visit.
Notre-Dame de Reims, also known as Reims Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic cathedral that was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is famous for being the traditional location for the coronation of the kings of France. This is good to see while in Reims. We found Reims town centre to be nothing special and wouldn’t hurry back.
The moment we arrived in Épernay (nicknamed the ‘capital of champagne’) we knew we were going to love it, this is what we had imagined when planning the trip. We started with the famous Avenue de Champagne, which is now a (UNESCO) World Heritage site, it spans nearly 1 kilometre, lined on each side with famous names in champagne including Moët & Chandon, Perrier-Jouët, Pol Roger, and Mercier.
As well as the large houses, we wanted to visit some of the smaller producers we had heard so much about. You can arrange guided tours of the area but we decided to just do it ourselves. The thing to consider is that if you want to sample the champagne (why go otherwise, right?!) then you will need a car/driver/guided tour or (as we found out) a bike!
When we arrived in Épernay and had walked along the Avenue de Champagne we went to the tourist information office (7 avenue de Champagne) WOW I have never heard of champagne tastings at a tourist information! But most days we were there we were offered free samples of champagne along with so much information and advice on what to do in the area. We ended up hiring electric bikes from them and they directed us. There is nearly 300 miles of green trails through the region that take cyclists away from the hazards of the roads. And being France they didn’t even require us to wear a helmet! Pretty risky when you are drinking Champagne all day 😉
The trails are on towpaths that run beside the numerous canals and waterways in the region. Very beautiful and green and safe too.
The village of Hautvilliers, typical of the Champagne vineyards, is the cradle of Champagne. It is said that it was here Dom Pérignon perfected the champagne method, which transformed the wine of Champagne into the king of wines. It’s around a 1.5 hour cycle from Reims to reach Hautvilliers and the scenery en-route was breathtaking. We spent most of the day on the bikes in Hautvilliers, a beautiful little town (about 5km north of Epernay) where we visited many small producers, some that were professional restaurant type set-ups and others where you were literally in their house! The whole village is off the beaten path, away from big names and big champagne houses. Just lovely and such a cool experience.
We visited many small producers, 3 of them are detailed below:
- We went to Au 36 for lunch and yes, you guessed it Champagne! A cool designer bar that doubles as a boutique and serves food too. It stocks 50 different champagnes and has a very cool address: 36 rue Dom Perignon. This place was great, we sampled a variety of champagnes with wonderful nibbles while we sat outside in a fab little terrace. Check out reviews here
- Champagne G. Tribaut the tasting room here has a fantastic view, overlooking the vines of Hautvillers. Here you pay per glass (a generous size) and get a refund if/when you buy a case. Check out reviews here
- Champagne Dagonet et Fils Jerome gave use such a lovely welcome. Part of their crop is grown opposite and he took us for a tour and explained a bit about how they make the champagne, followed by another champagne tasting – highly recommended for a personal authentic experience. Check out reviews here
What to wear
You may imagine it as glamorous, but my advice would be practical clothes and shoes. Many of the roads are cobbled, the cellars are uneven, and you’ll likely be picking your way through the vines or even cycling for hours like us.
You need to have a plan as most of the big houses run on an appointments system, although you might be lucky if you just turn up and there are spaces.
Highly recommend taking this trip once in your lifetime – we loved every minute!