On my recent trip to Champagne, I discovered there is a lot more to the region that meets the eye. The quaint areas of the Champagne are split up into various areas, such as Châlons, Reims, Épernay and Hautvillers. Each with its own individual charm, bringing something unique to Champagne.
Sipping on champagne, visiting champagne houses and the various vineyards are the main reason the region attracts so many tourists and visitors, but they stay for the warmth of the locals, the great places to eat and the quiet, green and slow-paced lifestyle.
It being only a 40 minute train ride to Reims, from Gare de l’Est station in Paris, I would suggest starting off your trip in Reims. As soon as you arrive, your pre-conceptions of the Champagne region will immediately disappear. It’s like the buzzing-hub of the Champagne region, that is home to a university and attract a great deal of youth with the nightlife in Reims too. Reims holds great culture and heritage, going back to the Roman era, with a a lot of the buildings in art deco form after the city was previously destroyed. When visiting, you should stop by the the famous French cathedral in Reims, also known as “Notre-Dame de Reims”, not only does it have a stunning gothic facade, it is one of the most monumental buildings in Reims. It is also the cathedral where all the kings were crowned for over 1,000 years, so it also holds a vast amount of royal value too.
I’d recommend visiting a lovely local restaurants such as Brasserie Excelsior for dinner too, while in Reims.
Reims is also home to some fantastic Champagne houses, including G.H Mumm and Taittinger, that do amazing cellar tours and educate you on all the champagne production processes. If you visit enough champagne houses, you will start to recognise what houses do different to keep their champagne within their “brand”. I would recommend spending a night or two in Reims to full discover the champagne brands and the city itself.
Moving through the region, can drive or take a train from Reims to Châlons, but if you are driving, you must stop along the way in Verzenay, and see the famous Moulin de Verzenay which is now owned by the G.H Mumm to preserve its history, after it was restored in 1949 at the instigation of Mr Rémy, the then director of the Heidsieck vineyard.
Châlons is a small town in the east of France, and is the capital of Marne. It’s a quarter of the size of Reims, but with some lovely restaurants and is the perfect place to take a boat ride down the beautiful canals, it is the perfect way to spend a morning. I would definitely recommend having lunch at a lovely small mother-daughter run café, called Maison de Marie-Caroline. Delicious food and great champagne, what more do you need?!
After a lovely, peaceful wander around Châlons, I would recommend heading to Épernay and stay for a couple of nights, especially for a champagne lover. On-route to Épernay, make sure you make another stop near Tours-sur-Marne at Champagne L’Amiable and having a unique experience, tasting L’Amiable champagne from their lodge that overlooks their vineyards. If you’re lucky enough to visit towards the evening like us, you may even catch the sunset too.
As you pull into Épernay, you will see vast difference as you compare it to Reims. The town itself is based around champagne, where every other building is either a champagne house or a champagne grower, which is fantastic. It’s also the perfect base to reach all the surrounding Champagne areas, such as Aÿ or Hautvillers. As you come down avenue de Champagne, or often known as the Champs-Élysées of Épernay, is where you will find many of the famous champagne houses such as Perrier-Jouët and Moët and Chandon. Each of the houses are glamorous as ever, each with big, bold gatings and large, golden plated names for each of the champagne brands. It’s quite spectacular, yet exclusive.
Near the bottom of Avenue de Champagne, the Épernay tourism office has push together a new attraction, a hot air balloon that allows you to get a gorgeous view at height of Épernay, whilst sipping on nothing but champagne of course. Each day, a different local champagne producer provides their champagne as the ‘champagne of the day’, which is a lovely way to discover different champagne producers too.
While in Épernay, it is worth visiting Aÿ and Hautvillers, as they are some fantastic local champagne producers such as James Fliniaux and G. Tribaut. Hautvillers is a great place to visit, especially as it is situated in the Reims Mountains, which means the village is the perfect cradle of Champagne.
Hautvillers is a beautiful village that is perfect to grab a bike and cycle your way through the sites, especially with so many gorgeous views from the hills, there will be many stops along the way.
Hautvillers is also a monumental place, as it is where Dom Pérignon was born, the monk who brought great contribution to the initial development and creation of champagne, of which many people know him by the Moët and Chandon brand that was created in his honour. The tomb of the much loved Dom Pérignon is in Hautvillers and worth a visit, to pay respects to such a fantastic man. I recommend having lunch and one last glass of champagne at Au 36 before heading home.
Épernay back to Paris is slightly longer than Reims, but it is direct train back to Gare de l’Est which makes it extremely accessible, to wrap quick yet grand tour of the Champagne region over three or four days.
Until next time…