Our libation of choice as a couple is Champagne, it is a drink of romance & excitement. We have shelled out a fair amount of money at airport duty free stores / local stores to buy a bottle of Moet to celebrate a few occasions in our life. Not anymore! Our visit to the Champagne-Ardenne region of France was not only a dream come true, it also put us off buying any big-brand Champagne for quite some time to come (reasons given later). Plus the landscapes, villages & vineyards are extremely romantic to drive and walk through, it is a highly recommended destination for couples.
- Choosing a base in Champagne
- Things to do
- Travelling to Champagne from Paris
Our base in Champagne
There are 2 main options of where to base yourself in. The city of Reims is the obvious and more popular choice. Frequent high-speed TGV trains from Paris, an extremely beautiful cathedral and a multitude of accommodation options make it the obvious choice.
However, we picked the commune of Epernay as our base and it worked perfectly for us.
- It’s very beautiful and is the home for Moet & Chandon, Mercier and some more Champagne houses.
- It’s also home to superb restaurants (La Cave a Champagne) & champagne tasting bars.
- We scored the perfect AirBnb (discount for first-time users).
- It’s in the heart of Champagne country, vineyards are visible in all directions from the village and even short drives to Ay / Hautvillers will reap big rewards.
Things to do
1. Long drives around the touristic route
For our loyal readers who are looking for the public transport way of seeing the Champagne region efficiently, there is none. We were lucky to be travelling with Dalek’s dear friend Hans Gruber (named after his German roots) who graciously drove us around for a full day. The drive had many highlights we’ve broken down into categories below but it is one of the most scenic journeys we’ve ever taken.
Fun fact: All the villages in the area have a Fleur rating of upto 5 fleurs which signify the floral abundance seen in the city. Dalek was especially interested in seeing the rating for every village we entered (its mentioned on each village’s “welcome to x” board).
2. Walk hand-in-hand through a vineyard in Ay
Ay is a tiny village up a hill just north of Epernay and that hill (like others nearby) is chock full of vineyards. We stopped midway up the hill to walk through some vineyards for an unforgettable experience. The views down to Epernay are beautiful and we took time to visually inspect the grapes that will one day become Champagne.
3. Taste local Champagne
The cheapest tour run by Moet costs €24, includes one glass of their champagne and a tour of their cellars. It’s the last part that makes the tour worth going, they have a huge area under Epernay storing their champagne and we’re sure it is quite a sight to see.
Instead, spend that money on tasting by SIX different local Champagne producers. That’s right, tastings we did on our day trip costed €4 and sometimes free if we bought some bottles. We highly recommend these 2 producers
Champagne Lahaye-Berthelot (Facebook)
Location: 9 Rue de la Coopérative, 51530 Brugny-Vaudancourt
Full experience blogpost: The Champagne region of France – our top experience
We found out about this Champagne house through a tasting held by the Epernay tourist centre. We fell in love with the taste of the champagne and were told that the owner of this family-run business would show us a sediment removal ritual if we visited the next day.
We did visit the next day and not only saw the ritual (which was fascinating) but also saw the end-to-end process of making Champagne. Ended our visit with a tasting an buying 3 bottles of different Champagne which was polished out the same night.
Champagne P. Louis Martin (Website)
Location: 3, Rue d Ambonnay, 51150 Bouzy
Bouzy is a boozy little village 30 minutes from Epernay and is famous for its Bouzy Rouge champagne. It looks like Rose but tastes like a fuller body almost-red hence making the name. We stopped by another family-run Champagne house to taste 3 types of Champagne including the Bouzy Rouge (pictured at the top) for a princely sum of €4.
We highly recommend this tasting because the person running it was knowledgeable and patiently explained us the concepts of appelation, Grand / Premier cru, etc.
Note: We also visited the Champagne G. Tribaut in Hautvillers but don’t particularly recommend it, it costed €10 to taste 3 Champagnes & the taste wasn’t outstanding. The plus is the spectacular view from the tasting room.
Fun fact: As per a Champagne producer, a 1-hectare costs €1.3 million!!
4. Visit the attractions (Reims cathedral, Verzy forest, etc)
There are numerous attractions throughout the region that make great stops while driving around Champagne. The obvious one is the spectacular Reims Cathedral, do not miss it. We also visited the Verzy forest which houses dwarf trees (kind of like a large natural bonsai) as well as the village of Montmort-Lucy to see the Chateau de Montmort from outside. We highly recommend you look at the attractions dotted around the map to see the ones you’d like to visit.
5. Eat excellent French food
Must-eat: La Cave à Champagne, Epernay (disregard the review ratings)
We have had a lot of French food in France and know the importance of flavourful sauces in the cuisine. This restaurant probably had the best sauces we have ever had. Each dish was an explosion of texture and flavour and the Champagne selection is great. It is not cheap but not too expensive either for the spectacular quality of food (€150 for multiple courses, 5 people).
Best dish: The foie gras in a red wine sauce with grapes. It was a showstopper!
Au Chant des Galipes, Verzy was the other decent restaurant we ate at during our daytrip around the region. Their steak tartare was different from any we’ve had before.
Travelling to Champagne from Paris
Take the TER train from Gare de l’Est towards either St. Dizier or Bar le duc. It is fairly expensive at €22 per person one-way for a regional train but it covers a fair distance in 1 hr 30 mins.
Alternatively, take the TGV to either Gare Reims (city centre) or TGV Chamapgne-Ardenne (outskirts) from Gare de l’Est.
Note: The trains to Epernay are quite infrequent, once in 90 minutes best case. There is also an infrequent local train between Epernay & Reims. Checkout the SNCF website for timetables & fares.
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