If you love wine and travel, a trip to Champagne is just a logical thing to do!
Imagine — a weekend in one of the world’s most famous wine regions, sipping a deliciously refreshing drink or two. A chance to learn about how the famous beverage is made, compare the different styles, purchase a bottle of your favourite. Not to mention the opportunity to explore a corner of France, eat some delicious French cuisine, and immerse yourself in some French culture. What isn’t to love?
Our top five things to do in Champagne do include a fair bit of wine drinking, but this region isn’t just for bubbly lovers — there’s something for everyone!
1. Walk Epernay’s Avenue de Champagne
Epernay is the centre of the Champagne region, and it’s a great place to start. Head to the centre of the city and drop into the tourist office, or park at Champagne Mercier at one end of the Avenue de Champagne. A stroll down this 1km road is a great place to start your Champagne journey, as it hosts many of the great Champagne houses, including Moët et Chandon, De Castellane, and Pol Roger.
The buildings themselves are amazing to look at, and many of the companies organise tastings and tours of their facilities.
2. Tour a Champagne house
There are many, many to choose from, and it might be worth considering doing two or even three tours! Be aware that the most popular champagnes are likely to have correspondingly touristy tours — we certainly found that when we visited Mumm a few years ago.
I’d recommend you choose one company that you’ve heard of, or drink a lot of, and one that’s less well-known to you. Check out TripAdvisor for recommendations.
We visited Mercier on this visit, as my mum’s family has a Mercier in its ancestry (we’ve still got to work out the exact connection to the winemaker) — I think this is as good a reason as any!
3. Do a champagne tasting
As well as visiting a champagne producer, it’s a good idea to do a tasting that focuses on different types of champagne, so you can get an idea of the different flavours that come from different grapes. Champagne is made from three different grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, and trying wine with a different percentage of each can be very interesting! Plus, try a rosé champagne.
When we were in Epernay, we noticed a sign for wine tasting on a wine shop door (Les Grands Vins de France), and stopped in to do the tasting. It was only €10 per person for five tastes, and we were impressed by the wine and the service.
Other places also do tastings of this type in Epernay, but we couldn’t find anything similar in Reims, where we were staying. There was a nice-looking afternoon tea option of rose champagne and a macaron, though!
There are plenty of tour options available if you’d like someone else to do all the organising for you, and many of the buses included tastings onboard.
4. Explore Reims
Reims is an amazing city, full of culture and history — make sure to spend at least a few hours there during your stay in the region! It’s about half an hour by train or 20 minutes by car from Epernay, though we found the train connections to be less frequent than we would have liked.
Start by picking up a “Reims In Your Pocket” map from the tourist office near the cathedral — this has an excellent walking route of the city marked on it. The route isn’t well marked on the ground, though — apparently there used to be a slightly different path, and they haven’t updates the signage yet.
A highlight for me was the cathedral, which was built in 13th century. The French King Clovis was baptised on this spot in 498, and 25 French kings were crowned in the cathedral over the years.
I also enjoyed visiting the Cryptoporticus, a Roman grain storage building. It’s a semi-underground hall that boasts temporary art exhibitions, and is free to enter; concerts are held just outside in the plaza.
There’s also an art deco library, a market that’s open on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday mornings, and the WW2 surrender museum. This is where the unconditional surrender of the German army was signed on 7 May 1945 — that’s pretty historic!
5. Brush up on your WW1 history
Speaking of history, this region is also famous for its role in WW1. As we drove along, we kept seeing brown signs commemorating different battles; Google kindly assisted in helping us learn more about them.
There are plenty of museums and memorials to the casualties of the First World War, and war in general; a visit to one or two will help give you a better appreciation of the area.
We visited the Memorial to the Battle of Marne in Dormans, which is a spectacular complex of buildings featuring a crypt, a chapel and an ossuary containing the remains of a thousand soldiers.
We found the regional map that we picked up from the Reims tourist office to be very useful for planning visits to some of these sites, as they were clearly marked with pictures demonstrating what each memorial looked like.
Where to stay
Reims is a great choice, with a range of accommodation options for all budgets. However, if the main purpose of your visit is to drink champagne, I’d recommend you stay in Epernay.
How to get there and around
Train travel in France is smooth and comfortable, so that’s always a good option! Buy point-to-point tickets or use a Eurail Pass, and consider the Eurostar from England as a pretty fast way to get to the Champagne region.
Budget airlines fly into Paris’s various airports, which is probably the most convenient city to arrive in. There are also a very limited number of flights to “Paris Vatry” which isn’t near Paris at all — it’s in Champagne itself, so a wonderful choice if you happen to find a flight there.
You can see a lot of the region by combining trains, public transport, and perhaps a champagne bus tour or two; we found it most convenient to hire a car at the airport and return it when we left. Make sure to budget for motorway tolls!
You’ll certainly get the most out of a trip to Champagne if you’re interested in wine, but that’s not all the region has to offer! Have you visited? What did you enjoy most? Leave a comment below.
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