Visiting the Champagne region
The Champagne region is probably one of the best-known regions in France. This wine region is located in the northeast of France. The EU law reserves the term “champagne” exclusively for wines that come from this region. The region is split into 5 districts: Aube, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne, Montagne de Reims, and Vallée de la Marne. The commercial centers of the area are Reims and Epernay and are probably the best known.
The main grapes used for the production of champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. In the area around Epernay, you will especially find Pinot Meunier.
Also, be mindful when you are visiting the Champagne region. The second time we were there, it was “le vendange” or the harvest of the grapes. Very spectacular to see how they do it, but you have fewer chances of tasting some champagne at the smaller houses as they are helping with the harvest.
Where to stay in the Champagne region?
We stayed at Bnb Epernay studio 86 located within walking distance from the city center. There is also free parking in front of the house. This was the perfect location for exploring Epernay and the surrounding villages. The owner gives you a lot of information and tips for restaurants in the city and you can even rent e-bikes. Perfect to bike to Hautvillers to explore more of the Champagne region.
Going with a group? Then a vacation home is much nicer. We stayed in Talus-Saint-Prix in a former abbey: really a beautiful building. The house had 6 bedrooms for 2 people each and was really equipped for 12 people. When you enter, you immediately notice the large dining table. There are also 2 toilets and 2 bathrooms (each with 2 showers). There is also a separate playroom for children and a table tennis and bbq. Talus-Saint-Prix is half an hour’s drive from Epernay and an hour’s drive from Reims. The ideal base for exploring the Champagne region.
Epernay, the self-proclaimed capital of the Champagne region, is the home of many of the world’s most celebrated Champagne houses like Moët & Chandon, Mercier, and Le Castellane to name a few. It is also the perfect place for exploring the Champagne region.
A lot of the champagne houses organize tours of their cellars. We did one at Mercier: The Golden Bubbles tour is a 1h audio-guided tour of the cellars followed by a tasting of 3 different champagnes. During the tour, you learn a lot about Mercier but also about how Champagne is made. During the tasting, some more explanation was given about the different kinds of Champagne.
Another thing that immediately stands out as you walk through Epernay is the large balloon (not for those afraid of heights). You go to a height of about 150m from where you have a panoramic view of Epernay and the surrounding villages. In bad weather, of course, the balloon will not take to the air. The price is €14 for adults (€24 with a glass of champagne) and €7 for children ages 3 and up. More information can be found on the website.
We used the e-bikes to bike to Hautvillers. Epernay is not really a bike-friendly city but once you are outside the city it is so nice along the vineyards. And we were pretty happy with the electrical part of the bikes because the incline is steep towards Hautvillers.
Also visit the church where Dom Pérignon is buried. This monk is the founder of the méthode champenoise, the preparation method for making Champagne.
In Hautvillers you can visit a number of champagne houses; we visited 3: Joseph Desruets, G. Tribaut and JM Gobbilard et fils.
Reims is best known for its cathedral and as the largest city in the Champagne region. You can also visit some major Champagne houses such as Veuve-Clicquot, Lanson, Taittinger, Pommery …. Besides the cathedral, there is also the Basilica of Saint-Rémi, the Archbishop’s Palace, and the Porte de Mars. For car enthusiasts, there is also the automobile museum.
It is ideal to visit for a day while staying in the area. A tip for eating is Gueuleton: tasty steak tartare and marrowbone, two French classics.
Lighthouse of Verzenay
The lighthouse in Verzenay was built in the early 1900s by a champagne farmer as a promotional stunt among the vineyards. Today, you can climb the 101 stairs to get a 360° view of the surrounding vineyards. Moreover, there is also an ecomuseum on the history of Champagne and you can also taste Champagne. I think on a sunny day in summer the view will be more beautiful than what we have seen now.
Prices: €3 for adults and €2 for children (ages 6-16) to climb the lighthouse. The combination with the museum costs €9 and €5 respectively. If you only want to visit the museum it costs €8 and €4.
Where to eat in the Champagne region?
We had 2 delicious meals in Epernay: more traditional French food at Au Petit Fourneau and French food with a modern twist at Why Not. It is recommended to reserve a table for both of them as they are very popular, not only with tourists but also with locals.
In Sézanne, a group of 11 of us went to eat at Duo Braisé where they only serve roast chicken and pizza. The pizzas are really very tasty and the drink prices are not too bad either. Definitely recommended if you are staying somewhere nearby.
Tips for Champagne
Hatton et Filles in Damery: Cuvee Renee Haton en Cuvee Agathe
- Joseph Desruets in Hautvillers: Cuvee Nature
- G. Tribaut in Hautvillers
- JM Gobillard et Fils in Hautvillers: Brut Blanc de Noirs
Also: do not drink and drive! Always make sure you have somebody with you that doesn’t drink.
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