Reims is the capital of Champagne and is very easy to travel to. The very fast Train a Grande Vitesse (TGV) will carry you from Gare de l’Est in Paris in under one hour or you can drive there in approximately 2 hours from Calais that sits on the English channel. Epernay, another great town in Champagne can be reached in 30 mins by car from Reims, or you may take the train service directly from Paris and then connect at Reims. Taxis are an easy get-around for visiting the various Champagne houses.
A Bit of History
Let’s start with the monk known as Dom Pérignon, who “claimed” to be the inventor of Champagne, although this has been discredited. His name lives on with one of the finest champagnes on the market Moët & Chandon. Champagne lovers have traveled far and wide to catch sight of Dom Pérignon’s statue standing outside Moët & Chandon’s facilities.
Epernay In The Marne Valley
Epernay is a small village that is dominated by the Champagne business. Although, by village appeal, Epernay is common in appearance but visit the amazing Avenue de Champagne that houses some of the most famous Champagne houses anywhere along with the largest house known as Moët & Chandon. All this takes place underground in a maze of chalk cellars where the exceptional wine is produced. Many of the Champagne houses offer excellent tours of the cellars and explain the process for turning out the magic of Champagne. Moët & Chandon’s tour is considered one of the most thorough, though don’t look for too much personality!
If you want to understand and learn how bubbles get inside the bottle, visit one of the independent families running a champagne company (known as Growers) such as Champagne Tarlant, which is nestled in the village of Oueilly that is only 10 miles (16km) just west of Epernay by the Marne Valley. This company offers a beautiful range of champagnes and specializes in a very dry, wonderfully balanced Brut Nature Zero. Visitors are invited into a wonderful tasting room, and tours are held twice daily or for groups through appointments. The tours can be conducted in English when requested.
Another avenue for discovering champagne is the impressive range offered by Grower Champagnes from families who use their own grapes vs large companies who buy the grapes as needed. Visit C “comme Champagne” where you may taste a large variety of different champagnes. Visit Bistrot 7 in Epernay for a very relaxed, inexpensive restaurant experience within the hotel Les Berceaux.
Discover Reims and Its Gothic Cathedral
While in Reims, you really should visit the grandiose, Gothic “Cathédrale Notre Dame” that has celebrated its 800th anniversary. Its stunning circular stained glass window by the entrance is well worth the visit if for no other reason. Another must see is the Saint Rémi Basilica, which originally was a royal abbey and both these landmarks are UNESCO Heritage sites.
The very famous crayères of Reims are referred to as underground cathedrals. The Romans originally excavated these undergrounds for roads, later on, monks re-opened these caves when they realized they were the perfect place to store and age champagne. One of the most impressive visits is to Pommery’s cellars that are opened daily for visitors. At the end of the tour, there is a tasting for an extra charge but worth it. There is also a shop that sells a large range of champagnes along with gifts and accessories. Pommery also hosts an art exhibit in the cellars for an added interest for the tours.
You should definitely visit Reims’ wonderful brasseries for a lunch stop. Stop by the Le Boulingrin for an excellent “Plateau de Fruits de Mer” aka seafood platter and is perfect for people watching! Stop by Café du Palais for the best Champagne Trivia that has been collected over many years.
If you are a champagne lover, it’s a must that you set your vacation plans around Epernay, Reims and the Aube district of Champagne.