As a lover of bubbly, traveling to Epernay and Reims (THE mecca for champagne drinkers) has always been on my bucket list. Lucky for me, this wish became a reality on my recent trip to France.
Once the decision was made to weave the Champagne Region into our itinerary, we had to decide whether we would stay in Epernay or Reims – a question often debated by tourists to the region. Inevitably, people have strong opinions as to which town is more interesting/charming/better. Reims is a larger city with other historic sites to see, namely the famed Notre Dame de Reims cathedral. However, Epernay is home to the Avenue de Champagne where you can stroll from one champagne house to the next and not worry about transportation or booking a tour. Because the focus of my trip was drinking champagne and not sightseeing, I chose Epernay as our base for our 48 hours of champagne bliss.
To be perfectly honest, the city of Epernay itself is a rather dull, lackluster town that appeared to be stuck several decades in the past (aside from the beautiful champagne houses, of course). That said, based on my personal experience and what I saw in both towns, the choice to stay in Epernay was a wise one – we were easily able to stroll down the Avenue de Champagne and stumble from one champagne house to the next, before stumbling to dinner and then to bed.
After checking into our hotel, we made a bee-line straight for the Avenue de Champagne to squeeze in a few tastings before dinner. Our first stop was at Georges Cartier, a champagne house offering bottles in most every price range.
Next, we headed to Collard Picard where we enjoyed several glasses of wine in their lovely courtyard overlooking the Avenue before having another glass al fresco at A. Bergere.
That evening we dined at the Cave de Champagne Restaurant which came highly recommended to us, but quite honestly, none of us were blown away by our dishes. That said, the meals were a great value at $30 euro for a three course meal.
We started our second day by rising early and heading to Reims to see the famed Notre Dame de Reims cathedral. As we walked into the mammoth church, the pipe organist was practicing his haunting hymns which echoed loudly in the empty cathedral. I’m generally of the mindset that once you’ve seen one old beautiful European cathedral, you’ve (more or less) seen them all. However, I now understand why this particular church receives so much attention. It was a surreal experience to be the only ones wandering the vast cathedral while the deafening organ music played. The interior was possibly the most gorgeous out of any I’ve seen, and the thundering notes from the pipe organ gave me goose bumps!
Once we arrived back in Epernay, we headed to De Castellane and climbed the champagne house’s twisting tower for sweeping views of the city. (Oh, and of course we squeezed in a morning glass or two in the tasting room).
However, it was our next stop at Lafond that was my favorite small producer out of all the champagne houses we visited. The tasting room overlooked the property’s grand estate which made drinking their unique champagnes all the better.
Last, but certainly not least, it was time for our tasting at Moet & Chandon. Oh, how I was looking forward to this tour! (And, if you’re curious, we learned that it is pronounced Mo-ET with a short “e” and not Mo-A with a long “A”).
Moet is a signature brand that oozes sophistication and luxury (and it tastes pretty darn good too)! The tour started with a video (which more or less was a commercial for the brand), after which we were taken for a tour of the cellars by our guide who donned black tie attire.
After learning about the history of the brand (which also makes Dom Perignon) and how they make their delectable sparkling goodness, we finally got to the good part… the tasting!
Your cheapest option for the tour and tasting is 21 euros ($27 USD), but for an extra 7 euro (or a total of $35 USD), you can do the Imperiale tasting and receive a whole second flute of deliciousness. For this champagne lover, it was a no brainer to upgrade to the Imperiale tasting!
The Moet & Chandon Tour was the PERFECT way to end our stay in Epernay. For my fellow champs lovers, the only house that we made (and needed) an advance reservation for was Moet. Every other house was able to squeeze us in, but the Moet tours fill up, so make sure to make a reservation in advance on their website.
The Champagne Region and cities of Epernay and Reims are just a short train ride from Paris. Even if you’re not as bubbly-obsessed as I am, I would recommend at least a day trip to the area on your next visit to Paris.
Dom Perignon is rumored to have said “Come quickly, I am drinking the stars,” after tasting the first sparkling champagne in the 17th century. After visiting this magical French region, I now see why.