Visiting champagne country: Reims & Épernay, France

14th May 2017

Some people love margaritas, others a nice glass of pinot, myself, it’s always been a glass of champagne. I even keep the mini-bottles in the fridge at all times.

So naturally, the first question I asked after hitting “purchase” on airlines tickets to France was “so we can plan a trip to the champagne houses, right?” Thankfully, my non-champagne fan of a husband responded with an immediate “of course.” We quickly looped our cousins, Will and Ashley who are stationed in Germany, in and began planning a weekend in champagne country, to coincide with Easter.

While the champagne region in France is quite large, La Route Du Champagne is nestled between the towns of Reims and Épernay, to the northeast of Paris. Since we would be coming from Paris, we booked a trip on the TGV train from Paris East to Reims. The ticket was roughly €15 each way, per person and is an easy 45 minute ride. The TGV app was a breeze for both booking our tickets as well as presenting them onboard the train.

After arriving in Reims, we took a short walk over to our hotel, Hotel Mecure. It was inexpensive, comfortable and central enough to be able to walk about town. They also had a parking garage, as Will and Ashley drove in from Germany to meet us.

I’d read it’s easy to do Reims/Épernay as a day trip and while that’s certainly true, if you’re planning to see any of the town or multiple houses, I’d certainly recommend doing at least a one night stay.

We wanted to be able to see a mix of big houses as well as some of the smaller ones. On our first day, we walked along the water to Veuve Clicquot, our “big house” stop on the trip. Ashley was able to get us in for a tour a day or so in advance. For €50, we received a full tour of the caves as well as two “tasting glasses” of champagne.

I was thrilled to see on all of our outings that unlike wine tastings champagne “tasting” means a full glass that must be completed before you move on to the next.

Through the cave tour, we experienced the process of making champagne, as well as heard the story of Madame Clicquot Ponsardin. “Veuve” translates to “widow” in French. To imagine a widow, taking over her late husband’s family business, at the age of 27, in the year 1805 is nearly unfathomable, and to experience the brand Veuve Clucquot has blossomed into today is just remarkable. Nineteenth century girl power, let me tell ya. You go girl.

 

The next day, we opted to explore by car, taking in the full Route du Champagne between Reims and Épernay. The drive is about an hour from end to end, but we made a full day out of stopping between the tiny, countryside towns.

Before heading out, we checked with the local tourism office. They offer day tours of the region, which include a stop at one of the houses for a tasting. Luckily, the woman in the tour office pointed out a few of her favorite houses, as well as the one the group would be visiting that day. As it turned out, this was really the only way to get into a smaller house without previous arrangements.

After a few calls, the family at René Fresne invited us to join the tour group later in the day, free of charge. We had the pleasure of joining the tour with Hervé, the head of the family’s house. After tasting three very full and very tasty glasses of champagne with no bus on which to depart, we were able to stick around and spend time with Hervé who told us more about his family’s history, his business and his life in France. It was the most special little treat.

After leaving René Fresne, we made our way towards Verzy, where I had talked a big game about some crazy trees I read about in the Atlas Obsucra. It was a fun little hike, but I expected a bit more out of these guys.

We continued on to the Perching Bar, also in Verzy. The Perching Bar is a champagne bar nestled in the woods and up a few rope bridges. Admission was around €15 each, but again, this included a glass of champagne. The views up top were incredible and the bar had heat plus really fun swings.

We ended the evening with dinner and a walk around the town of Épernay. This is the home of some of the bigger houses you’ve likely heard of, a la Moët & Chandon and Dom Perignon. Most required reservations well in advance and were a bit pricer.

Back in Reims, we ended the weekend with Easter mass at La Notre-Dame de Reims. The cathedral began construction in 1211 and until the mid-1800s served as the site to crown France’s kings. While beautiful, cathedrals built in 1211 don’t come with heat, so it was quite a chilly little morning. While we didn’t understand a word, thank goodness for Catholic tradition. We at least knew exactly where to be and what to do. It was a great way to celebrate my favorite season of the liturgical year. Something tells me Jesus would have been more than OK with an Easter weekend spend surrounded by family, celebrating each other with bubbly at every turn.