Travel Guide: Champagne, France
If you're a fan of the bubbly known as Champagne, then this is a must-see region! Whether you're going for a day trip or staying a while, it's worth the time for the incredible history, the gorgeous green, rolling hills, and of course, the adult libation we all know and love.
Champagne the drink is only legally Champagne if it comes from Champagne, France. So, I'm sorry not sorry to burst your bubble (lol?) to let you know that all other sparkling wines like Prosecco, Cava, and Crémant are not Champagne because Champagne as a product and the process of making it are part of a tightly regulated and defined appellation (AOC). You can read more about Champagne in this primer.
How To Get There
From Paris, take the 45-minute TGV (high-speed train) into Reims, the capital of the Champagne region, or a TGV straight from Charles De Gaulle airport into the Champagne-Ardenne station, which is slightly outside of Reims. The price directly from the airport will be more expensive than booking a train ticket from other train stations within Paris. Try to always book in advance so that you get the best price or check out the site's 30-day price calendar to give you an idea. View stations and pricing here.
If you're staying in Reims, do yourself a favor and use public transportation (bus and tram), rent a bike, or simply walk. Taxis are too expensive when you can get around in a very walkable city and Uber is pretty much non-existent (which is a good thing, trust).
Where to Stay
There are great places to stay in Reims for all budgets. In fact, if you want to be closer to restaurants, sights, and some of the bigger Champagne houses like Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot, and Ruinart, by all means, stay in Reims.
BUT. If you are financially able to or have the desire to experience real Champenoise countryside luxury, stay in a mothafucken chateau. Don't even question me on this one. Just do it!
I stayed at the incredible Chateau de Sacy, which is located about 15 minutes outside of Reims in the village of Sacy. Aside from the learning (and
Breakfast here is lovely, as you sip coffee and stuff your face with croissants overlooking the rows of vines barely being pruned this time of year, and the staff is warm and helpful. I'd skip the in-house restaurant for dinner and have reception call arrange for the aforementioned expensive taxi to take you into town to eat at a brasserie or local wine bar.
What to See
- Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims, where French kings were crowned, plus an architectural Gothic marvel!
- Dom Perignon's burial place at a church in Hautvillers (closer to Épernay)
- Avenue de Champagne, a beautiful and possibly the most expensive street in the world where many large Champagne houses are located (Épernay)
- The Touristic Champagne Route, where you can visit lots of producers, taste incredible bubbly, tour cellars, drive through the vineyards, and see small villages. Very worth it if you know you're renting a car or doing a bike ride. Grab a map in the Reims tourist office and get going!
- Super famous Champagne houses like Ruinart, Veuve Clicquot, Pommery (Reims)
Tip: Planning in advance is crucial for some houses. Make appointments and keep them! Or if you're doing walk-ins, make sure the houses you want to visit are actually open during those days/times!
What to Sip
The great thing is that you're surrounded by producers large and small, but hours can be erratic, some houses book by appointment, and depending on what season you go, smaller producers could be very busy as they do every step of the Champagne process themselves in-house, usually.
If you're short on time or simply are new to the region, my recommendation is to book a tour. I was very lucky to have booked a company with a passionate and knowledgable guide in Martin Boucher (ask for him!) and learned tons about Champagne from him and the houses we visited. A tour also cuts the cost of transport from Reims to Épernay, where the famed Avenue de Champagne is, and the surrounding vineyards and sights. Lastly, if you're a Champagne novice, the tour really gives you a comparison between a large house and smaller ones (and oftentimes, the smaller houses will give you more Champagnes to taste).
On my tour I got to visit Moët and Chandon, Dom Perignon's burial place, Champagne P. Lancelot-Royer, and the A la Française headquarters where we tasted Champagne Guy Méa, Champagne Yann Alexandre, and Champagne Paul Clouet. Lunch was also provided on the full day tour, which was so needed after tasting all morning. We also took time to visit some vineyards along the Champagne Route so that Martin could explain the limestone-y and chalky soil that gives Champagne its minerality and acidity.
My Tasting Picks:
- Champagne P. Lancelot-Royer: very small, family-owned house with truly amazing hand-crafted Champagne aged in humid chalky cellars that were the antithesis of the bigger and fancier houses. This was my favorite visit because not only was their Champagne fantastic (I love that blanc de
blancs!), they are real deal craftspeople who care very deeply about the quality of their product. Everything is done by hand by a small team which you gotta respect as making Champagne is very labor-intensive!
Where to Eat
- La Brasserie du Boulingrin: well-done classic fare, get the sole meunière!
- Le Coq Rouge: lively local wine bar with tapas
- Le Bocal: great seafood, do oysters and champagne if that's your thing
Treat Yourself -
- L'Assiette Champenoise: formal, beautiful, and 3-Michelin starred
- Le Riad Restaurant Oriental: when you're craving for something other than French food in Reims, go here for a more involved Moroccan experience.
- Anna-S - La Table Amoureuse: good price points for pre-fixe menus of traditional French
Tip: Try to find the Rosé Biscuit that Reims is known for and dip it into Champagne (when in Rome...). Also taste some Ratafia, which is an almondy local liquor made from the harvest's leftover grape juice and infused with other spirits, sweeteners, and ingredients. I wasn't a fan, but glad I tried it.
If you've been to Champagne,
*This guide reflects my personal travel tips and is not meant to be the only way to experience a region. You do you. Enjoy!
*Anything bolded is a link you can click for more info.