Rather ignorantly my whole life I had never really thought of Champagne as a place – it was just a fizzy drink to me, until I moved to the continent and all these wonderful places like Bordeaux and Champagne were not so far way.
On a cold weekend in January we decided to venture to the Champagne region, in hindsight it was the complete wrong time of year, in fact Avenue de Champagne was more or less empty and the vast majority of the Champagne Houses were closed.
What to do?
Drink Champagne. More or less the whole place revolves around it …and yes its MUCH cheaper than anywhere else, go directly to the source.
We hunted down a small ‘house’ that was actually still open called A. Bergere , they had a small tasting room (40 Avenue de Champagne) with their own boutique champagne because Bergere was founded relatively recently and by recently I mean 1949 , the champagnes are still only really available on the continent with a mere 120,000 bottles produced annually. For €3-5 per person, you can taste a range of their delicious champagnes, we sat ourselves down tasted a few different types and bought a bottle for a very reasonable price, less than 15EUR (if you buy in bulk this will be even cheaper).
Of course Spring and Summer is the best time to go as all the major houses will be open, Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Tattinger – you will even find a statue of the famous Dom Pérignon outside their buildings. Yes he was an actual person, not just a word that you hear in Rap music … He was a Benedictine monk which seems to be a common trend in alcohol production, the best beers in Belgium are made by monks in monasteries. Ironic.
The champagne houses are all located along the avenue conveniently next door to each other. You can buy entry tickets to the majority of the houses and take a tour and see the process of making the Champagne with a tasting at the end. Some of the advice we got was to avoid the bigger well-known brands and head to the little Champagne houses for a more authentic experience and sometimes better champagne. Just because Moet and Veuve are the most well-marketed doesn’t necessarily mean they taste the best.
Apart from Avenue de Champagne, Epernay is a charming little town which you can easily go for a wander in and take in all the quaint-ness even if you are a little light-headed from all the fizz. The village is presumably used to slightly drunk people wandering around in the afternoon.
Where to stay?
From Luxembourg we travelled to Reims via BlaBlacar (my blabla experiences are an entire post of their own) which is the main city of the Champagne region we stayed at a central and affordable hotel located on Reims main square Inter-Hotel Grand Hôtel du Nord, it’s a beautiful city with the act of drinking Champagne very much a focal point (naturally).
It really wasn’t that touristy despite being only a 1-hour train ride from Paris. You can see the main sights of Reims in half a day and then catch a train (a very nice train may I add) to Epernay/Champagne, it’s around a 40 min train journey which goes through much of the champagne vineyards. Again this would have been an amazing sight in summer or even spring, not January – so I’m definitely due a trip back.
Reims Cathedral, for more than 1,000 years’ French kings were crowned at its Cathédrale Notre-Dame (apologies for the dabbing boyfriend).
Café de Reims which is a key landmark of the city is a lovely setting to people watch when you tire of all the Champagne!