Champagne District Travel Guide

 

I already shared my long weekend trip recap where I posted lots of pictures and more storytelling about our time in the capital of the Champagne district, Reims, France.We learned so much about the champagne making process, the history of some of the biggest producers and what the different types of champagne (extra brut, brut, demi-sec and vintage) mean.

For this post, I am going to share more details, including some general tips, where we stayed and our itinerary. I hope this helps if you are ever looking to visit the Champagne district in France. And, trust me, you should!

But first, here are some quick facts about champagne:

Champagne is only considered champagne if it comes from the Champagne district in France. Prosecco, cava and sparkling wine are made with a similar process but because they are not produced in the district, they cannot be called champagne. In fact, in some countries it is illegal to call a sparkling wine champagne.

Three primary grapes make up champagne: Pinot noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Harvest happens between August and September depending on the weather.

Extra brut contains all three grapes but only has up to 8 grams of sugar per 75 cl bottle.

Brut also has a combination of all three grapes but has between 8 and 12 grams of sugar. Many of the houses we visited included 9 grams. This is the most popular type of champagne.

Demi-sec is the sweetest of the bunch with 35 grams of sugar. It is very sweet and has fewer bubbles.

Vintage is the only champagne that is from only one year of grape harvest. The makers at the vineyards decide during harvest if the grapes are a high enough quality to be used as a vintage.

Now that we have an idea on how champagne is made and the what the different types mean, let’s jump into what you should do and see when you visit.

 

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My overall tips:

– Pick your top three champagne houses you want to see. There are over 100 champagne producers, so there is no way you’ll be able to visit all of them in one trip! The tours get repetitive after a while, so planning one large tour per day and then visiting other tasting rooms and restaurants is an ideal way to go. We visited three houses in one day and by the end we weren’t as interested in the tour as we were in the beginning.

– Book in advance. After you’ve chosen your top choices, book a tour in advance. Some of them you pay online and some you can pay once you get there but you should definitely reserve your slot ahead of time. With Veuve Cliquot especially because you have to select your date online, they send you an email and then you reply to the email as a confirmation.

– You don’t need a car, necessarily. Reims is very easy to get to from Paris, a 45 minute train ride to be exact. The major champagne houses in Reims are within a half hour walk of city center. In fact, Taittinger, Veuve Cliquot and Pommery are all in a row and take 10 minutes walking to get from one to the other. If you want to visit Epernay, where Moët & Chandon is, you can also take a train from Reims and it takes about 35 minutes.

– Make at least one dinner reservation. We didn’t run into too many problems with finding a place to eat but some restaurants did have long waits. TripAdvisor is one my favorite resources for finding restaurants because you can filter by rating, location and cuisine. Sometimes you can even make a reservation directly on the site.

– Pack a jacket, even in summer. When you visit the champagne caves, you go up to 90 feet underground. The temperature went from 80 degrees outside to 50 degrees once we were in the caves. I brought a jean jacket, which was perfect to put on while on tour and not a pain to carry otherwise.

– Bring snacks. If you’re going to be drinking all day, during the tastings you receive at least one glass, eating in between stops is a must. Our first day we were starving and had to run into a bakery to hold us over until we could get more substantial food. I wish we had packed some fruit and granola bars to keep our energy up (and our blood alcohol level lower).

– Take notes on the ones you like. Many of the champagnes are exported to the USA and other large countries, so the odds are good that you will be able to find a bottle you love when you get home. Shipping bottles back to the States is not cost-effective, unless you are buying a case or two, but if you have a list of your favorites, you can bring it to your local liquor store and see if they have it or can order it for you.

Lodging:

We rented an AirBnB because hotel prices were a little high, especially when bringing a dog. It ended up being perfect for us because it had two large bedrooms, a washer and dryer and more space for Copley. Two minor issues with the one we chose was that there was no air conditioning or fans (luckily I emailed to ask about fans before we left and we brought two with us) and the bathroom didn’t have a hook for the shower head. You had to hold the handle while taking a shower. Nothing too awful that it upset our stay, but just something to think about when you’re booking an apartment online. If you’re interested, this is the apartment we rented. And if you’re planning a trip, use this link for a credit on your next qualifying stay. (Disclaimer, this is a referral link.)

Itinerary: 

Day 1, Thursday 

We arrived in Reims around 4 PM and picked up our friends from the train station. The train station is super easy to access and was one of the nicest train stations I’ve seen. We loaded up the car and drove about 10 minutes to the apartment.

Once we were all checked in and a little more settled, we ventured out to do some exploring.

 

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It seems like everywhere we go, there is scaffolding! But the Reims Cathedral is still gorgeous.

After walking around for a little while, we decided to grab dinner at L’Apostrophe.  The restaurant was just okay food-wise, but it’s location is awesome. It’s right on the main street, Place Drout D Erion, and has amazing outdoor seating. 

After dinner, we headed to Le Wine Bar, which was right by our apartment and recommended by the apartment owner. It was the perfect place to try some lesser known champagnes and start to get an idea of the tastes we all liked. I asked the waiter for a dryer champagne and he instantly recommended one and it was delicious. We also had a dessert place that was amazing. The Nutella toast…yum! So simple, yet so perfect.

 

chocolate_plate

Day 2, Friday

The second day is when the fun started! We started with breakfast and getting ready for the day before heading out on our champagne adventures.

Our first stop was at Taittinger. We booked a tour at 11:45 AM online in advance and I highly recommend it. You have several options with varying tasting levels. We chose the tasting that included two different tastings at the end. This tour started with a movie about the history of the house, which started in 1734, and then we went down to the caves. Our tour guide was fantastic, had a wealth of knowledge and was quite funny! We downed our two glasses, purchased a few bottles and made our way to the next stop.

 

taittinger_visit

Our next stop brought us to Veuve Cliquot. I had tasted this champagne several times before and really enjoy it. It’s more on the expensive side and only buy it to celebrate something. So, I was really looking forward to this one! And it did not disappoint. This tour was smaller, so we got to really ask some questions. The history of Veuve is very interesting because it is said to be the producer to really modernize the way champagne is made, specifically the fermentation process that happens in the bottle. Other fun fact, after the founder’s son passed away, his wife, Madame Cliquot, took it over. She became the first woman to run a champagne house, basically the first wonder woman. And since the 1980’s, Veuve has been owned by Louis Vuitton.

*Side note about Veuve. There are two locations in Reims. There is the headquarters where they have a tasting room and is right downtown. The caves and the tour are outside the city, 3o minutes by walking or 10 minutes by car. When you book online, they send you the correct address for the tour, but just wanted to explicitly say this. I was confused when I pulled up Google Maps and saw two different addresses.

 

veuve_champagne_visit

 

Our last stop of the day brought us to Pommery. This was a different type of tour because the house decided that in order to differentiate themselves, they should include art and art installations in the caves. It was very interesting to see but a little distracting. We didn’t spend too much time at the tasting because we were tired and hungry.

Our dinner after all of that drinking was necessary and what better cuisine than Italian! We picked up Copley and then headed to Il Gusto. It was a tiny restaurant but the food was amazing. I ordered the truffle risotto and everyone else’s meals were also tasty. We also switched it up and ordered red wine instead of champagne.

Day 3, Saturday 

Our last full day was spent in Epernay. We drove there and immediately grabbed lunch with my best friend and her dad who came up from Paris for a few hours. It wasn’t anything spectacular and I don’t even remember the name but it was filling. Then we stopped at a small tasting room for R&L Legras where we ordered a bottle of brut to split. It was very delicious and the owner brought out a bunch of little appetizers, which was such a nice touch.

And then we visited Moët and Chandon. The grounds are absolutely stunning and the tour was quite nice, too. Moët is also owned by Louis Vuitton so it was interesting to compare it to Veuve. Dom Perignon is under the same umbrella, as well. This tour included a video to start but it was more of a commercial for the house and showed the process but didn’t go into details. This tour was very informative but it was my least favorite tasting. Even though you are still in the caves, which is cool, there was no where to sit and the lighting was really bad for pictures.

 

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After our tour, we went to two more smaller tastings to try some more champagne before taking the scenic route back to Reims. This drive was incredible! We took the less direct road, through Ditzy, so we could drive through the vineyards.

 

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I didn’t notice we were basically matching during the day until this picture. We did not plan it, promise. Also, thank goodness for self-timers.

When we made it back to Reims, we were all hungry, so we went back towards the main street and grabbed another table outside. This time we visited Le Cafe de Reims. Again, the dinner wasn’t anything spectacular, but the dessert was amazing. We ordered a chocolate lava cake and a soufflé. These were worth it and I would go back just to order those!

Day 4, Sunday 

Our final day was short since we had to drive back and our friends had to take the train back to Paris. We grabbed McDonald’s breakfast, which was actually delicious, got ready, checked out and then went to search for an open store. I really wanted to buy a few bottles of champagne that I couldn’t get in Germany or the States and found the perfect store to do just that! The store was Nicolas and the owner there recommended three bottles. I can’t wait to try them!

We then grabbed a quick lunch at Bistrot du Forum before saying our goodbyes.  It was an amazing trip, with great friends and I would love to go back.

After reflecting on our trip, here are my top favorites:

– Best Tour: Taittinger. Probably because our guide was so amazing. It was the most informative and I liked starting with a video on the house’s history.

– Best Tasting: Veuve Cliquot. This was the only tasting with places to sit. It was almost like you were sitting in a cute little store. We really got to hang out while trying our champagne and taking a break.

– Best Champagne: Pommery Brut. Of course, this is personal preference, but I thought this brut was the best. I actually found it at the grocery store the other day and I’m excited to try it again!

I hope this guide is helpful if you ever plan a visit to Reims and/or Epernay. If you go, please let me know if you find any other cool spots.

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