Three Days in Champagne

October 15-17, 2021

Anyone who knows me knows that I love champagne. When I started thinking about what I wanted to do for my 30th birthday, celebrating in the Champagne region of France seemed about as perfect (and as on-brand) as it could get. We spent a fabulous three-day weekend in Champagne touring the champagne houses, eating fantastic French food, and drinking as much top-notch bubby as we could handle.

Andy and I took the last Eurostar train from London on the Thursday before my birthday and spent the night in Paris since we got in so late. The next morning, we took the high-speed train to Reims (~45 minutes), the unofficial capital of the Champagne region and our home base for the weekend. After checking in at our hotel, the Best Western Premier Hotel de la Paix (a 4-star hotel that was nothing at all like Best Westerns in the USA), we took a local train to Épernay for the afternoon.

Épernay is ~30 minutes from Reims and is home to L’Avenue de Champagne, a beautiful, tree-lined boulevard of historic manors containing the tasting rooms and production sites for many of the major champagne houses, including Moët & Chandon, Perrier-Jouët, and Pol Roger. It’s smaller and quite charming but I’m glad we chose to stay in Reims, which has a lot more options for dining and shopping. We had a wonderful afternoon in Épernay, though, with an incredible lunch at La Grillade Gourmande and excellent champagne tastings at Leclerc Briant, Michel Gonet, and Boizel.

We did a bit of sightseeing on Saturday morning, including walking around the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims, before a private tour that I booked with Airbnb Experiences. Our tour guide, Stephane, took us on an exclusive visit to a local, small-batch producer and grower at his cellars in Verzenay, and it was really interesting to learn about the differences between small producers and large houses. We had a wonderful private tasting and were able to buy the winemaker’s Grand Cru champagne at an extremely discounted price (~€20 per bottle). Stephane also drove us around several of the Grand Cru villages and vineyards on the Montagne de Reims and stopped several times to take pictures of us in front of his favorite backdrops — we ended up using one of the pictures he took of us for our 2021 Christmas card. After Stephane dropped us off at our hotel in Reims, Andy and I went to the Michelin-starred Le Grand Cerf for an incredible dinner and celebration.

We started off Sunday, my actual birthday, with an outstanding tour of the legendary Maison Taittinger cellars in Reims. The tour was extremely organized and informative, and it was particularly interesting to compare the production processes described by a larger house to what we had learned about with the local winemaker in Verzenay the day before. Last but not least, we had a champagne tasting and brunch at the beautiful Maison Ruinart, which is the oldest champagne producer and has an incredibly gorgeous estate in Reims. It was tough to say goodbye to Champagne after such a lovely weekend in the region, but thankfully we brought home (many) bottles of champagne to help keep our fond memories close by.

If you’re planning a trip to Champagne, click here to access and download my Google Maps list of saved locations in France. Bon voyage!

Champagne Houses

  • Maison Taittinger (Reims): I read that Taittinger offered the best tour in the region, and our experience certainly aligned with our expectations. The winery sits on top of the Taittinger cellars within the ruins of the 13th-century Abbey of Saint-Niçaise and their Gallo-Roman chalk pits are listed as a UNESCO Heritage site. Our tour guide was an impeccable host and very professional, and the tasting at the end was very well done.
  • Maison Ruinart (Reims): Ruinart was founded in 1729, making it the oldest of all the champagne houses, and the property was absolutely gorgeous. We had a champagne tasting with brunch at their excellent restaurant, which was incredibly enjoyable. They also had a large tasting room that accepts walk-ins, which is somewhat unique for the region.
  • Caves Veuve Clicquot (Reims): We didn’t end up going to the Veuve property because they aren’t open on Sundays, but it’s one of the largest and most famous houses, and they are known for having a good tour (and a huge gift shop).
  • Champagne Boizel (Épernay): Absolutely gorgeous property with very nice champagne, but the tour and tasting weren’t really anything special.
  • Champagne Leclerc Briant (Épernay): We walked into their shop and tasting room, le 25bis, and had a lovely millésime tasting on their courtyard patio because they were one of the only houses open and accepting walk-ins between lunch and our first tour. It ended up being one of our favorite tastings.
  • Champagne Michel Gonet (Épernay): Located in a beautiful historic house, our tasting was unique in that we were instructed to sit “anywhere” in the various sitting rooms located on the ground floor and our server brought us each glass individually. Michel Gonet is a much smaller house and it was nice to have a more intimate experience, although the setup was a bit odd.

Other Food & Drink

  • La Grillade Gourmande: We went to this wonderful, classic French restaurant in Épernay for lunch before heading to L’Avenue de Champagne and it couldn’t have been a better start to our time in Champagne. They had a GIANT selection of local and international wines by the bottle and the glass (see above for a picture of the tome-sized wine menu), the traditional French food was delicious and perfectly portioned, and the service was stellar.
  • Le Pavillon CG: This higher-end restaurant in Reims was originally a bank, and it now uses the former vault to store its extensive wine collection. We had a lovely dinner here with a set menu featuring locally sourced ingredients and an excellent bottle of Beaujolais.
  • Le Grand Cerf: We celebrated my birthday at this Michelin-starred restaurant at the foot of the Montagne de Reims, and everything about our experience was absolutely perfect. The unique wine pairings with our set menu were wonderful, as were the three (!!) courses of lobster. The dining room was also really beautiful, with full-length windows overlooking the restaurant’s garden.
  • Pâtisserie Waïda et Fils: This charming local bakery was just around the corner from our hotel in Reims, and we went here every morning we were in town for their excellent coffee and breakfast menu.
  • Bar La Paix: Our hotel in Reims actually had a fantastic bar with a craft cocktail menu and lots of options for champagne by the glass, and it was always busy with both guests and non-guests. Their food menu was also decent, so we ended up having an early dinner here on our last day before catching our train to Paris.

Activities & Attractions

  • Tour: I booked a private, half-day tour through Airbnb Experiences and I couldn’t recommend it more for anyone interested in a more authentic introduction to champagne production. Stephane was so knowledgeable, and the exclusive tour and private tasting we had with a local, small-batch producer and grower at his cellars in Verzenay were incredibly informative and special. Stephane also drove us around several of the Grand Cru villages and vineyards on the Montagne de Reims and had so much information about the history and culture of the area.
  • L’Avenue de Champagne: This tree-lined boulevard in Épernay (just a short and inexpensive train ride away from Reims) contains tasting rooms and production sites for many of the major champagne houses, including Moët & Chandon, Perrier-Jouët, and Pol Roger. We spent a beautiful day in Épernay, which is smaller than Reims and feels much more charming, and had tours reserved with several houses but also were able to walk in for tastings at several others.
  • Champagne Houses in Reims: The champagne houses in Reims are located farther away from the train station and the main part of town (~40-minute walk), but once you make it over then it’s fairly easy to walk between the houses. Most houses require reservations for tours and tastings, but a few (including Ruinart) do have walk-in areas for tastings.
  • Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims: Absolutely stunning cathedral built in the 13th century and the traditional location for the coronation of kings of France, as well as the site of Franco-German reconciliation in the 1960s. It was so beautiful and had so much history to explore, so I’m glad we stopped inside to look around.
  • Musée de la Reddition du 7 Mai 1945: As someone who reads a lot of WWII books, I was surprised to learn that although the War in Europe formally ended on May 8, 1945 (which is why VE Day is celebrated on May 8), the German Third Reich actually surrendered on May 7 in Reims at the headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe commanded by General Eisenhower. The building is now a high school, but it was very cool to walk by and see the plaque marking the actual site of surrender, as well as a flagpole with the flags of each of the Allied victors (including the former Soviet Union).
  • Porte de Mars: An ancient Roman triumphal arch in Reims that was built in the 3rd century. It’s very well preserved and is located just across a park from the train station, so it’s worth walking over to see it.
  • Le Phare de Verzenay: In 1909, a local winemaker decided to publicize his brand of champagne by building a lighthouse on a hill with his name on it in the middle of the vineyards of Verzenay (a Grand Cru village). Today, you can climb 101 steps to the top for a 360-degree view of the vineyard landscape and the Montagne de Reims. There’s also a museum about the history of champagne and a tasting room highlighting winegrowers from the area.
  • Les Faux de Verzy: This is so random, but our local tour guide was very excited to show us “Les Faux de Verzy”, which are extremely unusually shaped dwarf beech trees (see the slideshow for a picture) that are only found in the area surrounding the Montagne de Reims and are associated with lots of interesting local mysticism and history.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s