Lay of the Land
Reims, which is easily accessible from Paris by train or car, is a good base from which to explore nearby wineries and Champagne houses. Although many of the city’s historic buildings were flattened in World War I and replaced by modern architecture, those that survived are sights to be seen. The city’s main attraction is Reims Cathedral, a pinnacle of Gothic architecture, where the kings of France were crowned until 1825.
The biggest names in Champagne (Veuve Clicquot, Vranken Pommery, Taittinger and Ruinart) are gathered at the southern side of Reims, by the Place du Général Gouraud. Outings to Montagne de Reims vineyards are easy half-day trips from Reims.
Épernay, about a half-hour drive from Reims, is home to Moët & Chandon, Perrier Jouet and Pol Roger. These and other grand Champagne houses line the aptly named Avenue de Champagne, which Winston Churchill famously described as “the world’s most drinkable address.” Though not on par architecturally or historicainlly with Reims, Épernay is a charming town with a beautiful Hotel de Ville and some nice lunch spots.
When to Go
Easter weekend officially kicks off Champagne’s tourist season, with the period between May and October being ideal months to visit in terms of the weather and the vineyard scenery and activities. In the summer, the region is less crowded than many other French vacation destinations. The fall vendange (harvest) draws big crowds, but the maisons have less time to welcome visitors during this busy period of production. Things remain cheerful until the end of December when many champagne houses (as well as some hotels and restaurants close for the first few months of the year.
Who Should Go
Enthusiastic amateurs will enjoy visiting the one-of-a-kind chalk cellars where the most famous brands in the world stock thousands of bottles. Champagne aficionados may prefer to discover lesser-known vintages made by small independent producers (many of whom do not export to the US). Because Champagne goes hand-in-hand with fine dining, foodies will be in heaven at the region’s many Michelin-starred restaurants.
By car, the trip from Paris takes just under two hours. Reims is a quick and easy 45-minute TGV ride from Paris’s Gare de l’Est. Other towns in the region served by the train from Paris include Épernay and Troyes. Indagare Tip: The TGV goes directly from the Charles de Gaulle airport to the Champagne Ardenne train station, which is a quick tram ride (or cab) from central Reims.
Driving is the best way to explore Champagne and rental cars can be picked up in Reims or Épernay. For those who would rather soak in the scenery after a few tastings, however, a chauffeur service offers a lot of flexibility. Contact Indagare for assistance booking a car and driver for a half-day, full-day or longer.