I assume that if you’re here, that means you love Champagne and must go to the motherland. That’s kind of where my head was when I started thinking about this trip. Champagne is my favorite drink and I always wanted to visit the fabled land, from which it came. It was SO MUCH MORE than I had anticipated. I imagined it quite differently than it actually was but I had an absolutely fabulous time and I want to give you all my tips on how to plan a trip to the Champagne Region.
It’s in France. You knew that right? But where exactly? Well, it’s in the Northeast of France and its western edge is about 160 km (100 miles) east of Paris. The cities of Troyes, Reims, and Épernay are the commercial centers of the area.
Many people come for a day trip from Paris or maybe just an overnight. This is fine if you are really short on time and really need to get those sweet sweet bubbles but I recommend more time if you are a full-on champagne enthusiast like myself.
Hey train to champagne has a nice ring to it. The average train time from Paris to Reims is 1h 20m, although it takes just 39m on the fastest TGV INOUI services. There are around 20 trains per day running from Paris to Reims, including 12 direct trains. The first train leaves Paris Gare de l’Est at 06:58 and the last train leaves at 21:36 (source www.thetrainline.com)
The fastest trains from Paris to Épernay take around 1 hour and 12 minutes. Prices for a single ticket between the two cities start from US$10.13.
This is what I did so I will concentrate my tips on this modality. I drove from Paris to Reims in just under 90 minutes. It was an easy drive. I stayed 2 nights, then drove from Reims to Epernay in 30 minutes where I also stayed 2 nights. This gave me a solid 3.5 days of champagne tasting. I will share my exact schedule below.
I met many people who did this. You can take a tour from Paris or from within Champagne.
I recommend checking Get Your Guide below I have used this company quite a bit and they are reputable. An example: from Paris a day tour with 8 tastings and lunch will bet $200-$250. From Reims to Epernay, just an afternoon will be around $100. They aren’t cheap but if you truly dislike planning, I won’t judge you. However, I am going to tell you exactly how I planned my own “tour” so you can copy it! How easy is that?
You’re going to learn all of this there but if you want to do your homework and just focus on the drinking part when you get there, go for it! I find this stuff all very interesting. Champagne (and wine growing in general) is such a fascinating mix of culture, history, agriculture, science, and art. I can’t get enough! Plus when I write about the various houses, I may use some of these terms and I would hate it if you were confused!
Essentially a chalk quarry. The entire region has chalk quarries underneath that have been mined since Gallo-Roman times. These naturally cold and humid cellars are perfect for storing champagne.
A village where grapes are grown. There are 316 crus in total in the Champagne region. They are classified by quality. These classifications were done in the 1920s and have never changed (seems harsh). There is Grand Cru (only 17 villages), Premier Cru (42) ad Autres Crus. If the bottle says “Grand Cru” then the grapes only came from some of the Grand Cru villages.
All grapes in this region must be picked by hand! Pretty impressive.
In wine in general it refers to a blend, either of one or more grapes or of wine from specially selected barrels or vats. Some champagnes use the term to denote their first-pressed and best juice. I am using the term to mean blend.
(the only non “C” word on this list) This simply means tasting. You will see it written and you will often hear “enjoy your degustation”
Doux, Sec, Demi-Sec, Brut, Extra Brut (Doux is the sweetest and Extra Brut the least sweet)
I only encountered Brut and Extra Brut at the places I visited. One place offered Demi-Sec if I remember correctly. Brut has between 6 to 12 gm sugar per liter and Extra Brut, which isn’t as common. has under 6 gm/L
There are only 3 types of grapes grown in Champagne. Chardonnay, brings floral notes, citrus, freshness, and minerality. Pinot Noir is a black grape that brings strength and character. Pinot Meunier is another black grape that brings fruitiness. Each of these grapes grows best in a different part of the region. The Montagne de Reims is for Pinot Noir, the Cote Des Blanc for Chardonnay and the Vallee de La Marne for Pinot Meuniere.
You will try various blends of all the grapes but also you will see Blanc de Blancs (which translates to “white from white”) which is Chardonnay only. Blanc de Noirs means “White from Black” a this will be Pinot Noir. They manage with the Blanc de Noir to only extract the white liquid from the grape and no color from the skin because the pressing is done extremely gently
Rosé champagne is not made by allowing contact with the grape skin in the same manner red wine is. The champagne is actually blended with 15-20% actual red wine. This was news to me!
So many things, like the unique chalky soil but also the fact that grapes for one particular brand are grown all over the region. Unlike many other wine regions you may visit, you aren’t likely to get a vineyard tour and then go taste the wine because most of the champagne vineyards are outside of the city. All the big champagne houses buy grapes from small growers. In fact, they typically only grow about 20% of their own grapes. The small grape growers are very necessary to the big houses and vice versa because 80% of what is produced in the region is exported by the big houses. It’s a symbiotic relationship. You may taste wine that contains grapes from 60 different vineyards where some houses only use 3 or different ones. It’s really an impressive process.
Still (non-sparkling) wine is made from one fermentation. The yeast and sugar naturally occurring on grapes are allowed to ferment in vats at a certain temperature until alcohol and CO2 (carbon dioxide) is produced. The CO2 gas is expelled into the environment. Science is fun!
Sparkling wine needs a second fermentation. More sugar and more yeast are added and this time the goal is to keep the CO2 in the bottle to produce bubbles.
In the early days of champagne making, you can imagine there were many explosions of bottles from too much yeast and too much pressure as a result of the CO2 gas. It took lots of experimentation but eventually, they got the recipe right. Once the sugar is all used up by the yeast, the yeast dies and sediment is formed. Early champagnes were cloudy and unpleasant.
Enter the widow Madame Cliquot. (I assume you have heard of Veuve Cliquot) She invented the clarification process which was a game changer for the industry. Clarification was accomplished by a process called “riddling”. The bottle is placed at an angle and turned just a bit each day, left then right, and repeated for 4-6 weeks until the sediment makes its way down the bottle into the cap. The tip of the bottle is then flash frozen in a cold solution to form an icy yeast plug. Yum! When the cap is removed, a huge amount of pressure (6 bar or 87 psi) pushes the plug out, and immediately the bottle will be corked so that more bubbles don’t escape. This is called “disgorgement” and the date of this is often written on the bottle.
Some places still hand riddles today! A good hand riddler can manage 55,000 bottles a day! However, it takes 4-6 weeks this way vs 5-7 days on the machine that does this, known as the gyropalette.
Ok, so now you know everything about Champagne except where to go to drink it!
This is the big question and since I couldn’t decide, I stayed 2 nights in Reims and 2 nights in Epernay. This was the perfect amount of time to spend in the region. I could have spent more easily. I was BUSY!
Fun Fact: There are about 500 km of caves throughout the Champagne region and 1 billion bottles are stored in the caves! Reims has about 250 km of caves/500 million bottles and Epernay about 110km/200 million bottles.
For some reason, this is pronounced “Rantz”. Just thought you should know. Reims is a bigger city with more to do. There is a massive and impressive Notre Dame Cathedral. Several of the really big houses are here such as Ruinart, Taittinger, Pommery, and Veuve Cliquot. I had to visit all of them, of course. From the center of Reims to these places is either an 8-minute drive, 15 minutes by bike or 30-minute walk. Staying in Reims center gives you walking access to shops, food, pharmacies, bars, etc.
Taittinger, Pommery, and Veuve Cliquot are very close to each other. Many people will take the train from Paris and walk to do these three then go back to Paris.
Epernay is a smaller city that is famous for its Avenue de Champagne where you can simply walk from one champagne house to the next, sipping to your heart’s content. Here you will find Moet et Chandon, Perrier-Jouet, Pol Roger, and Mercier just to name a few. There are many, many, many more!
In both towns, you can go to various shops in the town that also do tastings and this may be a way to taste a wider variety than you can from actually visiting the houses.
My hotel in Reims was smack dab in the center and was clean and comfortable but a very basic small room. It was called Hotel D’Arcade. I had a studio apartment in Epernay that was absolutely adorable called the French Boudoir. If you want to spend some $$$ and stay in a chateau in Reims, walking distance from many champagne houses, check out Les Crayeres.
I don’t know much about it as I just drove through but it is an attractive ancient city with medieval half-timbered homes. It is the former capital of Champagne. I hear from others that is an overlooked gem! The town is literally surrounded by champagne vineyards as well.
This would be a different sort of trip and you wouldn’t have as convenient access to the center of Reims and Epernay but I’m sure staying in a chateau amonst the vineyards would be divine.
Next time I would love to stay in a chateau and maybe visit the smaller champagne houses.
Champagne not your thing but love Prosecco? Read my Guide to the Prosecco Road in Italy
Part of how to plan a trip to the Champagne region is booking cave tours and champagne tastings. You can do this on your own quite easily as I did. All you have to do is look at the various houses and see which ones appeal to you. As I said earlier there are also plenty of tours available both for groups and private. Some people hire a driver who knows the area so they don’t have to drive.
If you are booking on your own, you merely have to go to the Champagne House website and look at the various tours they offer and the schedule. I have put the links below for you to easily find. These fill up so plan ahead. I recommend booking a month ahead. I booked around 2 weeks ahead for early September and found many tour times not available. Also, make sure you get the language you want. They are offered in English or French.
I wouldn’t try to do more than 3 tours in one day. Each one is anywhere from 90 min to an hour and has 2 tastings. You don’t want to rush. I ended up chatting with people most of the time and it became a very social occasion.
In Epernay where you have the ability to walk just about everywhere and do tastings without tours, you can visit more than three. I went to about 6 different places in one day there, walking between all of them and to my apartment.
Don’t forget to schedule meal times! You will need your sustenance!
This is the oldest house in the region dating back to 1729. The tour and tasting is 70 € so this was by far the most expensive one. However, these were the best of all the champagnes I tasted. You will get a guided tour of the caves. They have the deepest caves in the region, 38 meters below ground. You get to taste two cuvées and you can choose white or rose. Both tastings are what they call vertical tastings. The same blend but one is vintage from 2010 and one non-vintage (the “Signature”). Ruinart’s signature flavor is fresh with minerality so they prioritize the chardonnay grape in their blends. Book your Ruinart tour here.
I was immediately impressed with the grand entrance gates and Elizabethan-style buildings. This is the first Maison to offer a self-guided tour of its cellars with the option of a downloadable app with an audio guide or a paper guide.
They offer many types of tours including one with a meal at their restaurant. I recommend the self-guided cave tour. It is wild and it’s nice to go at your own pace to take it all in. There is MUCH to take in. There are avant-garde art installations throughout the caves. It was like being at an art show and I was literally in awe the entire time. This was my favorite cave tour. I didn’t LOVE their champagnes as much as others but I did love learning the history of Madame Pommery who was definitely a bad-ass. If you have time you can also tour the Chateau next door called Villa Demoiselle. The self-guided tour of just Pommery plus a tasting of 2 cuvées was 30€. You get to try the emblematic cuvée, Pommery Brut Royal, and Grand Cru Royal vintage 2009. Book your Pommery Tour here.
This was a very quick efficient well-run tour through the caves which I appreciated since this was my 3rd cave. It was 35 € . The winery was built on an old abbey that was destroyed in the French Revolution. There is graffiti from people who took shelter here during WWI. When you book you can choose different types of tastings. There are different options for white, rosé, etc or some of their more expensive cuvées. Book your Taittinger tour here.
Veuve has a fun outdoor area with a wine truck (like a food truck but for wine) and you can do tastings here if you don’t want the tour. They offer several types of tours. I chose the “Discover the Bubbles Tour” for 40 €. We spent about 15 minutes in the chalk cellars which were used during WW2 as shelters. They told us about the Grand Dame herself, Madame Cliquot, and her contributions to the industry. We learned how to properly open a champagne bottle and how different glasses affect the taste and bubbles of champagne! Book your Veuve Cliquot tour here.
Fun Fact The champagne flute is out of fashion guys. Most places now prefer the “tulip” style glass because it’s better for the flavor. Also, never put champagne in a plastic cup. You’ll just have to go to Veuve to find out why.
This was one of my favorite tours. The Maison is gorgeous and one of few that has its own “clos” (vineyard) on-site in Reims. They call it “from vine to flute”. Lanson is the official champagne of Wimbledon and of the principality of Monaco. Their history tour involved Eisenhower, Kennedy, Napoleon, and Queen Victoria. The tour was one of the best and most informative. You actually see some production which you don’t at the others. The champagnes are delicious too. Here you can choose to taste more than 2 which I would have done if I hadn’t been driving. The price was 26 € for 2 tastings and you had options to taste 3 or 4 for an increased price ( I forget exactly).
This tour was 90 min but I ended up staying and chatting with people and making sure the alcohol was out of my system before I had to drive. You need to email Lanson to book. email@example.com
The following are all in Epernay and along the Avenue de Champagne except Castellane
This is one of the best all-around tours plus you get 3 tastings! I like that they start you out with one glass as they tell you the story of the founder and the big cask that dominates the lobby. It’s a great story. Then you watch a little movie, then a fun elevator ride (there is a cool visual display here as well) down to the caves where you board a little train. It’s just like a Disney ride. After the train ride back up for a tasting of 2 more cuvées. This tour was 35 €. Book your Mercier tour here.
This is a must-see. It is slightly off of the Avenue de Champagne and along the Marne River. The art deco style building and tower have a colorful history (like many of these places). I highly recommend doing the tower tour and the caves which is 30 €. It took around 90 minutes. The 66-meter-high tower has great views of the surrounding valley and vineyards. Get ready for the 237 steps! This was one of the least busy champagne houses I visited and ended up with a private tour. They had a great collection of artsy posters of old campaign ads that they also sell. Going to come back and pick a few up when I finally get my “champagne room”.
You need to email them to book firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re a champagne drinker, then you’ve heard of this or perhaps you are familiar with that certain SNL skit? Moët & Chandon is the biggest producer in the world with a whopping 2000 hectares of vineyards (compared to 75 for a place like Lanson) and 30 million bottles per year. Here you will learn the history of the founder Claude Moët. His grandson Remy Moet had a daughter who married a member of the prestigious Chandon family and the Moët & Chandon partnership was established.
They now are under the LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennesey) group, the largest luxury brand in the world. They produce the prestigious Dom Perignon brand, named for the Dominican Monk who was one of the earliest popularizers of the Methode Champenoise. (He is often credited with inventing it but this has been disproven). The tour plus the tasting was 90 minutes for 35€. You try the Imperial and the rosé. The boutique is really soigné and fun to visit as well. Book your Moët & Chandon tour here
There is no cave tour but they have a very cute and colorful boutique and a fun bar area with seating. There is no tasting here, you just order what you want. The staff is knowledgeable and can explain the different cuvées. They serve food which you need to soak up all this champagne. You get a different floral glass depending on which cuvée you drink which is delightfully whimsical. I especially loved how dog-friendly it was here. Great vibes all around at Perrier Jouet and their rosé is probably my favorite of all the rosés.
This house stood out to me as I strolled along the Avenue de Champagne for its elegant Maison and classic car in the front. It also had an inviting seating area and once I heard they served food, it was hard to resist. Here they will explain their different cuvées and you can choose your own type of tasting.
Not sure how I ended up here. I think another tourist I met along the way recommended it. It was such a nice surprise. I had never heard of this champagne but they were really delicious. A tasting of 2 cuvées was 14 €. They had a lovely seating area in the garden and a beautiful charming chateau.
This one also had a stately chateau with 2 fancy classic cars in front. They really know how to draw you in here. I had never heard of them before but they’ve been in the fizz biz since 1834. Their Brut Reserve is the ambassador of the house and they are known for finesse and elegance. It’s a mix of all three champagne grapes and was lovely.
Arrived at lunchtime. After checking in to the hotel, I had l lunch and then went to a 1430 tour at Ruinart.
Pommery Tour at 1000. 1200 Lunch. 1430 Tour at Taittinger then walked to Veuve Cliquot for 1615 tour (this was a tad tight but ok). Hung around at Veuve outdoors afterward for about an hour and then walked back to my car at Taittinger. Drove back to Reims center.
1000 tour at Lanson. Lunch after nearby then drove to Epernay. I parked my car near my apartment rental and unloaded luggage because I wasn’t able to check in yet. I walked to Mercier for a 1400 tour. After the tour, I walked to Paul-Etienne Saint Germain and did a tasting there. Dinner.
This was the day I went a little crazy. I don’t recommend doing all this. The best part of this day was it was all walkable!
1000 tour at Castellane. 1200 tasting plus lunch at Venoge. Moet Chandon for a 1400 tour (in French). Then walked to Perrier Jouet and did a tasting plus a huge cheese plate. After this, I went to Boizel for another tasting. I should have stopped here. That was 10 glasses. I had something from a bakery and on the way back to my apartment I saw that one place was still open and well, I couldn’t resist. Most places close around 5 or 6 by the way.
And that’s how I plan a trip to the Champagne region! FYI, there are many many more places within walking distance in Epernay both on and off the Avenue but you can only go to so many!
Hot Tip If you are short on time here are my faves. Now trust me, I was really excited to go to Veuve and Moet because they’re so prestigious but they were not my absolute favorites.
Reims: my favorite cave was hands down Pommery. Ruinart had the best-tasting champagne. Lanson had the best all-around tour.
Epernay: Castellane, Mercier for the best tours. Perrier-Jouet to eat and drinnk.
There you go. So if you only have two days. This is what you can do.
BTW this is the gorgeous Museum of Champagne that I just couldn’t find time to visit.
It’s COLD in the caves (around 10 degrees C/50 degrees F). At first, it feels good if you’ve been in the hot sun but after 15 minutes or so, I was happy to have my jacket. Bring a wrap, sweater, or jacket, The only place that offered blankets was Ruinart. (They were fancy white blankets and I wanted one)
Wear comfortable shoes because you are walking up and down many stairs, standing for sometimes an hour or so and walking through caves.
Don’t be late for your tours. In fact, you should arrive 10 min early. They tend to start right on time.
Many places offer water but it doesn’t hurt to have your own just in case. Don’t be shy to ask.
Sip your champagne slowly. As it becomes less cold, the flavors open up and I actually enjoyed each sip more than the last.
Always drink responsibly, especially if you are driving. Utilize the pour buckets if you don’t want to finish the entire glass. Some places pour more generous tastings than others. Have plenty of food throughout the day.
I generally love wine but there’s something so fun and special about champagne. Just seeing a flute always uplifts my spirits. But in general, winemaking is fascinating. It’s farming plus science plus art. Throw in history, culture, and the fact that some of these wines were the same ones drank by Napoleon and King Louis the umpteenth…it’s kind of impressive, non?
Does this help you to plan your own trip? What questions do you have?