We all know its taste and what it’s all about – the moments when we celebrate and drink it, the moments when we’re not but we just wanna indulge ourselves, when we drink with our friends or loved ones, or simply because we want to have a glass, when we are in love and when we are not.
One of the things I have always dreamed of is sipping champagne in its motherland, Champagne region in France. Which I must say it was one of the most beautiful weekends ever.
Before telling you all about it, we need to clear first that not all bubbly wine types are champagnes. As many of you know, Champagne takes its name from the famous wine making region in France. Situated north from Paris, two of its most famous cities are Reims and Epernay, where of course, one can find the home of a few of the most famous brands, like Moët or Veuve.
Here’s a few tips and tricks to know if you’re planning to visit
It’s always easy to fly to one of the big near-by airports (Paris or Brussels) and rent a car. From Paris is a 1.5- 2 hours drive, while from Brussels it will take you around 3-3.5 hours drive. Our recommendation is to take a car so it would be easier for you to move around the regions, as taxis are very expensive. Another thing that you can do is take the train to Epernay or Reims. And organize yourself a private transfer in between the cities or in and out of the vineyards.
When to go
The best season for tasting is Autumn, October – November being the best months. However, you can go to champagne any time, as champagne house opened their home throughout the year. I would advise not to go in late summer as that is the harvest time, when family owned vineyards will be too busy for tourists. Though many of them will welcome you, the experience would not be the same.
Where to stay & for how long
For a nice tasting experience, a long weekend should be ok, as you can enjoy the 3-4 days around the 5 champagne regions.
The main two cities for setting camp are Reims and Epernay. Depending on budget you can stay in luxurious 5-stars chateau, like Château Les Crayeres. Probably one of the most famous places in Reims, the estate is one of the most romantic hotels in the region. The hotel restaurant, Le Parc, offers food of a double Michelin star chef, has also a menu of 400 types of Champagne you can enjoy.
A more modern place, but as luxurious is Royal Champagne in Epernay. With an amazing spa, the hotel’s Michelin star restaurant, Le Royal, offers amazing tasting menus, signed by its famous chef and sommelier.
However, if your budget does not include luxury chateaus, there are still plenty of place to stay. In Epernay, Les Berceaux is offering great accommodation and a very nice dinner cooked by its owner at its restaurant.
One of the best ways to visit the area is staying in one of the multiple village houses that are open for rent, especially if you travel with a group of friends. We stayed at Au Beau Sarrazin, which is an old ancient farm with two guest houses (one for 20 people and one smaller, for 10) Located in between Reims and Epernay, Au Beau Sarrazin has an amazing garden, a tennis court and a ping pong table, is one. Have in mind you will need to go out to eat or make your own food – but the kitchen is fully equipped with anything you need.
Inside the establishment there are a couple of houses that share the same yard and facilities, but the place is quite well delimited, so you don’t really meet your neighbors. There is a chic garden, tennis court, badminton and volley nets, a small place for the kids to play at, and another garden non the outside.
As you walk inside you are amazed, as Au Beau Sarrazin really looks like in the French movies – so chic done, blending a quite a few design wooden elements with unexpected things, such as a school bench and a sculpted fireplace. There are 5 bedrooms upstairs, with 4 and 2 beds and private bathrooms. Downstairs there is a big living room with a dining table the kitchen and a little bathroom. Outside, besides the common areas, the house has a beautiful garden with a big table and barbecue.
And now about the bubbles
There are so many places you can taste Champagne all around. Of course, the most famous places are situated in Epernay, around what they call “the most expensive street in the world”. You might ask yourself why? Easy – underneath the street, in the caves of the most famous Champagne houses, you can find some of the most expensive bottles of champagne in the world.
Here you can visit the big houses, such as Moët or Veuve. My advice is to book the ticket in advance as sometimes the place is getting too crowded and they have limited availability. The guide will take you through the history of the brand, from its birth to nowadays, and you will make a journey to the cellars (which are impressive indeed), your visit ending with the tasting session. Unfortunately, you will not have time to enjoy it a lot as the next group will arrive.
Thus, you should also visit boutique producers, as you can see the entire process which takes place onsite, and you can experience a much more individual approach as the family usually comes to welcome you and show you around. And, of course, at the end of your visit you can choose to do a tasting menu from the local brand. We visited Jean Milan and it was great. Would also recommend Taitttinger and Ruinart, which offer great visiting experiences.
*this is dedicated to my best friend, whose birthday we celebrated in Champagne