JOIN THE FREE GIRL ABOUT TRAVEL COMMUNITY ON FACEBOOK – SHARE IDEAS & INSPIRATION WITH 2500 TRAVEL-LOVING MEMBERS. GET YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY OUR EXPERTS  

RECOMMENDATION – what better way to stock up on champagne, than touring the vineyards and champagne houses of “La Route Touristique de Champagne”?!

By Emma McNamee – 11th April 2020
RECOMMENDATION | Billy Bob’s Parlour & Diner – The Yorkshire Dales 113
What I loved about visiting the champagne region of France:

It’s the perfect adult break, allowing you to kill two birds with one stone.  Replenish your stock of champagne, whilst taking in the stunning scenery and picture perfect towns of the Champagne region of France, trying out various local champagnes en route.  It’s also a great trip to do with another couple or group of friends.

 

Worth paying a babysitter?

This is one where you’ll want to ship the kids off to their grandparents or a friend for a few days!  You can bring them back a bottle of champagne as a thank you:-)

 

Expect:

Undulating hills, vineyards, picturesque dainty towns and LOTS OF champagne tastings!

 

Value for money: (out of 10)

10/10 for champagne value, purchasing from small, local champagne producers at a fraction of the price of the big brands back home.

Our Love Affair with Bubbles

Popping open a bottle of champagne on a Friday night is mine and my husband’s thing.    It’s one of our shared passions.   I’m otherwise a white wine drinker whilst he’s more partial to red wine, so we “meet in the middle” with champagne – not too shoddy a compromise I might add!

 

Prosecco just doesn’t cut it, unless I’m mixing an aperol spritz or bellini, so it’s got to be the real thing.

 

This could prove to be an expensive habit, but our saving grace is the fact that here in Hertfordshire we’re really only a few hours drive to the Champagne Region of France – 2 hours to the Eurotunnel, a 45 min crossing, and a 2 hour drive the other side sees us then surrounded by vineyards.

 

La Villa Eugène, Épernay – our destination and hotel of choice

Épernay is in the heart of the Champagne Region so we always head here and make this our base.   La Villa Eugène is a magnificent 19th century house converted to a homely and luxury boutique hotel with outdoor heated pool and terrace.  They only have 15 rooms so book early, and it’s definitely a hotel I’d recommend upgrading to their signature deluxe rooms or suites which have a real stately appeal to them.

 

La Villa Eugène is located at the top of Avenue de Champagne in Épernay and ideal to head off on foot to explore this town and it’s own champagne houses and bars.  Walking down Avenue de Champagne, a beautiful grand boulevard dotted with impressive buildings and private dwellings, you will pass the champagne houses of Moët et Chandon, Mercier, Pol Roger, Perrier Jouët among others.

 

What could a trip to Épernay look like?

We have been to Champagne on 3 separate trips now and our break away tends to take a similar format.

  • We choose one champagne house each time where we are going to do the full tour. You really only want to tour one champagne house in its entirety, as the tour will take 2-3 hours including tasting and visiting their cellar.  It’s a worthwhile tour as you learn all about how champagne is made, the different grapes, the history of champagne and the rules and regulations of the industry, but you only want to hear all this once during your stay.  This you should pre-book.
  • An afternoon walking around Épernay.
  • 2 days out visiting the local champagne houses and vineyards by car, following the “champagne trail” and stopping along the way for tastings.
  • Late afternoons chillaxing on the terrace by the hotel pool, with a glass of champagne in hand of course.
  • Dinner / drinks out in Épernay in the evenings.

 

A trip you can do time and time again, with a different experience

Although we stay in the same hotel each time we go, our experience each year has been different as we’ve visited with different friends each time, and we cover a different “section” of the champagne trail, as well as visiting a different champagne house for the full tour.

 

Each producer has his / her own story to tell, from the history of their family and champagne house to their experiences as a champagne producer, so each house you visit is unique in its own way.

 

There are nearly 300 champagne houses and 19,000 smaller vignerons (vine-growing producers) in the Champagne region, expanding over 32,000 hectares of vineyard, so you have a vast area to explore.

 

Pick up a map of the region from the hotel reception, and you will see that there is an official Route Touristque de Champagne you can follow, passing among open countryside, vineyards, quaint towns and alongside the river Marne.  There are 5 official circuits, criss-crossed with tourist trails, but we tend to make our own circuit, choosing a section of the map to cover on each road trip, and work our way round.  Some champagne houses require pre-booking, but many of the smaller ones you can just stop by en route.  We’ve only ever booked if there’s a specific champagne house or tour we wanted to do, the rest of the time we wing it along the champagne trail and just see what’s open and what takes our fancy.  If one is closed or busy, there’ll always be another one…

 

Tastings

Invariably they will charge around 10 Euros per person for tasting, and you get to try several of their champagnes for that, but provided you buy a minimum of 6 bottles the tasting is then free for you all.  We rarely end up paying to taste, as we invariably find a champagne we like from within their range and pick up a box before heading on to the next one.    The “Route Touristique de Champagne” is also well signposted, and you just look out for the champagne house signs along the way.

 

My map is now very well marked – I’ve used the same one for 3 years and just mark off each time the section we have covered so that the next time we head in a different direction for a different experience, and to try different champagnes. We’ll invariably pay 16-24 euros per bottle depending on the vintage, appellation or awards its received.

 

These smaller champagne producers that we visit may not have the resources, marketing, volume nor desire to market and sell internationally on a big scale like the well-known brands, but it doesn’t mean their champagne is less worthy in any way.  Instead, they distribute domestically, locally and to specific international clients that have found them.

 

Champagne House Tour

However, visiting one of the big brands for your full champagne  house tour is highly recommended as they often have the most impressive history, champagne houses and cellars to experience. One of my personal favourite champagnes is Ruinart – specifically their blancs de blancs – so on our last trip we pre-booked our visit to Ruinart, which we had to do several weeks in advance and it was well worth it.

 

Reims

Whilst we have tended to focus our activity around Épernay, we have also extended to Reims which is considered by many as the unofficial capital of the Champagne region and well worth a visit too with it’s grand Cathedral.    Many use Reims as a base rather than Épernay, and in addition to Ruinart you’ll find the likes of Veuve Clicquot and Tattinger there, among many many others.

 

Organised Tours

Another way to explore the region and sample vineyards and champagnes, without one of you having to be the designated driver, is to book a tour with one of the many local operators who will collect you from your hotel.  Their knowledge likewise of champagne production is extensive so having a small group tour as a half or full day excursion can also be an interesting and fun experience.   Your hotel or the tourist office will be able to provide recommendations if you’re looking for an organised tour.

 

Some Insider Tips…

A few summarised pointers when planning your trip:

  • This is definitely a trip where you should leave the kids at home.
  • You’ll need to agree on a designated driver each day, we tend to alternate this – the driver can always catch up when you’re back on the hotel terrace at the end of the day, and you also have the alternative option of doing an organised champagne tour with a driver, and they pick you up from your hotel.
  • Don’t forget to go in a car with a big boot!
  • If there’s a particular champagne house you want to visit, check they are open and book an appointment prior. Some of the popular champagne houses you may need to book up to 6 weeks in advance, so don’t leave it until the last minute to plan.
  • Pick up a map showing the official “Route Touristique de Champagne” from your hotel reception or the tourist office, as this will enable you to plan your driving route.
  • Make sure your visit is not during the 2 weeks of harvest as their doors will be closed to the public whilst they focus on grape picking/pressing. This period depends on the weather each year but is usually around September.  Don’t get caught out though – due to a very early summer last time we went, they were harvesting as early as August.
  • Pre-book restaurants for the evening – they can get busy and booked up in advance especially in high season and at weekends.

 

Eating Out in Épernay

On that note, here’s a few recommended places we’ve enjoyed over the years whilst staying in Épernay for dinner or drinks:

  • La Cave a Champagne – this is both a restaurant and champagne tasting venue, with a wine bar vibe and its own cellar offering an extensive range of locally produced champagnes to buy for consumption on site or taking away. This is a great “pick and mix” option, I’ll usually select a dozen “random” bottles of locally produced champagnes that we try over the weeks we’re back home.  And if there’s a particular champagne that I really like, we’ll try and incorporate that champagne house on our next visit!
  • Brasserie de la Banque – An impressive building with good food to boot and, unsurprisingly, an extensive champagne list.
  • Restaurant Chez Francoise – cosy with simple, home-cooked comfort menu.
  • La Grillade Gourmande – great restaurant with fish and meat dishes grilled over a wood fire, along with other specialities.

 

Over to you…

So there you have it.  You now know a little bit more about me and what makes me tick (champagne!), but hopefully it’s also whet your appetite to explore this fabulous region of France whilst indulging in some truly delightful bubbles from lesser known, local producers.

 

I have yet to grasp how Brexit will affect my private importing of champagne for personal consumption, so I’ll be following that closely but certainly making the most of it whilst I can.

 

For more information visit: 

https://www.villa-eugene.com/en/

http://en.ot-epernay.com

https://www.reims-tourism.com/champagne

https://cave-champagne.fr

 

Enjoy!

Emma xoxo

RECOMMENDATION

This is a Girl About recommendation. This means that it was not gifted in return for a review but paid in full by our writer and the venue had no idea that I was there. We only recommend places we absolutely love, and places that we know you’ll love too!

Emma McNamee
Share it on your own social media channels or with friends

JOIN OUR WOMEN-ONLY TRAVEL CLUB

Become a Girl About Travel Club member and benefit from our travel concierge service, itineraries, rewards, offers, discounts, resources, retreats and more!

Featured Articles & Sponsored Posts