It’s a fact that Americans are not known for their extensive travel experience. So when a French champagne importer I met at BevMo Van Ness gave me a bit of well-received advice about visiting the champagne region (for the full story, read The Accidental Cougar), I decided to visit Épernay in the summer of 2015. That was my introduction to the champagne region. I then visited Reims, also in the champagne region, in April 2017.
Below are a few of my observations and travel tips for the champagne region. And, by the way, you don’t need a car or be in a group to enjoy either destination. I did just fine by myself. Have fun and drink responsibly!
To get to Épernay from Paris, I took a train from Paris Gare de l’Est to Épernay. The trip was about an hour and cost me around 25 euros. The train station in Épernay is practically in the city center and the tourist information office is five minutes on foot.
There is champagne everywhere, starting at the tourist information office and even at the carnival that was going on when I visited. I paid two euros for a plastic cup of decent champagne, sat at a wood picnic bench and watched a huge mechanical octopus.
I visited and did tastings at Charles Mignon, Champagne Janisson Baradon, and Champagne Collard-Picard. I stayed at Champagne André Bergère and also did a tasting there. To drink champagne on the sunny outdoor patio of Champagne André Bergère was one of the highlights of the trip in addition to meeting the family behind Charles Mignon.
Overall, Épernay is a small town that offers plenty of opportunities to do champagne tastings and tours without renting a car or taking public transport. The lodging options are limited as are the restaurant choices. Restaurants close after lunch, re-open for dinner. If you’ve been tasting champagne all day, the best option is to go to a boulangerie in between the hours of 2:30-7:00 since most champagne houses do not serve food with the tastings (at least the ones I did).
To get to Reims from Paris, I took OuiBus from Gare de Bercy to Gare de Champagne-Ardenne TGV train station. Even though the OuiBus ticket says Reims, the bus will drop you off at the Champagne-Ardenne TGV station and then you must take a tram to get into ‘centre ville’ which is the real center of Reims. The OuiBus trip was about two hours and cost me nine euros.
Reims is a lot bigger than Épernay. Some of the wineries you are able to walk or take the tram to, while others require a car. I recommend visiting the tourist information office first, not only because you may get free champagne but you’ll learn about events. During my visit to the tourist office, I registered and paid 30 euros for Taste du Reims that took place on April 23 at Palais du Tau. This price may sound like a lot but considering a visit to one winery will cost 15 euros or more, this special event allowed me to taste over 20 different champagnes from small regional producers. And, there were local chefs who prepared pairing options like salmon tartar, foie gras, and gougères (fancy cheese puff).
I saw a lot of Americans at Veuve Clicquot and Pommery and in contrast, didn’t see any Americans in Épernay. Accommodations are more plentiful and less expensive in Reims. I was happy with a studette I found on AirBnB. It was close to a farmer’s market on Sunday where I bought delicious white asparagus and dried oyster mushrooms after a kid on a scooter rammed into my leg.
In my opinion, Épernay is a less complicated weekend getaway with easier access to more wineries and tastings. While it is more expensive and there may be less people that speak English, the opportunity to learn about champagne and taste many types made my trip a valuable educational experience.
Do you like champagne? Have you been to the champagne region? Let me know what you think on Twitter or send me an email: email@example.com.
Short story by L.B. Lewis for May 9, 2017. Copyrighted. All rights reserved.