The Champagne region is one of the lesser known travel destinations in France, despite being home to one of the most luxurious drinks we all fancy a taste of.
While French people are well-aquainted with the capital of champagne and the vineyards surrounding it, overseas travellers often seem to miss out on the beautiful spot.
Located north east of Paris and quite accessible from the shuttle or ferry in Calais in three hours and even if you have just a few days to spare, you will be able to enjoy the region with all your senses: See the rolling hills dotted with picturesque villages, feel the different grapes, smell the local delicacies being prepared, hear the history behind some of the world’s most famous champagne and of course taste the finished product.
Epernay is known as the Capital of Champagne home to the biggest and most well-known champagne producers in the world.
The main street, the Avenue de Champagne, is lined with villas and mansions called maisons de champagne, champagne houses. This is where you visit cellars at your leisure, see as many different maisons as you fancy, taste the wine and get a tour of the old-fashioned production to see where the magic happens. (Spoiler: the magic is taking the best mix of pinor noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay grapes to create the individual champagnes.)
Yes, you will the the Dom Perignon, the famous Moët et Chandon as well as the largest bottles of Champagne you can possibly imagine.
You will be surprised to see how easy-going the champagne houses are; while you may feel out of your depth shopping and browsing in some high-end shops, Epernay is very down-to-earth and staff at each cellar tour and tasting is well aware you are there to learn about their craft and not a wine connoisseur.
Once you have tasted all the wine (and found a designated driver), it is time to explore the region. From Epernay, there are vineyards as far as the eye can see and driving through you will be able to spot tags identifying the big (and small) brands each grapes belong to.
Three routes will take you along the Champagne Route and while almost every town and village in the area seems idyllic and home to at least half a dozen champagne houses, the quaint town of Hautvillers with its scenic views across the land is a must.
Verzenay is another spot not to miss as it has a lighthouse which offers panoramic views across the entire region.
At the north of Epernay is a nature park with large forest areas, walks and viewpoints which offer respite from the sun if you are going during a hot summer.
And while you are in the area, you need to stop in Reims, which boasts one of the most famous cathedrals in the country. The stainglass windows feature on almost every postcard, but even if you have had a sneak peek by checking out pictures prior to your visit, stick to the unwritten rule and walk straight to the very front of the Cathedral without looking back before finally turning around to see take in the full masterpiece.
Where to stay
While hotel chains are available, especially around Reims, it is worth finding a home with more character.
Many Airbnbs in the area are located in small villages and hosts often offer a home cooked dinner for a small charge so you can taste traditional French cuisine in an authentic setting.
But one of the most popular accommodations in France (before the rise of booking online and Airbnb) is staying in a gîte. These are essentially the French Bed and Breakfasts, where families open up their home and have one or two rooms or a small boutique hotel for guests, and they will also serve you a French breakfast in the morning – with pain au chocolat and croissant from your local boulangerie!