Champagne Country – Reims & Epernay, France
Easy train ride from Paris makes this area of France, the only region that can call what they make, champagne, special. Only a 45 minute train ride gets you from Gare de l’Est station in Paris to Reims. Cross the little park in front of the trains station and you end up in the pedestrian mall with many restaurants, shops and hotels. Let a guide book suggest places to stay, but our take was that any of the 3 star or higher hotels would be fine. You’re here for the champagne not for the 5 star hotels unless it is your honeymoon.
Head over to the tourist office for great maps and a wonderful staff who can assist in making reservations for most of the champagne houses. This is an easy walk from the ped mall and train station but I would suggest getting ride of the roller luggage first. The other great thing about the tourist office is that it is practically inside the Cathedrale Notre-Dame, a must see when you are in Reims.
Like most Americans who never had a French lesson, you will probably never pronounce Reims like the city dwellers, but give it a try and say something like Arntz and you’ll be getting close. Around the center of town you will be able to find some great champagne shops, so feel comfortable in NOT purchasing a bottle or two during any of the tours since they tend to gain weight the more you walk with them.
Remember, they say the region is small, but it is not. I think there are over 5,000 champagne producers and heaven knows how many growers, but it is the soil and the mixture of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier that makes champagne what it is. There are eight champagne houses with Reims. All of them will require a taxi unless you are really into walking. About half an hour’s walk from the center of the city is an area that you can find four of the eight houses; Veuve Clicquot (a favorite visit for us,) Tattinger, Pommery and Martel.
Some of these, like Tattinger, do not have tasting rooms and you must do the tour in order to end up with a tasting. As I said, the city has champagne stores and the prices are, like in Nape/Sonoma, less expensive than the makers own stores.
If you are going to this area, make Reims your first stop. The location is much larger and city like than when you arrive in Epernay. Just a short hop from the train station to the famous roundabout, Place de la Republique, and you’ll feel the difference. Town or village = Epernay. City = Reims.
The tourist office is close by the roundabout as is Moet & Chandon. Further down the same street, but within walking distance is Mercier and De Castellane. Before you head out for a tour and some bubbles, again check the luggage. We found a reasonable priced 3 star hotel tucked right nearby, Hotel Les Berceaux. In addition to being friend and comfortable, it houses one of the areas finer restaurants, P. Michelon. Do try for a dinner at this establishment. www.lesberceaux.com
The real jewel of our visit was when we say a brochure at the hotel to Tour the Vineyards. For a modest price, Nathalie, the co-owner of Champagne Domi-Moreau, picked us up in her large van and for the next several hours delved in the process of making champagne, starting with her vineyards right through the soils, pruning, harvesting and the making of champagne at their own facility. She and her husband own a little B&B, allow the guests to go bicycling or hiking and I would guess, sip some of their own wonderful Champagne. A not to be missed event, cause after a while most of the caves start to look alike and this make the entire process come alive. www.champagne-domimoreau.com
Finally, we were Eurorailing for this entire trip. What we missed most was that the champagne area is large and to do it properly you need wheels. We did not take a hard look to see if anyone has organized transport from Reims or Epernay out to the hinterland, but I guess they pretty much do as their ancestors have done and NOT offer modern convienences like van/mini bus tours. This leads to renting a car and calling ahead for on site visits. We’re saving that for the next trip. Suffice to say, this two person champagne festival was very special!!
R U Syrious & Imma Not Syrious on the road again…….