Champagne is synonymous with France. After all, the bubbly glasses of goodness originated in northern France and only sparkling wine from that region can bear the prestigious title of “Champagne.” Visiting the home of one of the most famous drinks in the world was at the top of my life long list of dreams, so on our last day in Paris—and the final day of our trip to Spain and France—Heather and I took a day trip to France’s Champagne region for some wine tasting.
I had visions of sipping fizzy Champagne all day and wandering around the historical region without a care in the world, but the reality was much different. We didn’t realize the region was divided into two cities (and arrived in one when we had a tour scheduled in another), among other bumps in the road. So learn from our mistakes!
Here are 7 tips for a day trip to Champagne from Paris:
1. The Champagne region is about an hour’s train ride from Paris.
The easiest way to Champagne from Paris is to take the high speed TGV train. The region’s two major centers are Reims and Épernay (more on that below) and the train stops in Reims (45 minutes away, about 15€) or Épernay (75 minutes, about 22€). Trains run back and forth all day and tickets can be purchased at the station before boarding or in advance online.
2. Champagne is made up of 5 small areas, but stick to Reims and/or Épernay.
All five regions of Champagne produce sparkling wine, but the towns of Reims and Épernay are the centers of the area. A note of caution: Reims and Épernay are not that close together! We made the mistake of taking a cab from Reims to Epernay and it cost us around 100€!
If you want to see both regions, jump back on the train. It’s an inexpensive 9€ and is much quicker (about a half hour on the TGV high speed train) than taking a cab or the bus.
3. Épernay is like Sonoma while Reims is like Napa.
After our 100€ cab ride to Épernay to tour the Moët & Chandon caves, we made the best of being in the other city and visited a smaller Champagne House (what the wineries are called), called Georges Cartier. Georges Cartier is a smaller winery that doesn’t export to the United States so we’d never get to taste it stateside. We got one-on-one attention and a private tasting of their entire line of Champagnes.
We wandered around Épernay for the rest of the morning (yes, our Moët & Chandon tour was at 9:45 a.m.) and enjoyed the peaceful, small town. It felt a lot like Sonoma. When we finally explored the much larger, more touristy Reims (where we toured Veuve Clicquot), it reminded both of us of the more touristy Napa. That’s not good or bad, just worth mentioning for those who have been to California’s wine region and have a strong preference for one side over the other. But…
4. Wine tasting in Champagne isn’t like it is in California.
If you’ve been wine tasting in California, you know that wineries welcome visitors to drink, relax and oftentimes eat. In Champagne, most wineries obviously want visitors and they want you to try their wines, but none of the houses we visited offered any food (which can become a problem after drinking Champagne all day!) and often shuffled us to move on after our tours. In Napa and Sonoma (where I went wine tasting last summer), I felt like I could spend all day relaxing at the wineries but in Champagne I felt like they wanted me to buy a bottle and move on.
Another major difference: Champagne is aged in underground caves so most of the tours take visitors underground to natural vaults created by chalk and/or limestone quarries, some dug out during the Roman times. It’s incredibly impressive. But keep that in mind when deciding your attire because the caves can get chilly!
5. Research what Champagne Houses you want to visit beforehand.
There are a ton of Champagne Houses in the region, so have an idea which ones you want to visit before you go. This will help decide if to go Reims, Épernay or both. Épernay is home to Mercier, Moët & Chandon (open since 1743!) who also owns Dom Pérignon; while Reims hosts Veuve Clicquot (1772), Mumm (1827) and Tattinger (1734). Wikipedia has a helpful list of houses here and Reims Tourism lists houses and languages spoken at each. Reservations can be made at most Champagne houses online beforehand.
Bonus tip: With good food comes good wine. In the case of Champagne, it’s the opposite: with good wine, comes good food. Champagne is home to 11 Michelin-rated restaurants, so make reservations for those before heading there, too.
6. The region has an incredible past so don’t forget to indulge in history, too.
Because of its geographical position between many different countries, the region has seen a lot of history, particularly in the form of war. The Romans defeated the Huns in Champagne in 451 A.D., many battles of the Hundred Years’ War took place there, and it was bombed repeatedly during both World Wars. In fact, the caves of Veuve Clicquot were once used as a hospital during World War I and the remnants of a hospital cross are still visible on the cave walls. And Reims is actually the place where Eisenhower and the Allies received the German surrender on May 7, 1945.
Reims is also home to the Notre Dame de Rems Cathedral, where the coronation of every French king has taken place, and the Abbey of Saint Remi, the largest Romanesque pilgrimage church in northern France.
7. Consider taking a guided tour.
We managed to visit the Champagne region on our own, doing a lot of research beforehand. We pulled it off, but not without some hiccups (like the 100€ cab ride). At the end of the day when we were exhausted from getting lost, we wished we would have signed up with a guided tour. There are plenty online and I’m sure they are all much easier and less stressful than doing it on your own!
Champagne is such a contrast from Paris. It’s definitely worth dedicating a day to explore the countryside and taste France’s most famous drink. While parts of our day trip to Champagne was hectic, it was a sparkling end to an amazing trip through Spain and France.