By Marcia Frost
Most of us think of champagne as the bubbly drink for special occasions. However, it’s actually named after the region it comes from in France. Champagne is the only place you can legally make the beverage, if you want to put the Champagne label on the bottle. Everything else is just sparkling wine.
In addition to making some of the most famous (and luxurious) wine in the world, the region of Champagne-Ardenne has quite a bit to offer.
Where to Go in Champagne
Whether you are looking to sample lots of champagne, check out the history of the area or just sightsee, there are three towns you won’t want to miss – Reims, Hautvillers, Epernay.
Start your journey in Reims, which is filled with UNESCO World Heritage sites. This city is over 2,000 years old and though it suffered destruction from two world wars, it has been restored. The Cathedral Notre-Dame has been around for 800 years and is a must see, as is the Palais du Tau and the Bibliotheque, built by donations given by American Andrew Carnegie.
Hautvillers is an adorable town filled with history thanks to a monk named Dom Perignon. Explore this village that goes back to the year 658. You can even visit the church Perignon worked at and see his grave. Then check out the village.
The capital of the Champagne region is Epernay and this it’s a busy little town. You will find many of the major champagne houses in this city. It’s also home to some great chocolate companies, including Chocolaterie Thibaut, which makes champagne-filled confections. The best way to get a real feel for this town is to take the “Little Train.”
If you have some time free time in the region, also head to Parc Arboxygene and take the foot bridge to Pershing Bar, a champagne bar in a tree house!
Wineries Not To Miss
Keep in mind before going to champagne that not many champagne houses have regular tours. You will need to make an appointment for a tour. In some cases, you need to even make an appointment for a tasting, so lay out your plans before you depart.
In Reims, the two not to be missed are Veuve Clicquot and Krug. The story of Madam Cliquot, the first woman of champagne, is as fascinating as the caves that house their wonderful bubbly. Krug offers a different perspective. As the most expensive champagne you will find, Krug can be a house that focuses on perfection, not quantity.
No trip to Hautvillers is complete without visiting Dom Perignon, but take time to check out some of the smaller producers whose wines have never made it out of France, or Champagne Tribaut, a mid-sized house with some interesting offerings.
Epernay is the place to visit the big houses lined up on the streets. Perrier Jouet and Piper-Heidsieck are two great ones to visit. The tour at Perrier Jouet is one of the best, and includes a trip through the bottling line. Moet Chandon is at the cutting edge in champagne, introducing new lines and options (check out their portable champagne bottles for one).
Places to Stay
You will find hotels, inns and bed and breakfast type accommodations throughout the Champagne region.
Hotel de la Paix is a good option in Reims. It’s a modern, full-service hotel in the center of the city. From there, it’s an easy walk to the downtown shopping and historical sites. This is technically a Best Western, but not like any you’ve ever seen.
When you are in Epernay, Hotel Jean Moet offers a quaint accommodation in an 18th century building with a garden-like courtyard that offers breakfast to all guests. There are only 12 rooms here so be sure to book in advance.
For an extremely unique accommodation, you must go to Le Maison de Rhodes in Troyes, which belonged to the Knights Templar of the Malta in the 12th century. Every room is different and you’ll get a glimpse into Medieval Times in all.
Restaurants to Eat at
When in Reims, Les Crayeres (which is also a first class accommodation) is the place. The Le Jardin Brasserie is a popular place for the local winemakers to lunch, with each other or to do tastings with their guests. Le Parc Restaurant is the place for your most memorable meal in Champagne, with five star service and unforgettable food.
La Brasserie Parisienne in Epernay is the perfect restaurant for an authentic, champagne filled lunch. For dinner, go to La Cave A Champagne and have the Coq au Vin.
Au Chant Des Galipes in Trepail is another spot you should try to make time for. In this small town you can also taste some of the Georges Maizières champagne.
It’s really difficult to see Champagne-Ardenne without a car. The best place to start is in Paris. From there you can rent a car and drive about an hour to Reims. There is also train service from Paris to Reims and it’s only a 45 minute ride. Rental cars are available in Reims.
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