As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve always been quite surprised by how long it took us to visit France’s Champagne region. Especially given how much we enjoy the famous local product.
I always thought that we would have to do a tour of the area, but I could never find one that quite suited our needs. And despite me asking anyone and everyone for a tour recommendation, the responses I got were usually a bit underwhelming.
Eventually, after a bit more questioning and a lot more reading, I worked out that you could essentially craft your own tour of the Champagne region – and its famous Champagne houses.
And that’s exactly what we did during one of our visits to France.
To help out anyone else who might be keen to explore the area, here are our do-it-yourself suggestions for visiting the Champagne region of France.
One – Decide which Champagne houses you want to visit
A massive number of choices make this step easier said than done. All of the well known (and many of the lesser known) Champagne houses seem to offer a variety of guided visits for you to choose from. And the on-line reviews aren’t a lot of help – apparently every visit of every is house is considered the very best!
Like anything, you only seem to be limited by the time you have available and your budget. However, it appears that for many of the guided visits, booking is essential, so you really are best to give it some thought before you go.
Given Scott and I were only planning to be in the region for one day, we really wanted to see and learn as much as possible. We were also keen to see the crayères or chalk mines the region is famous for. So we centred our ‘house research’ around the houses in Reims that offer tours of the mines.
After much deliberation, we decided to make a very big day of it and visit both the houses of Veuve Clicquot and Ruinart.
Veuve Clicquot offers three different guided visits at various times and price points. I reserved our visit in advance via the internet and paid for it on the day of our visit.
Ruinart offers one style of guided visit at different times of the day. These visits must be pre-booked and paid for in advance. We booked in for the 4:00pm time slot so we would have time for lunch and to visit the famous Reims cathedral between our Champagne house visits.
Two – Get yourself to the Champagne Region from Paris. And get yourself back again
I guess you could hire a car from Paris if you were
a) Brave enough to drive in Paris; and
b) didn’t want to taste any bubbly.
Unsurprisingly, we decided to take the train.
Our extremely fast, super smooth TGV service left Paris at 8:00am from Gare de l’Est (also known as Paris-Est) and delivered us to Reims in around 45 minutes. You can book and pay for your train tickets in advance on line. But do make sure that your destination is Reims rather than the Gare de Champagne-Ardenne. Stopping there would leave you in a difficult spot, about five kilometres south of Reims itself.
Although we didn’t do it, it would be easy to take a connecting train to the capital of the Champagne region, Épernay. Apparently Épernay itself is beautiful and worth a visit in its own right. I’ve definitely put it on the to-do list for a future trip.
Returning to Paris was equally easy, with trains returning to Paris regularly. Again, the travel time was only 45 minutes.
Of course, with the luxury of more time, you could easily stay in the area for longer. There were many forms of accommodation in Reims. Perfect if you felt like exploring more of the area – or spacing out your champagne tastings!
Three – Getting around the area
Regular readers will be aware that Scott and I tend to do a lot of walking while we are in France. There’s one reason for that – you just get to see so much more.
And while we were in Reims, it was no different. We arrived in Reims at 8.45am, checked out a map at the Tourist Information Centre (which is conveniently located at the station) and then started walking. The town of Reims is really quite charming, despite suffering a fair amount of damage due to bombing in World War Two. A number of older buildings remain intact, with squares and green areas providing space for visitors and locals alike.
We were due at Veuve Clicquot at 10:00am. As it happens, Veuve Clicquot is the house farthest from the railway station, on the outskirts of Reims. The walk itself took a little over 30 minutes so we arrived with plenty of time to spare.
That said, other visitors on both our morning and afternoon tours chose to take taxis which seemed to be in good supply, with the staff at the Champagne houses ordering taxis for visitors at the end of the tours.
We also had time to walk back into the centre of Reims between our visits to the houses for lunch and to visit the gothic Reims cathedral.
All in all, our do-it-yourself visit to Champagne worked a treat. We had a fantastic day in a beautiful town. And I would recommend the DIY option to anyone else struggling to select a tour of the region.
Have you ever visited Reims? Did you take a tour? Or did you go with a Do-It-Yourself visit to Champagne? Do you have a favourite Champagne House? I’d love for you to share your experience in the comments section below.
And until next time – au revoir.
Check out another of our Do-It-Yourself French Wine Region Tours here.