In the seven year history of Distant Francophile, one post has stood out clearly as the most popular. Since it was posted in 2015, it’s had far more views than any other.
Curious to know what francophiles and travellers are keen to learn about?
Champagne. And specifically our do-it-yourself visit to the Champagne region.
Now, I’m not at all surprised that Champagne tours rank high on the list of things that people might want to do while they’re in France. The picturesque region is easily accessible from Paris. And the famed local product provides a unique window into a world of French luxury and history. If you were going to do a tour of anywhere in France, you could do worse than to visit a champagne house in Reims, Épernay or one of the surrounding villages in the area.
But as the years have passed, I’d become concerned that the information in the original post was potentially outdated or no longer relevant. So, during our last visit to France, Scotty and I decided that we should take ourselves back to Champagne. Why? In order to share up-to-date information for anyone who might be keen to do their own tour.
I know, I know. The lengths we go to in providing the Distant Francophile readers with accurate information 🙂
After much deliberation, we again decided to jump back on a train from Paris and head directly to Reims, in order to align this update to the original post. But we’re determined to get ourselves to Épernay if we’re ever allowed to travel again, and I promise I’ll write about that experience too.
It’s worth noting that so far we’ve not been able to squeeze both Reims and Épernay – the key towns of the Champagne region – into a single day trip. But that has more to do with our personal choice to walk as much as possible while we’re travelling. If you’re happy to use taxis from the railway stations to the Champagne houses, I’m sure you’d be able to visit both towns on one day.
Getting to Reims
I’m not sure if I should have been surprised or not by the fact that the train timetable had barely changed in the time since our first trip. There are still many regular services from Paris to Reims all leaving from Gare de l’Est (also known as Paris-Est). The journey is smooth and speedy, taking less than hour. Like our initial trip, we booked and paid for our tickets online, making sure that we were headed to the centre of Reims rather than Gare de Champagne-Ardenne, which is outside the town.
As it happened, on this particular trip, we needed to change trains at the Champagne-Ardenne TGV station. The station feels large and modern, although I’m not quite what I base that perception on, given we our change saw us simply walking across the platform. As with our first visit to Champagne, we were again blessed with beautiful weather for our trip. But I have to say that it was fairly cool on the platform that morning as we waited for the second train. I’d definitely recommend travelling with an extra lightweight layer to beat the chill. And you’ll need it again when you get into the crayères, as they’re quite cool – just how the bubbly likes it.
So, Which Champagne Houses Did We Visit This Time?
As we did on our first visit, we chose to pre-book the top of the range ‘Aromatically Yours’ tour at Veuve Clicquot. It’s the priciest of their tours and only available at certain times of the year. But if you can make it work, it really is a fabulous opportunity to introduce your palate to the subtleties of vintage champagnes. The tour staff are fun, friendly and so knowledgable. Meaning that although we’d done the tour previously, we still learned a lot. And the experience of a champagne tasting in a crayère (chalk cave) was awesome enough that we were keen to try it again. The cheese they serve with the champagne isn’t bad either.
We were pleased to discover that our tour of Veuve Clicquot was super consistent with our original visit. I guess that if you’re onto a good thing, why mess with it? You can read about that first visit here.
Another Champagne House To Visit – La Maison Pommery
Both the champagne houses we toured on our first visit were at the top end of their price brackets. This time though, we decided to seek out a more budget friendly option. One that not only provided a chance to taste those bubbles but also introduces visitors to the crayères where the champagne matures.
La Maison Pommery have numerous tours available. And the Pommery Brut Royal self – guided tour turned out to be the perfect option. We didn’t need a booking, which is ideal for anyone with a fluid itinerary or if you just don’t want to lock yourself into any specifics. A contemporary art installation down in the chalk caves adds something extra to the visit. The modern art is a perfect counterpoint for the history you take in as you explore the champagne making process. We finished our visit with another champagne tasting – of course. And at just over twenty euros per person, this tour provided excellent value for money.
On our first do-it-yourself tour of Champagne we walked back into Reims for lunch before heading back out to Ruinart. This time around, because the Veuve Clicquot and Pommery cellars were relatively close together. So we did both our champagne tours before heading back into Reims for a late lunch. We also took the chance to revisit the Reims cathedral. Notre-Dame de Reims is an impressive example of gothic architecture and the cathedral where the French kings were coronated. We finished our day with a wander through the streets of Reims before jumping back on the train to Paris.
The whole day reminded us how easy it is to tailor your own tour of the Champagne region from Paris. It definitely confirmed that you don’t need to join a guided tour if they don’t suit your travel style. With a little planning and some internet research you can definitely create a memorable day out. And I was pleased to discover that my original post from 2015 had stood the test of time.
Have you ever put together your own tour of the Champagne region? Or is a visit to the area still on your ‘must see’ list? Either way, I’d love for you to share you thoughts – and to ask any questions – in the comments section below.
And until next time – au revoir.
P.S. One side note about this visit…The legends of both these champagne houses revolve around the women who ran the businesses after their husbands passed. I loved this book about Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin. And you can find out more about Louise Pommery here.