Perhaps everyone knows about champagne: the barely audible fizz, the tiny sparkling bubbles, the clink of glasses, and the bliss when a bottle is opened. But have you ever wondered, where does the name of this drink come from? Rolling on the chalk plains and hills of northeastern France, the Champagne region has proudly given its name to the world’s most renowned sparkling wine.
Champagne has a long tradition of winemaking. The Romans were the first to cultivate grapes in the northeastern part of France in this hilly area. In the following centuries, wines were produced by the monks and they were used in various church rituals, including the coronation. However, the first bottle of sparkling wine wasn’t produced until the 17th century and champagne became a status symbol associated with luxury, nobility, and royalty.
Today, sparkling wines are produced globally. But only those that come from the specific geographic zone between Reims and Epernay can be labeled as champagne. The wines must also be made from at least one of these three grape varieties: black Pinot Noir, black Pinot Meunier, and white Chardonnay. From Veuve Clicquot to Taittinger, you can find most leading manufacturers of champagne around Reims – the de facto capital of the region. However, my favorite one lies about 25 kilometers south of that city, in the small town of Épernay.
Lying in the heart of the “champagne kingdom”, Épernay is home to many of the most famous champagne producers, including Moët & Chandon and Perrier-Jouët. The small town might look ordinary at first glance, but beneath its main street – the Avenue de Champagne, millions of champagne bottles are stored in endless long wine cellars.
As fans of Moët & Chandon, we were keen to visit their wine cellar as part of a guided tour. The tour must be booked in advance on their website, but the payment is made when you arrive. The tour began with a brief introduction to the Moët & Chandon mansion and the family’s history. Then, we were led to the wine cellar where our tour guide revealed the secrets behind the sophisticated processes – governed by the strictest of rules – that transform the world’s most pampered grapes into the fabled Moët & Chandon champagne. The tour ended with the wine tasting where one or two types of drinks will be served, depending on your choice when making payment.
Besides the world-famous bubbly, the Champagne region is also home to several architectural wonders. Most noteworthy is perhaps the Notre Dame de Reims. Constructed in the 13th century, the Gothic cathedral was a masterpiece of the Middle Age with two soaring towers dominating the skyline of Reims.
It has a magnificent façade carved with angels, saints, and colorful stainless glasses. Notre Dame de Reims played an important role in French history as various French kings were crowned here, including Charles VI and Charles VII. Badly damaged in the First World War, the cathedral has been painstakingly restored to its true glory.
Tips for visiting Champagne
- Just less than one hour by train from Paris, Champagne is ideal for a day trip.
- Most champagne manufacturers offer wine cellar visits, including the small ones. Check their respective websites for more information.
- Reims (old town) and Épernay are relatively small, and thus can be explored on foot. Alternatively, you can use the modern and extensive tram network in Reims. It costs around 4€ for a day ticket.
24 thoughts on “Dive into the World of Champagne”
We recently came home from a road trip to France. Had a stop in Reims and really liked the city, well worth a visit. Even better with the possibility to try the champagne 🙂
Indeed! In my case, the champagne testing was the main reason that lured me to the region. The cathedral is an add-on 😉
By the way, how can I follow/subscribe your blog? It took me a while but I couldn’t find the follow button 🙂
Same for us actually 🙂
I will see if I’m able to re-add the follow button. It disappeared at the last update. Thank you for letting me know 🙂
Excellent, Len! I keep very nice memories from the Champagne region, in my case we visited the Castellane’s cellars, but also popped in the boutique of Moët & Chandon. Very nice reportage 🙂
Yes, the Champagne region is well worth visiting, even for those who don’t drink Champagne.
Reims also has a nice opera house where I saw a beautiful production of Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo.
A visit to those impressive cellars, taking a sip (or two) of the lovely champagne, then a stop at the magnificent Gothic cathedral… sounds like a perfect getaway, Len! However I wonder about the food, though. Is there any local specialty in the region between Reims and Épernay?
Ah, yes! There is the Champagne biscuit which is served together with the champagne. People dip it into the wine before eating. The most popular Champagne biscuit is the Pink Biscuit de Reims. Some people like it, but it is definitively not my taste 🙂
Vietnam also has its own version of Champagne biscuit. Instead of sparkling wine, we dip the biscuit into ice-cream 🙂
The title said it all! I really want to experience this when I go back to France.
If you can hold liquor, I suggest you visit multiple champagne houses. I intended to do that but I was drunk after two Grand Vintage 🙂
Haha sadly, I am usually done after my second glass 😁
Welcome in club! 😀
I didn’t know that champagne was actually referring to a region… silly me. Look like some very expensive mansions there. The French have expensive taste…
I had the same thought before visiting the region. I thought “champagne” is the general term for sparkling wine 🙂
One of my colleagues just came back from France today and said she did a tour of 14 wineries in 5 days (including the ones in your post!). I would have been drunk by all of that…
I loved the pictures and really enjoyed the article. Delightful on every level.
Many thanks for your very kind words! 🙂
You are so welcome 🙂
Beautiful captures Len and a lovely tour of champagne country. My husband and I visited several years ago so it was a lovely reminder for me!
We visited some years ago. My husband is an oenophile altho we are not champagne lovers. It’s very beautiful there and your images are wonderful. You brought me some wonderful memories too Len!
Same here 🙂 I’m not a big fan of champagne (or bubble wines in general). But the estate is definitely worth seeing. It’s also an informative trip for me. Before, I thought making champagne is more or less the same with other bubble wines. But the process is more complex, and there are many strict requirements.
Beautiful towns, wonderful drink….what’s not to love! I’ve been on plenty of wine tours/tastings but not specifically sparkling wine (which I adore!). I didn’t realize this region is so close to Paris. I’m heading to Normandy/Brittany in September, via Paris and now I’m very tempted to add in Champagne (too much great stuff to see)!
You can make a day trip from Paris. It’s pretty simple and won’t take much time. How long will you be in Normandy? I guess St. Michel and St. Malo will be on your list 🙂
We will be there for about a month, but doing slow travel with our bikes through coastal Normandy and Brittany. Yes, Mt. St. Michel and St. Malo definitely on the list, but itinerary is flexible.
Great! I wish you a pleasant time, and a lot of sunshine 😀