Pop! The land that produces the king of sparkling wines is a treasure trove of rolling hills, ancient cellars and traditions just waiting to be opened. Read Lonely Planet's travel guide to Champagne.
Champagne travel guide
Champagne is France’s great enigma: the world’s most famous bubbly and an undisputed icon of Gallic glamour, yet most French people have little idea of the complex, almost mystical, secrets that go into producing Champagne.
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A trip into the magical land of Champagne is very much an emotional experience. Here you can witness perfectly cultivated vines hanging with clusters of grapes bursting with juice that will soon be harvested and begin the long, complex transformation into the one and only Champagne. Take a pilgrimage through the centuries-old maze of cellars beneath the likes of Ruinart or Pommery that resemble a holy subterranean cathedral, or savour the simple pleasure of a smallholder vigneron pouring a bubbly glass of his latest vintage. Accept the sly persuasion that he may sell most of his grapes to the famous producers, but keeps the best for his personal production sold directly from the independent winery. The region’s bucolic vineyards stretch across rolling hills and sleepy villages that begin just an hour’s drive from Paris, although wine lovers often limit themselves to a trip to Reims. A regal city, Reims is home to the likes of Veuve Clicquot and Mumm, where incredible cellars, storing millions of bottles, are packed every day for tours. But Champagne is a complex mosaic of thousands of tiny vignerons, some making their own Champagne, others just supplying grapes to the luxury Champagne houses, an almost feudal relationship unchanged for centuries. So, after visiting Reims, head off into the countryside and meet these independent winemakers, who will explain the blending of Champagne’s three grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – the difference between ‘millesime’ vintage and an NV (the Anglicised Non Vintage), and insider secrets like the use of the ‘liqueur de dosage’ of cane sugar added in the final ‘assemblage’, which brings a special dimension to each Champagne.
Charles de Gaulle is the nearest airport, 130km from Reims. The train from Paris to Reims takes 50min. Car hire is available.
Champagne travel guide: Where to stay
Domaines les Crayeres
For the full Champagne experience, reserve at this grand château built by the family of Madame Pommery. It’s sumptuously furnished, with a two-star Michelin restaurant.
www.lescrayeres.com; tel +33 3 26 24 90 00; 64 Blvd Henry Vasnier, Reims
Claude and Ginette Rimaire pamper guests in their cosy home on Ave de Champagne, which Churchill named ‘the world’s most drinkable address’. Hearty breakfast, and glass of Champagne on arrival included.
www.parvadomusrimaire.com; tel +33 3 26 32 40 74; 27 Ave de Champagne, Épernay
Champagne travel guide: Where to eat
La Grillade Gourmande
Favourite Épernay address where vignerons rub shoulders with owners of the Grandes Maisons. Try the hearth-grilled meat or delicate dishes like pigeon stuffed with foie gras.
lagrilladegourmande.com; tel +33 3 26 55 44 22; 16 Rue de Reims, Épernay
A perfect address for food and Champagne pairing, this designer bar serves a plate of local specialities – creamy Chaource cheese, Reims ham, smoky lentils and pink macarons – with three different Champagnes.
www.au36.net; tel +33 326 51 58 37; 38 Rue Dom Pérignon, Hautvillers
Bistrot la Medelon
Far from Champagne’s many gourmet dining rooms, this old-fashioned village bistro serves a generous plat du jour such as slow-cooked veal.
www.bistrot-madelon.com; tel +33 3 26 53 14 18; 7 Grande Rue, Mancy
Champagne travel guide: What to do
Notre-Dame de Reims is a must-see 800-yearold Gothic cathedral, the historic venue for the coronation of the kings of France.
Épernay celebrates Habits de Lumière for three days in mid-December, when Champagne flows amid fireworks, flamboyant light shows and street theatre.
Reproduced with permission from Wine Trails, 1st edn. © 2015 Lonely Planet.