With its regal capital, picturesque villages and photogenic valleys, the Champagne region deserves to be fêted for more than its star drink. Paris to Champagne is less than an hour by train, so Reims is a no-brainer for a day trip, thanks to its history-laden streets, imposing cathedral and gourmet haunts. But for a real taste of the region, stay a night or two: there are cellars to explore, traditional cuisine to sample and luxuriant forests to zip around in. Champagne is at its finest in the autumn, when the harvest is over and locals make the most of the region’s stellar produce and slower pace of life. Happily, it’s a delight year-round: book a romantic spa break in the winter, or spend a week in the summer picnicking with the whole family around the verdant countryside. Come and explore the Champagne region, France: we’ve picked the very best of this unique region.
There’s much to enjoy in the Champagne region’s liveliest city – not the least of which its regal monuments, atmospheric wine cellars and fine-dining scene. Here are the highlights.
Lively and compact, Reims’s city centre is a pleasure to explore on foot. Get your bearings on Place Royale, a handsome plaza with elegant arcades that sets a regal tone for the city. Tick its three UNESCO-protected sites off your list. Start at Notre-Dame de Reims, a behemoth of a cathedral and the site of French coronations for some 800 years. Take in its triumphant Gothic statuary and Marc Chagall’s more recent – though equally masterful – stained-glass windows. Coronation banquets were held next door at Palais du Tau; these days, the archbishops’ former residence displays royal tapestries, chalices and talismans in its treasury. Saint-Remi Basilica rounds off this imposing trio – a Romanesque beauty housing the eponymous saint’s relics.
With its chic terrace, exposed brick walls and family-friendly menu, Bâm is a crowd-pleaser. Expect charcuterie platters, creamy burrata and seasonal pizzas. For a special occasion, Michelin-starred Racine pulls out all the stops: chef Kazuyuki Tanaka’s precise, Japanese-influenced cuisine is as easy on the eyes as it is on the palate. Blue-fronted deli Au Bon Manger has just a handful of tables; commandeer one for a glass of natural wine and plate of terrine or smoked salmon. If you’re short on time, owner Aline Serva will gladly curate a box of champagne bottles to take home. Pair them with a biscuit rose from Biscuiterie de Reims or Maison Fossier, who’ve reinvented the traditional dipping treat as a crunchy, almond-flavoured toast spread.
You’d be remiss to leave town without at least one visit to a Champagne house. Maison Ruinart was the very first and has been going for 290 years; book ahead for a tasting and a tour of its remarkable chalk cellars. If you don’t have time to hit the vineyards, Champagne Lanson has its own bijou plot in the heart of Reims, so you can see how the bubbles are made from start to finish. Gourmands should make a beeline for Les Halles du Boulingrin, a covered market selling artisanal breads, cheeses and local produce, then stop for lunch at Brasserie Boulingrin. For a spot of shopping, hit rue Condorcet or rue de Vesle. Department store Galeries Lafayette has an outpost here, and you’ll find cool concept store Paulette on nearby Passage Talleyrand. Get away from the city with a stroll on the Coulée Verte, a waterside pathway linking the canal to the river Vesle.
Direct trains from Paris Gare de l’Est take about 45 minutes. It’s worth bringing your own wheels if you plan on exploring further afield; the journey takes just under two hours along the A4 highway.
If you’re in the mood for a deep dive in all things bubbly, base yourself in Épernay. This prosperous town is home to some of the biggest names in the trade – and perfectly positioned for jaunts along the Champagne Route.
Épernay would be a peaceful, under-the-radar provincial town, were it not for its grand Avenue de Champagne. Lined on both sides with the monumental houses of famous champagne brands, all in unique architectural styles, it stretches over a kilometre from town to vineyards. Moët & Chandon’s HQ, at number 20, plays host to a jovial statue of Dom Pérignon, a 17th-century monk and innovative cellar master. Nearby, the Hôtel de Ville’s magnificent gardens take their design cues from Versailles; linger a while over a picnic. When you’ve taken in the sights, it’s time to hit the roads. A 90-minute drive away, the Trois-Fontaines Abbey is worth the trip for its cinematic ruins, sprawling grounds and quirky bicycle museum.
In the heart of Épernay’s pedestrian zone, La Cloche à Fromage is just the spot for picnic supplies. You’ll need little else than a fresh baguette from the nearby baker, some farmhouse cheeses, and a jar or two of small-batch chutney. For a family-friendly meal, L’Oeil de Boeuf serves steaks and grilled fish; its profiteroles and crême brûlée are a sure-fire hit with little ones. Symbiose rustles up modern fare in an elegant setting: expect a seasonally changing menu and expertly plated courses. Michelin-star gourmet stop Les Berceaux is all about tradition. Tables are draped in crisp linen, the champagne list is extensive and the local terroir gets pride of place on the menu.
Once you’ve snapped your selfie with Dom Pérignon, head down to Moët & Chandon’s wine cellars, some 28km of maze-like tunnels carved from the region’s characteristic white chalk. It’s an atmospheric setting to learn the intricacies of champagne’s production process; book ahead for a tour and a glass or two of fine vintages. The nearby villages of Champillon, Dizy and Aÿ are picturesque and well worth a visit. Stop by Champagne Roger Brun, where charismatic owner Philippe Brun will regale you with colourful tales and expert food-pairing advice. It’s a hop and a skip to the Cité du Champagne, a cooperative offering tastings, masterclasses and the odd barrel-making workshop. If you’re travelling en famille, drop by Verzy’s Perching, a treetop champagne bar nestled in the heart of a forest equipped with kid-friendly ziplines.
By car, Épernay is a half-hour from Reims and two hours from Paris. You’ll need to change to in Reims if you’re travelling by train; the journey from there takes about 40 minutes.
At the southern tip of the Champagne region, this postcard-worthy town is a treat for medieval buffs – and a picturesque base for family-friendly excursions.
With its cobbled streets, colourful 16th-century houses and striking churches, Troyes seems plucked out of a classic Disney film. Stroll around the old town, nicknamed Le Bouchon for its serendipitous cork shape. Look out for the Ruelle des Chats, an alleyway so narrow you’ll feel transported to the Middle Ages. Gothic Troyes Cathedral is another fine example of the genre, though its steeple – hit by a tornado and struck by lightning – was never rebuilt. Craft museum Maison de l’Outil might sound a bit niche, but it’s remarkably well put together. Its Game of Thrones-worthy displays of axes, cleavers and saws are sure to spark curiosity in little ones. Let them run wild in Jardin de la Vallée Suisse, a romantic park with a stream and waterfall set up in the ditches along the town’s ancient fortifications.
For lunch, grab one of the mismatched tables at Aux Oiseaux de Passage, a laid-back hangout on the banks of the Seine. The veggie-friendly menu changes weekly depending on what looks good at the market: chilled fennel soup, say, or roasted cheese with honey and golden frites. For a local experience, head to one of Troyes’ wine bars. Aux Crieurs de Vin is serious about provenance, both for its small plates and extensive wine list. On Ruelle des Chats, Le Lapin Bleu has old-school good looks. Pintxos change with the seasons, sharing platters run from foie gras to Hungarian ham and bubbles come bottled or by the glass. Stylish Le Polipo peddles a pared-down Italian menu: burrata-topped figs, wood-fired pizzas and a cheeky spoonful or two of creamy tiramisu.
Once you’ve ticked off the main sights, take time exploring the surrounding countryside. Leave the Middle ages behind for the modern pleasures of a shopping trip. Bag a bargain at Marques City, Marques Avenue or McArthurGlen designer outlets, just outside of town. For a different sort of thrill, Manoir Devaux offers canoe trips in the Seine Valley, rewarded with a wine tasting. If that floats your boat, pay a visit to the man-made lakes deep in the Forêt d’Orient for a sail and a swim. Nigloland theme park has rollercoasters galore, with specially designed rides for the youngest of fun-seekers. Make sure to stop by Cellier Saint-Pierre before you head home; the specialist wine merchant is a proud distiller of a local spirit made from plum kernels.
By car, the journey from Paris takes just over two hours along the A5 highway. Direct trains from Gare de l’Est take an hour and 40 minutes.
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