FRENCH CHAMPAGNE COUNTRYSIDE TRAVEL TIPS

Bonjour!

With a little more effort and time you can actually make your way out to what I call “French Champagne countryside.”  This is the perfectly picturesque area of France where every inch of ground is covered in grape vines, one lane roads and cute family run champagne houses nestled into the rolling hills.  The calm and beauty of this area is just plain good for the heart, mind and soul.

So lets get started with my FRENCH CHAMPAGNE COUNTRYSIDE TRAVEL TIPS:

CHAMPAGNE COUNTRY – (PART II)

You can sign up for a tour out in these parts but I would highly recommend exploring on your own with a rental car.  Driving is easy out there, just keep an eye out for the speed traps!

EPERNAY

Epernay is about a 30 min drive from Reims.   It is the next big town from Reims where many of the other Champagne houses are located.  I liked this town for the poshly manicured “Champagne Avenue” and options for an inexpensive lunch.  It was a treat to get an appointment at Moet et Chandon / Dom Perignon.  This tour was defiantly worth the trip out there.  This is the Champagne house that started it all, so the history is incredibly deep routed. The tour of the cellars were very good and it ended with drinking vintage champagne, so no complaints there. Be sure to call or email a week in advance to reserve your tour!

Another big Champagne house I would recommend visiting is Castellane. Can’t miss it; there is a large tower that is the focal point of Epernay. Reservations are mandatory but easy to get same day.

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While the big, highly recognized Champagne houses like Moet are great, there are literally hundreds more you drive buy as you make your way around this region.  Most don’t distribute but nearly all have tours/tastings. I would have to say that my favorite tour of my entire trip was Champagne Launois et Fils, and it was in French. There was a mistake and we were signed up for a French tour instead of an English one but we decided to go anyway as we had made the trip out there.  (Definitely make sure to clarify you want an English tour if that is what you prefer.)  I have a good handle on French so this wasn’t the end of the world for me, but it would have been nice to understand some smaller things I am sure I missed due to the language barrier.  The tour guide did her best to clarify in her best English when I didn’t understand something, but she didn’t know much English at all.  Good chance to practice my French though! 🙂

This is a fantastic 2 hour tour.  They have a museum on site and the history of how Champagne came about. It was neat to see that all of the champagne houses of the region have contributed in some way to this museum to complete the story.  I don’t do museums very well so I was hesitant at first, but it turned out to be an incredibly fascinating tour.  At the end they bring you in this awesome cave to do three tastes.  In America a taste is 1oz per taste. Apparently in France it is 3 full glasses.  So plan accordingly! Can’t give a higher recommendation and the tour is only 8euro.

Sorry for the poor photo quality on these, but this is a photo of grape vines that the vineyard workers carved into art on their breaks.  Centuries old.

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HAUTVILLERS

If there is only one place you can stop in Champagne country, please make it Hautvillers. (Pronounced OTT-VEE-AY) What a darling little town perched up on a hill overlooking all of the vineyards (in between Reims and Epernay.)  This town is most famous for it’s chapel where Dom Perignon’s grave is. For those of you who don’t know, Dom Perignon was a monk who developed the method of making champagne.  Everything in this town was just so sweet, right down the the people who live there. We literally stumbled upon this tiny champagne house because we were looking at their view from their little estate.  While we were caught taking pictures of their view the owner popped out to say hello.  After chatting for a few moments she welcomed us down to her terrace and offered us some of their estate grown bubbles.  2 hours later, we had met the whole family. The mother-in-law who was excited to practice her English, the daughter who was excited to show off her new shoes grandma just bought her, down to their sweet puppy dog that was getting into everything.  We managed to do pretty well in our broken French-English conversation. Made it through helping each other find the right word in our respective languages. Their bubbles were fantastic and you could purchase a bottle for 12euros.  Incredible. What a treat this was. I am so glad we met Cecile and her husband Olivier. They also run a small B&B that I would highly recommend as well, the hosts are awesome and the views are spectacular from their home. Chambres d’Hotes La Chevalee. Look them up and stop by if you are ever in town, you won’t regret it!

(photo below is my husband in the vineyards taking photos in Hautvillers)

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In closing, my time spent in Champagne was perfect. I wouldn’t have done it any differently. If you ever head out that way, my best advice is to give the little guys a shot.  The big champagne houses are awesome, organized and informative but sometimes the real fun comes when you can actually sit down with the family who tends to their own vines and and is happy to share a story or two over a glass of bubbles.