The Champagne region is home to hundreds of champagne producers, almost all of whom welcome visitors. They range from the massive Moet and Chandon, where a tour costs from €13 to €25 (depending on the variety of bubbly you try at the end), to small farmhouses where the plonk is made on site, and you can try a glass or two for free.
Most of the big producers (Moet and Chandon, Taittinger, Pommery) offer English-language tours of their champagne cellars, which are a great way to learn about the famous drink and you’ll get to taste their product afterwards. Some of the tours of champagne tours need to be booked in advance. For others you just turn up. These underground cellars area constant 10-12C (take a jumper) and can stretch for kilometre after kilometre and hold literally millions of bottles of champagne.
The Champagne trail
The Champagne region has four well-marked trails that weave their way through mile after mile of vineyards, rolling countryside and charming villages that look like they’ve come from a film set they’re that authentically French. Driving along the route is a great way to get a feel for the region, and drop in at any of the dozens of champagne houses you’ll see along the way.
The capital of the Champagne region is a great base for exploring the region and an interesting city in its own right. Reims boasts the impressive Notre-Dame de Reims – the cathedral where the kings of France were crowned – as well as a plethora of historical monuments, castles, palaces and, of course, the finest champagne houses in the world. Also worth a look in Reims is the Museum of the Surender (Salle de Reddition), the site where the Germans surrendered World War II.
Phare de Verzenay
Is it the vastly fluctuating temperatures, the marly subsoil or just divine providence? To find out what it is that makes Champagne’s ‘terroir’ so special, start with a visit to the Musée de la Vigne housed in a rather randomly-placed lighthouse (phare). Built in 1909 by wine merchant Joseph Goulet as a promotional gimmick for his own Champagne du Phare, the lighthouse was once home to a restaurant, open-air dancefloor and theatre. The gardens still offer great panoramic views over the surrounding vineyards. See www.lepharedeverzenay.com.
Perched atop the vine-covered slopes of the ‘montagne de Reims’, this pretty village is known as the birthplace of champagne for its connection to Dom Pérignon, the 17th century monk whose discoveries shaped the methods of Champagne production still used today. Today, more than 80% of Hautvillers’ economy is dependent on Champagne. See www.hautvillers.fr.