ONLY A DAY IN CHAMPAGNE?
Tasting champagne at Champagne Houses along the rightly famed Avenue de Champagne, at bars run by individual growers or groups, and building up a thirst at the Museum of Champagne and Regional Archaeology, are among the highlights
Set in the centre of Champagne, Épernay is a delightful stop, with a lot of attractions close together for walking, and very handy to its train station. If you catch the train from Paris Gare de l’Est, relax and enjoy Champagne’s vineyard scenery from Chateau-Thierry onwards, and watch out for Madame Clicquot’s wonderfully palatial home, the neo-Renaissance style Château de Boursault, which is not visible from the nearby road.
Another alternative is to catch the train from Reims. On this journey, view the vineyards on the undulating, slowly rising hills of the Montagne de Reims, notice the disposition of the slopes and the type of topsoil. You’ll pass through Premier Cru plantings of Trois-Puits, Montbré and Rilly-la-Montagne before the tunnel where the Germans stored munitions during the wars. Exiting the darkness, see a small vineyard at Germaine on the top of the Montagne, likely to be trimmed somewhat from the appellation when it’s updated. As you descend, note the vineyards of Fontaine-sur-Aÿ as the slopes to left and right of you give way to the Grande Vallée de la Marne’s Premier Cru village of Avenay Val d’Or,before reaching the magnificient Grand Cru terroir of Aÿ.
Train time-table and ticket purchase available online here or buy your ticket from an English-friendly machine at the station.
So, having parked (parking is easy for a fee), or walked from the station, consider a little champagne stroll, under 450 metres or 1700 metres if you can manage it all. Total return journey is 3.4km, but you won’t notice it.
Directly across Place Pierre Mendès in front of the station, glance to the right to take in the attractive old church, Église Notre Dame d’Épernay, but continue straight ahead from the station to rue Gambetta. At the end of the street, take the second exit to the delightful and historic Avenue de Champagne, graced on either side by many stately Houses of Champagne, some of which are open for visits.
Perhaps begin just after the tourist office on the left, at the Museum of Champagne and Regional Archaeology, which has opened in Chateau Perrier, 13 Ave de Champagne. This wonderful new museum features geology, archaeology, champagne history, the collections of early benefactors of Champagne, changing historical exhibitions, lectures, school holiday activities and a research centre holding hundreds of historical documents. You could easily become engrossed here for a couple of hours. Particularly intriguing are the little puffers which emanate aromas of 2, 4, 6 and eight year old champagnes made from the three main grape varieties.
CHATEAU PERRIER……IMAGE COPRIGHT © PERRIER CHAMAGNE
You could cross the road at this point, to visit the largest champagne house at No. 20, the very popular caves of Moët & Chandon, with a glass of their product to consume at the end, the choice depending on how much you have chosen to pay (I prefer the vintage myself, although the NV seems to taste better in Champagne). Reserve at the Moët desk, by phone, +33 (0) 3 26 51 22 00, or online. Opposite the cellars is the sumptuous mansion which Jean-Remy Moët built for Napoleon’s visits.
Next on the right after Moët & Chandon is Perrier-Jouët’s delightful art deco mansion. Maison Belle Époque is at No. 26 and has recently opened for visits which were once exclusively reserved for the trade. Book interesting, guided tastings at the atelier from June 2023. Or return for a lunch surrounded by splendour on Fridays or Saturdays. The bar is open, but the website hasn’t been updated at the time of writing.
TASTINGS ARE AVAILABLE
dependent on trading hours at most of the following establishments
Champagne A. Bergere, 40 Ave de Champagne.
Champagne Boizel, highly recommended, located at No. 46. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Bookings for visits and/or tastings. Why not try the divinely joyous Joyau de France?
Pay attention while crossing the roundabout to Champagne Mercier, which, at No. 68, provides a Disneyesque elevator descent to a train guided by laser through their super long caves, with audio guide adjusted to the language of your choice. Depending on your selection, consume one to three glasses of a traditional champagne which is very popular in France, and, if you choose three types of champagne, expect some attentive and informative service from their knowledgeable staff. An upgrade to the premises is in the works, so do check the opening hours.
CHAMPAGE MERCIER RECEPTION…………..IMAGE COPYRIGHT © CHAMPAGNE MERCIER
Now cross the road and begin retracing your steps.
Champagne Elodie D, an old Épernay producer approaching organic status, is at No. 73 Ave de Champagne with Bulles et Bonheur, which, loosely translated, means ‘bubbles and good times’.
Champagne de Castellane (notice the tall tower as the landmark) founded in 1895 by Florens de Castellane, is situated at No. 63 Ave de Champagne.
Champagne Paul-Etienne St. Germain and others are at 51 Ave de Champagne.
Champagne Michel Gonet sources grapes throughout Champagne. 37 Ave de Champagne.
At No. 33, historic Champagne de Venoge is open daily 10:00am–6:00pm. Make bookings for tours or just tastings using this link.
Champagne Leclerc-Briant, one of the biodynamic pioneers of Champagne, may be found at bis25 (‘bis’ in French addresses would be described as ‘a’ in English, so bis 25 would be like 25a) Ave de Champagne.
Champagne Esterlin, a co-operative, is at 25 Ave de Champagne.
At No. 19, there’s an eponymously named ‘champagne bar’ run by the Syndicat des Vignerons, where various growers’ champagnes are featured on tasting.
At No. 15, find the tasting room of the delightful grower domaine, Champagne Collard-Picard. Open daily details here.
Then return to the Pl de la République for Champagne Janisson Baradon et Fils, who grow grapes in and around Épernay, Champagne Patrick Boivin, who also grows grapes in and around Épernay, and 5th generation Champagne Vincent Testulat.
Perhaps you’d better catch the late train or you’ll need another couple of days in Champagne……!
La Grillade Gourmande (excellent), a particular favourite, at 16 rue de Reims.
Why Not 5 Place Pierre Mendes.
Symbiose 5 rue de Reims.
Cave à Champagne 16 rue Gambetta.
Le P’tit Champenois, whose many champagnes are associated with the bar across the street, La Fine Bulle Bar á Champagne, 17 rue Gambetta.
La Banque Bar Restaurant, on the Pl de la République, open 7 days.