Champagne, the famous bubbly everyone loves to celebrate to, is a region in France located 90km outside of Paris. All of the famous Champagne companies like Moet and Chandon, Veuve Cliquot, GG Mumm, and Pierre Paillard have cellars and vineyards in this region. The high speed trains make it easy to get here and makes for the perfect day trip for those looking to escape the crowds of Paris. I read countless blogs and articles on doing this trip and there really wasn’t a good resource that was helpful for those looking to do the trip on your own. Hopefully, this post will help those looking for the right information.
What makes Champagne Champagne?
Champagne, for those that do not know, is sparkling wine specifically from the region of Champagne. Any sparkling wine that is not from this region in France is simply sparkling wine and cannot be called Champagne. It is made from a combination of three grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Meunier.
It wasn’t until recent years when I started drinking wine that I learned of this fact. I, along with many others in the world, just considered Champagne the de facto noun to denote any sort of bubbly wine. It’s similar to people mistaking Kobe cows in Japan as all Japanese cows when it just means it is grown in the prefecture of Kobe, adhering to the stringent standards of the area.
In fact, only about 5% of the world’s sparkling wine is produced in France’s Champagne region.
Organized Tours or Do it yourself?
Given Champagne’s fame, you can expect a ton of organized tours that pick you up from Paris for the day. Given its popularity, these tours can book months in advance, especially for the summer months when the vineyards are their most vibrant right before the harvest. These tours are also quite expensive at 200-300 euros per person or so for just the day trip.
I was actually planning to visit The Palace of Versailles until I realized they were closed on Mondays. We decided to visit Champagne the night before so obviously booking a tour was out of the question. This is Europe however, and the transport is fantastic all over so there is absolutely no need to book a tour to visit Champagne. Doing this tour on our own was incredibly easy and this was easily one of the highlights of my time in France.
As I planned this trip last minute, I did everything on my own. The rest of this post will be for those looking to plan this trip on their own, or just to have a general idea of what the Champagne region is like.
Where to go in Champagne?
Champagne is the name of the region, and there are numerous towns within the region. Reims and Epernay are the largest and most central towns within the region. These two towns are about 40 minutes away from each other and for Paris day trippers, you’ll need to choose one or the other. There is not enough time to do both in the same day.
After doing a ton of research, I settled on Epernay. This is the smaller of the two towns and has a higher concentration of Champagne cellars and is less built up. Having been in Paris for a few days, I was keen to get away from the hectic nature of the city. Epernay is the perfect antidote. The town’s iconic Avenue de Champagne houses some of the most famous Champagne brands like Moet and Chandon, Pol Roger, Boizel etc and feels like you’re walking on a gold paved road.
Book cellar tours
Each Champagne house in Epernay works differently. Some only do reserved tours at set times, while others allow you to walk in and just taste their wines for a price. I would recommend booking a tour or two to get an overview of champagne production and then just tasting champagnes on your own. There’s no point to book multiple tours in a day as the variation between champagne making techniques is not something a novice champagne drinker will understand, let alone remember.
Champagne Cellars in the town, vineyards outside of town
The town of Epernay is where all the major champagne brands have their cellars and houses. The Avenue De Champagne runs through the town and is lined with dozens of huge and beautiful houses. Each house houses the company’s champagne in their underground cellars, as well as a house to showcase their product by offering tours, and just because they are cool enough to have an old estate.
The Vineyards themselves are located outside of the town. For example, Moet and Chandon produces and bottles all their wines at their estate in Epernay, but the grapes are grown outside of the town. I was envisioning sipping champagne with views of the vineyards and the rolling French countryside like my time in Stellenbosch, South Africa, but Epernay and Reims will not offer this. You’ll need to get out to the countryside yourself.
This is part of the reason I chose Epernay. While looking at a map, I could see that Epernay was right near the countryside whereas Reims is a bit further out. Logically, I just figured it would be easier to get to the countryside from Epernay than Reims (and I was correct!)
Getting to Champagne from Paris
The high speed SNCF trains make it a breeze to get to the Champagne region. All trains leave from Paris Gare De L’est and take roughly 40 minutes to Reims, and 80 minutes to Epernay. The high speed bullet trains are immaculately clean and incredibly comfortable (as I’ve grown accustomed to with my train experiences in Europe).
The further in advance you book these tickets, the cheaper they will be. As I only planned to visit Champagne the night before, the tickets were 24 euros one way to Epernay. I saw tickets for 13 euros one way if I were to book a week later. Tickets can also be purchased at the station for the same price. As of July 2018, there were strikes (It’s France, when is there not a strike?) so the train only left every two hours. No one checked our tickets at any point on the train ride so I suppose we could have gotten away without paying anything!
There are also buses that make the regular journey to Reims and Epernay. These buses are normally much cheaper but take over 2 hours to get there. Not ideal for a day tripper.
Visiting Moet and Chandon Cellar
Moet and Chandon, easily one of the most recognizable and famous brands is located in the town of Epernay. Their cellars are some of the largest and oldest in the country. They offer daily tours where you spend 1 hour learning about the history of the Moet and Chandon family, touring the cellars and learning about the production of Champagne, and finally a tasting of the good stuff.
There are different price points for the tours but they just involve different grades of champagne at the end of the tour. I booked the standard tour for 25 euros and I very much enjoyed my tour.
The Moet and Chandon grounds are very nice and the cellar tour was very informational. They went through the origin story of the Moet name and how it became the formidable brand it is now over the course of many generations. I was especially intrigued at how Moet and Chandon branded themselves as a brand synonymous with luxury.
While the vineyards are not in Epernay, the cellars where the champagne is produced is located on these exact grounds. They have an extensive 30km underground system where they store, age, and bottle their wine. The tour took us through the underground system where we learned about champagne production from start to finish. We capped off the tour with a glass of bubbly in their beautiful tasting room.
Visiting Hautvillers from Epernay
At the recommendation of the people working at the Epernay Information Center (which was extremely helpful I must say), they recommended I visit the town of Hautvillers to actually visit the vineyards and champagne taste with views. I was envisioning of going from vineyard to vineyard like when I was wine tasting in Stellenbosch, and Hautvillers is as good as it’s gonna get without my own car. From Epernay, I had the visitor center call a taxi to take me to Hautvillers (there is no Uber here sadly). The cost was 15 euros one way.
Hautvillers was honestly more what I was envisioning when I decided to come here. Situated in the heart of the Reims Mountain vineyards, this quaint and rustic little village is the cradle of champagne making. It is here that the the monk Dom Perignon (yes that one) discovered the art of champagne wine-making. The main street of the town is aptly named Rue Dom Perignon and the Saint-Sindulphe abbey church still houses his tomb to this day.
We had lunch here at Le 36 restaurant. They had a champagne tasting menu of their own as well as tasty French cuisine with plenty of bread and cream sauces.
Champagne Tasting in Hautvillers
After lunch, I visited the Champagne G. Tribault vineyard which had fantastic views of the vines and was exactly what I was looking for (champagne tasting with views) followed by a visit to Fedyk Olivier which had delicious rose and brut. There are many more champagne houses here but many of them are closed on Mondays.
I took a taxi back to Epernay at 16:30 for a final champagne tasting on Avenue De Champagne before taking the train back to Paris at 18:30.
Hour by Hour Itinerary for Paris to Champagne Day Trip
8:30am – Depart Paris Gare De L’Est
9:45am – Arrive in Epernay
10am – Visit the tourist office to plan out the day
10:45 – 12:00 – Moet and Chandon Cellar Tour
12:15 – Taxi from Epernay to Hautvillers
12:30 – Lunch at Le 36 restaurant
14:00 – Champagne Tasting at J.G
15:00 – Champagne Tasting at Champagne Kedvi
16:00 – Taxi back to Epernay
16:30 – Champagne tasting at Bruno Paillard
17:30 – Champagne tasting at l’Ete Des Savignons
18:30 – Train back to Paris