Who enjoys drinking French champagne? Or, more accurately, who doesn’t?
French champagne conjures up images of special celebrations, a touch of luxury or just those unique, unforgettable moments in your life. There is nothing that I like more than a chilled ‘glass of bubbles’ any time of the day.
When the opportunity arose to explore the Champagne Route of France with friends, we jumped at the chance. We were fortunate, as they had travelled this route before – but at different times of the year and never at harvest time.
As with any journey, it’s great to begin this one also by downloading the Champagne Route Map. It will make it easy for you to follow the route, plan your places to stay and things to see.
We started our journey at Villenauxe-la-Grande during harvest time in August 2018. The harvest was early this year, the season was hotter than most and there were whispers that it was going to be a great vintage.
The region has only three weeks to harvest their grapes. Over 100,000 itinerant workers descend on the Champagne Region and move from vineyard to vineyard. It is a spectacular sight.
As you commence your driving route, you will follow the black and gold signs “Route touristique du Champagne.” At harvest time, the small back roads throughout the vineyards are busy with trucks transporting the grapes. These roads are quite narrow and can be very busy, so take extra when driving.
The views are spectacular so allow time to stop for photo opportunities. Each vineyard is named via a stone tablet showing the Champagne House placed at the beginning of each property.
Depending on how much time you have, make sure you allow time to visit the smaller villages along the way. Historic churches, small, family-run restaurants and bars, local patisseries and family-run champagne houses can be enjoyed as you travel along the route.
In the village of Sezanne, we enjoyed the best hot chocolate in a local bar, in the town square opposite the Eglise Saint Denis, which is well worth a visit.
Epernay is known as the Capital of the Champagne Region, and its famous Avenue de Champagne is lined with the most famous stately Champagne Houses such as Moet & Chandon, Castellane and Mumm, amongst many others.
Churchill named the Avenue “the world’s most drinkable address.”
Champagne House Mercier runs what we believe is one of the best Champagne Tours. For 25 Euros per person you can visit by train and with a guide the 18 km stretch of underground cellars, and, at the end of the tour, you can taste three of their champagnes.
If you enjoy a tour of the actual Champagne process, from vineyard to bottle, we would suggest that you visit Centre Vinicole Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte just outside Epernay. The tour costs 10 Euros per person and includes a tasting at the end.
Our two favourite restaurants in Epernay are Le Sardaigne and La Cave a Champagne. They were also the most popular with other travellers, and we would recommend booking in advance.
There are plenty of restaurants to enjoy in and around Epernay, so you are spoilt for choice.
If you are a little nervous, a first timer or an enthusiast, this is the Hot Air Balloon flight for you. The Epernay Hot Air Balloon hovers tethered for about 15 minutes over Epernay and its miles of vineyards from its base at Esplanade Charles-de-Gaulle.
It is an easy drive from Epernay to Reims, and you can stop off and visit Champagne Houses along the way. There are only 5000 champagne families in the region to choose from – but don’t take your time to choose which one to visit!
From May to October, the Reims Cathedral puts on a free light show starting around 10pm, though you will need to check the timings prior to visiting. It is one of the best light shows we have ever seen.
The beauty of staying in Reims is that you can walk to many of the Champagne Houses including Lanson, Mumm, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin and Tattinger. There are many more to enjoy in the area as well. Each Champagne House runs tours with tastings.
Reims is only 1.5 hours from Paris, and Epernay is nearly 2 hours. The beauty of driving is that you can visit the vineyards out in the countryside.
But don’t forget to be careful with the drink-and-drive rules of France, which are very strict. You are allowed a maximum of 0.5mg/ml of alcohol per litre in your blood.
Why not enjoy staying a night or two in one of the many historic Chateaux that are scattered throughout the region?
We enjoyed a perfect night at Chateau de Rilly, located a short distance from Reims. We dined in their restaurant in the evening, enjoying the best of local French produce, champagnes and wine, and we lingered over breakfast the next morning, not wanting to leave.
Do you love drinking Champagne? Have you heard of, or even travelled, the Champagne Route of France? Do you think it’s a great place to visit in your 60s? Please share your comments below!
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