Happy Tuesday! It's been another couple weeks of whirlwind adventures, meaning I've been a bit MIA on the blog. I've been from London to Amsterdam to Seville to Granada to Barcelona and now I'm settled in Florence for the week before my next stop. I'm so excited to recap all of my journeys above, but I still have so many to write about that came before these! So first, let's rewind a bit to August.
On my most recent trip to Paris, my friend Brenna and I extended to visit Reims- the home of champagne. To say I love champagne is the understatement of the century, so I've always known I had to pay a visit to the source of all it's glory. I’ve tried to do this on my previous two trips but for various reasons it never seemed to work out. But finally, at long last I can now say I've sipped champagne whilst in Champagne-- and it was a wonderful experience. I also learned a lot along the way, so before plan a journey of your own, here are some things to know about the Champagne region of France.
1. Make it a day trip.
While Reims is roughly 150 km (or ~93 miles) away from Paris, it’s only a quick 45 minute trip on a high speed train- making it an easy trip you can take if you want to get outside of the hustle and bustle of the city for a bit. For the sake of proper exploration (and the fact that I’m abroad for several months), we opted to stay for a couple of days. In all honestly, I’d only recommend you do the same if you also have ample time, because it can easily be done in a day. In general, lugging your suitcase all over Europe is a lot more complicated than you may think. I’ve previously mentioned that finding a lift can be difficult (especially if you stay somewhere besides a hotel) so you’re likely to be going up and down flights of stairs with a suitcase. So plan on taking the first train out and the last train home (I'd advise buying tickets online in advance) to maximize your champagne experience while minimizing the travel efforts.
2. Expect cellars, not vineyards.
After visiting Napa earlier this year, I sort of anticipated Reims would resemble the wineries I visited there: sprawling estates housing the cellars nestled on acres of lush, green fields. So you can imagine my state of surprise when I realized most of the tours you’ll take in Reims are in buildings (cellars) located in the heart of the town (sans any sort of field).
While lacking fields may take away some of the romance you picture in your mind compared to a place like Napa, it actually is extremely beneficial for the sake of your travel plans. Those acres of fields make walking impossible and hiring a driver expensive. On the contrary, you can easily walk or take a short cab from the train station to a lot of the popular champagne houses in Reims.
With all of that said, we were still able to venture out to fields where grapes are grown, however we did so on our own and it required a bit of exploration (and not the cheapest cab I’ve ever taken).
3. Be prepared for less English
If you have trouble with the language barrier in Paris, then you definitely need to prepare yourself for Reims. Paris hosts significantly more tourists, therefore English is more commonly spoken. And while there are still many English speaking people, don’t expect it to be as common. Every champagne house staff member I came into contact with spoke wonderful English, but I did struggle a bit when it came to transportation (cab drivers, train station employees, etc.) To avoid any unnecessary complications, do a little planning on the front end (buy train tickets in advance, have your location addresses saved in a note on your phone, etc.)
THE CHAMPAGNE HOUSES
Once you decide to go to Reims, you need to decide which houses to visit. There are countless options to choose from (remember that literally all champagne in the world comes from this small region). I'd advise selecting a couple larger, more prestigious house as well as a couple small, boutique ones. For example, we went to Taittinger and Veuve Clicquot, but then also to Jean-Claude Lépitre-- a small family winery that you won't find anywhere in the states. I loved this approach, because now anytime I drink a bottle of Taittinger or Veuve (champagnes that are everywhere around the world) I know exactly where it came from and can share the story of my experience with whomever I'm drinking it with. But at the same time, I loved having the unique experience from the boutique house and trying champagne that I would never be able to taste otherwise. It was so fun to buy a bottle (which Brenna was so kind to take home for me, since my suitcase is obviously pretty full already) that I can save for a special occasion and know that no one else can just pick it up at any ordinary wine store.
Whatever large house you choose to visit should be one that you're excited about. While you can usually pop in for a tasting just about anywhere, if you want to do a proper tour you should call or email them in advance to secure your reservation. I had several others I also would have loved to try but for the sake of time, we prioritized the following:
We had such an amazing start to our day by doing a private tour of the Tattinger cellars (complete with a private tasting in their beautiful sitting room). Jean-Pierre (our guide) taught us so much about the Tattinger family, the history of the estate and cellars, and the process of how their champagne is made. Their property is impeccable, and it was so cool to see thousands and thousands of bottles aging that could easily be one that I end up drinking someday!
Tattinger is the largest, privately owned champagne house in the world. Their flagship wines are the Comtes de Champagne (which is comprised of 100% Chardonnay) as well as their Comtes de Champagne Rosé (70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay). Everything I've ever tried by them is fantastic.
I'm also so glad I got to do the Tattinger experience with Brenna of all people, because it's the same champagne we popped together just a few months earlier on a jet to Charleston for her birthday! Needless to say, I think when celebrations are in order for either of us, it will remain our bubbly of choice.
I can't recommend visiting this champagne house enough. The information you'll learn, the wines you'll taste and the beauty you'll see is all incredible. Book your own visit below.
After our tour at Tattinger we went just around the corner to Veuve Clicquot for a tasting (since we were a bit pressed for time and wanted to venture out to the grape fields, we didn't do a tour). Along with their traditional champagne you've tried before, they also serve tastings of their reserve bottles (which aren't available for purchase just anywhere). We opted for that (which was delicious ) and enjoyed it outside in their beautiful courtyard- which even had a few grape vines to make you feel like you were in the field!
Our time at Jean-Claude LéPitre was hands down one of the most memorable things I've done in Europe. Our friends at Café Du Palais pointed us in this direction when we explained how badly we wanted to see picturesque fields of grapes like we imagined in our minds. A short phone call later, we were in a cab on the way to the home of a producer who makes their own champagne they exclusively serve at the restaurant. Julien, the son of Jean-Claude greeted us and took us on a tour of the family's wine cellar and let us taste their (delicious) champagnes. He even drove us up the street behind the family estate to their endless fields of grapes so we could have our vineyard experience that we dreamed of. I can't say enough nice things about how great the champagne was or how kind he was (he literally just got a last minute phone call and dropped what he was doing to show us around). They have so many grapes (more than the number of bottles they produce each year) so they actually sell some of their grapes to Veuve Clicquot (who obviously have a greater need for a larger supply). So if you go to Reims, I highly recommend looking up Jean-Claude Lépitre for a truly unforgettable experience.
There won't be a ton time to eat if you fill your day with tastings, but nonetheless there are some great food experiences to try when your stomach needs to soak up all that champagne! If you're looking for the best places to eat in Reims in a day's time, I'd recommend:
We were told by multiple people in Reims to pay a visit to Café du Palais during our stay. This quaint café serves traditional local fare (like proper Reims ham) but it's also brimming with history. Since it's start in 1930, they've been acquiring hundreds of Art Déco objects (furniture, portraits, sculptures, etc.) which are still displayed today. The staff was also extremely helpful, and was kind enough to connect us to Jean-Claude Lépitre (which was one of my favorite experiences of the trip!)
There are tons of restaurants to choose from in Reims, but we loved having dinner at L'Apostrophe. They boast traditional French fare (I loved their beef for my main and crème brûlée for dessert). They also have a wide variety of champagne to choose from (including all the popular houses as well as small boutique growers). Sit outside on their patio if the weather is nice and enjoy watching all the hustle and bustle go by in the streets of Reims.
I'm so happy I can finally say I've been to Reims! It was an amazing couple of days and brought me some memories I'll always remember. I hope this helps you plan a trip of your own!
I'm signing off to walk off some of the excessive carbohydrates I've been eating here in Florence! Stay tuned for next week's recap of my adventures in Ireland, and enjoy the rest of your week!