At first glance, Champagne appears to be unexpectedly tame. The region’s neat, green hills and pervasive quiet confound.
For a vaunted region, wine tourism is a new concept to the Champenois. Like Burgundy, the region has long survived on reputation. The big houses have always hosted visitors, but few great hotels existed. Likewise, the restaurant scene in Épernay isn’t widely considered to be lively.
But as travel becomes more accessible, wine lovers want to see how their favorite bubbly is produced, dine in restaurants with deep local lists and soak up a little culture.
A walkable city of cafés, shops and Champagne houses, Reims is the most logical base to explore the region. If you do one tourist thing, visit the cathedral, Notre-Dame de Reims. The Roman Catholic church’s stately halls hosted the coronation of almost every French monarch, including Louis XVI and Charles X.
Reims (roughly pronounced RAN-ce), is the region’s main city. Catch a train at Charles de Gaulle Airport straight to the Champagne-Ardenne station. There are local trains to Épernay, home of the famed Avenue de Champagne. To visit country inns and smaller growers, you’ll need a car.
Here’s your guide to get the most from Reims’s wine bars, restaurants, hotels and producers.
Casual Spots and Wine Bars
Trésors de Champagne, La Boutique
This tasting bar opened a few years ago in downtown Reims to showcase the 28 grower-producers behind Le Club Trésors. The contemporary space serves tasting flights and by-the-glass selections. On weekends, winemakers stop by for a chat and pour. Members of the association, founded in 1971, include Pierre Gimonnet et Fils and Gaston Chiquet, and in years with an outstanding vintage, a Special Club Champagne is produced.
Looks can deceive at this local favorite, a frayed-at-the-seams pub bedecked with red leather banquettes. Yet, the bottle list, rife with growers, is thoughtful and well-priced. There are also secret off-menu selections available.
This tiny seafood purveyor/restaurant stocks a variety of zero-dosage Champagnes and seafood-friendly still wines like Muscadet. Another relaxed lunch spot is Au Bon Manger. Expect fine charcuterie, a menu of the day and natural wines.
Le Wine Bar by Le Vintage
This aptly named spot supplies guests with a leather-bound book of treasures from throughout France, though it’s dominant in Champagnes. Visit with a group and pop multiple bottles.
Restaurants with Great Wine Lists
Domaine Les Crayères
Many of the great restaurants in Reims reside in hotels. This hotel, one of the grandest properties in Reims, has three dining options depending on mood, budget and occasion. The resplendent, Michelin-starred Le Parc delivers exquisite food paired to the city’s deepest cellar. You can always have a drink at the bar.
Alternatively, Brasserie Le Jardin is its casual, smart counterpart. The hotel’s guest rooms speak to an era of nobility with gilt-framed mirrors, voluminous drapes and majestic beds. A mini-Versailles, in short.
This new property in the Montagne de Reims Regional National park to the south of the city fills a niche long vacant in Champagne, one of tasteful modern glitz and glamor. Allot time for a leisurely lunch in the lounge restaurant Le Bellevue. Later, dedicate an evening for the Michelin-starred Le Royal.
Relais & Châteaux L’Assiette Champenoise
This timber-framed French country house lies just beyond downtown, and visitors will likely require a taxi or car. While the rooms and common areas are pleasant, the purpose of an overnight stay is a blow-out dinner at Arnaud Lallement, recipient of three Michelin stars. Have fun as you select bubbles by-the-glass from the Champagne cart.
Le Domaine du Chalet
This former home of Madame Louise Pommery was turned into a guesthouse by Champagne Palmer & Co. Located in Chigney-les-Roses, book the stately two-room Amazone suite. At night, head down for a multi-course meal by the property’s private chef.
Hôtel Restaurant Les Avisés
Well-known grower/producer Anselme Selosse owns this small inn, perfect as a home base if exploring around Épernay. Book a room or dinner for the best shot to taste his wines, though it’s not guaranteed. During the day, relax with a book in the lounge or amble through the eclectic home filled with art, statues, textiles and light.
Visiting Champagne Houses
There are many online resources to book appointments and find out which houses are where, like the Reims Tourism site. Ruinart, Pommery, Veuve Clicquot and Taittinger offer different hospitality packages and tours of the region’s famous chalky caves, known as crayères.
Make the quick hop down to Épernay, if for nothing more than to stroll the Avenue de Champagne. Many key players have magnificent houses located along this grand, gracious street, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Book appointments for tours and/or tastings at Moët & Chandon, which boasts the most extensive chalk cellar around, or try Perrier-Jouët and Pol Roger. De Venoge and Boizel both have tasting bars for walk-in patrons short on time, or those looking for an intimate atmosphere. De Venoge also offers beautiful guest rooms in its mansion.
In the tiny village of Aÿ, known for Pinot Noir, Ayala welcomes visitors upon request. On a nice day, catch the view from the roof. Henri Giraud, also near Aÿ, allows walk-ins to experience its barrel-aged bubbles, a specialty of the house. Bollinger welcomes wine lovers to its elegant old house upon request. Ask for a peek at the in-house barrel workshop next door.
With all the buzz about grower Champagnes, a few visits can cement the concept. Many once sold fruit off to large houses, but now make wine under their own brands. These are small outfits, usually families with few or no employees, so advance notice is crucial. Arguably, the most famous is Domaine Jacques Selosse.
If you can score a visit to Huré Frères, take it, along with a bottle of its characterful 4 Elements Chardonnay, a vintage wine from a single site. One property that’s ahead of its time is Voirin-Jumel, located in Cramant, which is Chardonnay country. The mother-daughter team that runs it makes it a priority to welcome guests in their tasting room.