Jul 6, 2017
On our first first visit to Paris, Craig and I spontaneously decided to add a day trip to Reims – and it was surprisingly the highlight of the trip. After being inspired by a blog post, I added the city to our maybe list on our Itinerary in case we had a free day in Paris. Luckily with 10 days in Paris, we weren’t too stressed about fitting everything in so we found ourselves booking train tickets and heading to Reims without a second thought. We knew that we really wanted to do a Champagne House Tour with a Champagne Tasting while in Reims, but we had no idea how much we would fall in love with the historical city.
Champagne in Champagne:
A train from Paris to Reims is only an hour, so I’m surprised that more people aren’t aware of Reims, in the Champagne region of France. As the name suggests, this is the region where champagne is made. So, we decided to see it in person and have an excuse to sip on the world’s best bubbly all day.
Although a serious Champagne drinker, it was in Reims that I first discovered the difference between sparkling wine and champagne: to be called Champagne, the grapes and drink must originate from the Champagne region in France.
How To Get There:
There are several ways to get to Reims from Paris. When in Europe, I love using the Rome2Rio website as it outlines the various routes and costs. See here as it outlines the train, bus and driving to Reims, with the cheapest route being the bus. You can also download the Rome2Rio app to use on the go.
If you would prefer to travel by train, take the 45-minute high-speed TGV train from Paris Gare de l’Est to Reims.
We paid around 40 Euros, but if you travel outside of the peak hours, then you could get tickets for 20 Euros. We even got 1st class tickets because they were cheaper than 2nd class. Odd right? But we didn’t complain, we enjoyed the upgrade! And if it’s only a 3 Euro difference, I would do it.
Make sure to book the TGV train which is the high-speed train. You can book in advance online but we just popped into the closest rail station and booked at the ticket office on the day.
If you’re keen to drive, it’s a 90 minute long journey and we would definitely stay the night. No drinking and driving here!
What To Do:
Although tourist attractions include the Reims Cathedral and Palace of Tau, touring the Reims Champagne Houses is what I would consider the main attraction. In Reims, you will find all the big names, like Veuve Clicquot, Pommery, Mumm and Taittinger. If it’s also the main reason for your visit, just be aware that on certain days Champagne Houses are closed, or do require advanced booking.
Reims Champagne Houses:
Most of the tours have long staircases into the cellars. If you have any difficulty with walking up and down stairs, this may not be the activity for you. (On that note, apparently Veuve does have the option of an elevator). Also, it gets quite chilly underground so bring a jacket. And if Champagne isn’t your thing (Gasp!), then take advantage of the incredible restaurants available and soak in the beautiful town.
Epernay, a 25-minute train away, is also home to some major Champagne houses listed below.
Reims Champagne Houses:
- Veuve Cliquot
- G.H. Mumm
- Louis Roederer
Epernay Champagne Houses:
- Moet et Chandon
- De Castellane
- Bollinger (Limited tours here)
Suggested Champagne House Itinerary:
1st Stop: Start at the pastel blue castle on the hill, Pommery.
Here you will tour the Roman caves and art nouveau tasting rooms then enjoy a sampling of their house champagne. You can get there within 10 minutes from the Reims downtown train station and 15 minutes from the TGV Champagne-Ardenne Bezannes train station. Do book ahead on their website here.
2nd Stop: Next, across the way from Pommery is Verve Clicquot.
Here, you have a choice of three cellar tours and champagne tasting, ranging from 25 Euros to 120 Euros and 1,5 to 2,5 hours. I think if you’re champagne-house-hopping, go for the mid-range tour – or the day could end up being a bit pricey. If you’re a real champagne-snob, then go the full shebang, because I personally do not like the standard “Yellow Label” Veuve.
Note that Veuve Clicquot is only open between March/April and November, on Tuesdays to Saturdays, and you must book in advance online. We went on a Monday and they were obviously closed. Monday’s in Reims can suck. The restaurants at Les Crayeres were also closed.
3rd Stop: Lunch.
I’d advise a stomach lining before you next tasting, even just to sober up a bit. We had packed a picnic lunch and sat in the park next to the less frequented Basilique Saint Remi, a quiet and serene church just outside the city center. But if you have a few euros lying around, why not book for one of the Michelin-starred restaurants? Just take a peak here.
4th Stop: Our favourite champagne of them all, Taittinger.
The tour only took an hour, starting with a short video and ending with a tasting, depending on which package you bought. You need not book — which is an advantage if you end up on a spontaneous day trip — but the tour groups can be quite large. Tours start at 9:45 AM and then once every hour until 3:45 PM.
While I do love their champagne (and I mean really love), and I loved the tour, there is no commentary with the tasting (unlike other tours) and this is quite a common criticism of their tour. I personally love the Comtes Blanc de Blanc and would highly recommend the tasting upgrade to include this one. But if you’re sick of all the champagne (is that even possible?!), you should definitely buy a bottle for later.
5th Stop: Stop for coffee
After dark activities if you’re staying over:
Head over to Place d’Erlon, a popular hangout featuring plenty of bars, shops and cafes. You can hang like the twenty-something students in the bars or be a little more sophisticated, and sit on a terrace with your final glass of champagne.
Other Activities & Sights:
Besides the Champagne Houses, there are other non-alcoholic sights to see. You could sign up for the 4pm daily tour (in French) of the Notre Dame de Reims Cathedral, for only €7.50. The Reims Cathedral is not only a gothic masterpiece, but also where the kings of France were once crowned. (Note that you’ll need to tackle all 200+ stairs to reach the top of the towers).
Where to Eat:
With great champagne also comes great food. Reims is home to several Michelin Star restaurants.
- Racine is the new kid on the block, it was’t around when we visited in 2014, but the reviews look amazing. They serve French cuisine with a Japanese twist. Sadly, they aren’t open on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.
- Le Parc (2-star) and Le Jardin (a brasserie), two restaurants based at the Les Crayeres Chateau were both on my to-do list when we visited, but both were closed on the Monday.
- L’Assiette Champenoise, a modern 5-star hotel, boasts a 3-star Michelin restaurant onsite.
- In addition to the above, L’Alambic, Le Foch, Le Bocal and Le Millenaire are all highly ranked too.
If you wanted to extend your stay:
Most people enjoy Reims as a day trip, but I wouldn’t rule out a longer stay. In fact, Craig and I cannot wait to return to do just that. Across from the Champagne House, Pommery, is the elegant estate of Château Les Crayères. This place is like something out of a fairytale and it’s on our bucket-list to stay at. Not only is it fit for French Royalty, it’s located a short stroll from all the major champagne houses like Pommery, Veuve Clicquot and Taittinger.
Other Reims Hotels:
Quite a bit cheaper than the Chateau and located 10 minutes from the train station, near the Reims Cathedral, the Best Western Plus Hotel de La Paix is pretty much perfect. The hotel’s gorgeous interior courtyard and ground-floor champagne bar is hugely popular with locals.
~ Ready for my next glass of bubbly,