Full disclosure, this was not much of a photo day trip as I thought, so many were just taken on my phone!
About the Champagne Region
For our second day trip near Paris, we decided to visit wine country since they’d have some pretty castles as well! We forfeited our idea to visit Loire Valley, famous for all its châteaus. You might know that wines are named after the region which the grapes are grown and the wine is produced. Nothing else can be called champagne unless it’s from that region. Same thing with Bordeaux and Burgundy wines – they must come from that region of France. Champagne is only a geographic region, but no longer politically a province. There’s several towns in Champagne but it seemed like to get into the vineyards, Épernay was the closest town that was also a direct train ride from Paris at Gare de L’Est. Reims is also a great option. It’s a large town and you can take the 45 minute TGV high speed train there! In comparison, the local TER train runs about 1.5 hours from Paris. It’s a lovely ride through the countryside! Reims, Épernay, and Châlons-en-Champagne are the three towns that make up sort of what is known as the Champagne golden triangle.
Between Reims and Épernay is a large regional park called the Reims Mountains. They’re hardly mountains, but it is hilly for sure! But surrounding the forests are fields and fields of grapevines. Épernay was the perfect sized town to visit. It’s got quite a few things to do and several high-end wineries to go wine tasting at. I was honestly surprised by how much fun we had here! We had a bit of train stress and planning of times, but more of that later.
What to do in Épernay
The train station is right next to the center of town. If you’re interested, grab a bike right when you get off so you don’t have to worry about them being closed. We booked it through Facil-e-bike, which only operates in the spring to summer time. Reservations are done by email and you can write in English. They might just google translate and respond in French! It’s one of those European things where you have to trust the system and their word. When we arrived, they had written down our names on paper. It’s super organized even without all the technology hassle. You can choose either normal bikes or e-bikes. We were thankful for the e-bikes because we ended up going up some hills, some of which were bumpy!
We rode up to the commune Aÿ where Pressoria and plenty of other wineries are located. We tried riding up the hill, but it became quite bumpy, but it was quite beautiful too! At some point, we decided to turn around because the road was getting bad and we didn’t want to get stuck. So we firmly squeezed the brake handles until we got back down to Dizy before taking the road up to Hautvillers and then back down paved roads again to Épernay. It’s a fun ride if you plan for it!
When you have the time, check out the local wine museum at Château Perrier. It also talks about the archeological history of champagne, and is honestly one of the more fun museums I’ve been to. It’s only €10 and you can re-enter the museum if you have to leave for a different tour. Plus it’s got a beautiful garden outside where you can take a break, get some water, eat some snacks.
Right across the street is the famous Moët et Chandon. They are also the makers of Dom Perignon. Definitely reserve a tour if you’re planning to go. And I’m quite glad we did this one too! It’s super fancy inside and they’ll take you down to the cellars, explaining the whole process of how the wine is made and what makes it special and what vintages are. Don’t forget a coat because the cellars are cold! At the end, you’ll have a wine tasting, depending on which tour you select. We got to try two different Imperial champagnes. Obviously there are other wineries you could visit, but this one is the most famous and has the largest production, so to me, it’s worth checking out!
We also visited Pressoria, which I thought would be more spectacular. But actually it’s just a museum with a less intimate wine tasting. The museum calls it a sensory journey through the heart of champagne. And they sure do make it interactive. I think this was slightly geared towards families. But at the end you do get a wine tasting with a view of the vineyards which is very beautiful. We messed up our bike plan and reservations here so we had to take the train one stop over from Épernay or else face a 20 minute walk. We spent a little too long and had to essentially run back to the train station to make our ride back to Épernay just to grab a quick dinner and catch or train ride back to Paris.
There’s a lot of great restaurants in Épernay that feature champagne, naturally. But make sure you have enough time between catching a train and eating. They don’t rush dinners! We randomly stumbled on La Cave à Champagne, which I couldn’t quite tell if it would be great, but it was fantastic food! We got a 3 course meal for €25 per person. I won’t go into recommendations for other restaurants but basically if you look for any restaurant that closes mid-day, it’s for locals! If they open straight through the afternoon and/or through midnight, then that’s for tourists. The ones with the shortest opening hours are the best basically! And duh, eat French there, don’t go for any other cuisine.
If you’re looking for more European travels, check out my other blogs here.