LET ALL YOUR PAIN BE CHAMPAGNE!
Because if you are going to do France, it is imperative you go Champagne tasting... it's educational.
Did you know that the Champagne region was only an hour outside of Paris? This sparkling wine mecca is the only place in the world that can use the title of Champagne, with that kind of exclusivity, I can't find a reason not to go. There are two towns/cities, that play host to the great names of Moet & Chardon, Vevue Cliquot and more. These are: Reims and Epernay.
WHEN TO GO:
If you are going to base your times around when the Moet cellars are open (which I clearly did) you can base your times around the following:
January- Moet & Veuve Cliquot are closed, why are you bothering, don't go.
February- March- Moet is only open during the week and from 9:30-4:30 breaking 2 & 1/2 hours for lunch.. because France. Veuve Cliquot is still closed until the 29/30th of March.
April-mid November- The Moet cellars are open every day (including weekends), weather will also be nicer. Veuve is open Tuesday-Saturday 9:30-5:30.
mid November-December- The typical French christmastime, I've read that there are plenty of lights and festivities around this time, but note that the hours are similar to the spring being open during the week from 9:30-4:30 with the 2 & 1/2 lunch hours. Also Veuve is closed.
Epernay and Reims are really walkable areas, both are accessable from Paris by train or bus.
Train: To get to both cities you will leave from Gare de l’Est in Paris. At this station you can either go to Reims (Gare de Reims) or Epernay (Gare d'Epernay). Both will take you a little over an hour to get there, and will cost about 22 euros.
To get from Reims to Epernay, or Epernay to Reims, it takes only 23 minutes and the trains leave about once an hour.
Buses: There are a myriad of bus tours to the champagne region that cost a little over $120 each. These tours include the tasting fees and tours in addition to the transport to Reims & Epernay, so if you don't want to spend a lot of time plotting out trains, but want to see both areas, and would love having a little tour on the way there, it is the easiest way to do it.
Reims & Epernay, France
Champagne Tours: Cellar Tours, Tastings, & More!
Reims: Reims Cathedral
Epernay: Avenue of Champagne
REIMS VS EPERNAY: BATTLE OF THE BUBBLY
For some reason people on travel blogs argue that Epernay is a waste of time and it is better to just visit Reims. I have visited and loved both, so I don't understand this at all. If for times sake, you only want to go to one area, I will list the Champagne houses (the ones with the cellar tours) for each city.
Note: If you select the bus tours, they typically take you to both so you don't even need to make this decision, so you just focus on drinking.
Reims: Champagne Cellar Tours:
Charles De Cazanove
G.H.Martel & Co
G.H. Mumm & Cie- having taken this tour, I enjoyed learning about how champagne was made, seeing the tunnels, etc. It was very informative and I enjoyed the experience.
Veuve Cliquot-You must have a reservation*
Reims Cathedral- A truly beautiful Cathedral interlinked with the crowning of French kings, Joan of Arc, surviving heavy bombings and more, the history is fascinating. A great stop while you are in Reims.
Epernay Champagne Cellar Tours:
Moet & Chandon- Having come fresh off the Mumm tour, I thought I learned all there is to know, HOWEVER, Moet's history is unique to Moet, the tour and informational bits about the Dom, the incredible cellars, and fantastic tasting at the end slightly surpassed the Mumm experience... Also the store is perfect. Get the champagne saver, it's small and I think they keep it in the glass cabinet (I use mine all the time).
Avenue of Champagne- Let's be honest, you came here to drink and in Epernay you shall! With dozens of Champagne tasting rooms you will not go thirsty. Also, Epernay is a cute town to walk around in.
+A Note on Champagne tours: When possible, try to make them in advance, guaranteeing you a spot in case it is really busy, and to avoid special events/ large tour groups, etc.. Also get there in the morning, as most places close around 4-5pm you can fill your day up if you start around 930am.
Things to Try:
There is not just one type of Champagne, there is Demi-Sec, Brut, Rose, and more! Try them all and figure out which one suits you best. The Champagne area is also filled with cheeses, chocolates, and special escargot (that I'm dying to try). Keep your eyes open.
Side Note: You will see these sweets called, "Biscuit Rose de Reims". I bought them thinking they would be nice, but they are dry as the Sahara and practically flavorless. You are better off getting macaroons from La Duree.
OVERALL, the Champagne area is a GREAT day trip from Paris. The two cellar tours at Moet and Mumms were incredibly informative in different ways, however you won't have time for more than two since they are time consuming, etc. Also, bring a jacket and comfortable shoes, the cellars are dark, damp, and the footing can be slippery. The trip is memorable and an incredible experience (and everyone you tell when you get home will hate you for it).