Just after finishing my PhD viva (and passing!), there seemed no better opportunity for celebration than a quick weekend trip to the Champagne Region. My mum and C. were both game, having been as nervous as I was for the results of my 300-page book and culminating interview, so we all craved a little time to relax.
Initially I was a little concerned about what weather we would face in central France, but actually, I think mid-October is the best time to go to the Champagne Region! The colours were absolutely amazing, things were still bustling (but not rammed, as I hear they are in the summertime) and we were able to get everything we wanted to do done in daylight hours.
Getting to the Champagne Region
Because we were coming from London, and my mum wanted a few days in Paris beforehand, we took the Eurostar from St Pancras to Gare du Nord. We stayed in Pigalle for a few days, bumming around Paris eating and drinking and seeing a few exhibitions. I was not in the mental state for anything too intense coming right out of my PhD fugue. I actually made my mum and C pinch me a few times so I could believe I wasn’t dreaming, that I’d actually passed and was relaxing in Paris!
The weather in Paris was quite variable, the first day we were there, it was warm and sunny, but the next, a bit chilly and windy.
The views were still stunning, as always- particularly the one from our flat (above).
After a few days in Paris, we took the 8:30am train from Gare de l’Est to Reims. It was a fairly crowded train, but we were in business class, so we could spread out. It only took about an hour to get to Reims, and the views of the French countryside were amazing.
How to Get Around the Champagne Region
As much as it would be nice to take taxis everywhere, or rely on a bus (so you can try ALL the champagne!), I’d really recommend renting a car. We rented a car for the weekend for well under 100 GBP, and it gave us amazing flexibility to get around when we wanted, and see all the things we wanted to see (as well as take detours if we wanted to).
Just the views we had on the drive between villages was worth the car! And if you divvy up who has to be the DD, or stay in a village with several champagne houses so you can walk between them, you’ll be fine.
What to Do in Champagne Region, France
Well, there’s the obvious: try champagne! But I wouldn’t really recommend sticking with only the big houses (Tattinger, Moet, Veuve, etc.). Going off the beaten path really does pay dividends.
Our favorite house was Jean Vasselle in Bouzy. Drive out there and you can take a tour of the house and learn how they make their champagne. We were the only ones on our tour, making it super intimate. (It was in French, full disclosure, but if you email ahead you can get it in English too- we just had a translator in C., thank goodness!)
If you do go to Jean Vasselle, make sure you stop for lunch at Alain Vasselle (up the road). Its very authentic French fare, looking out over the vineyards.
Also take a detour for the scenic route, which brings you up some fields and to an amazing overlook where you feel like you can see every vineyard for miles.
We also did one big house, because, I mean, why not? We decided on Veuve Cliquot, since it offered a historical tour about Madame Veuve and her life, which sounded fascinating. We learned a lot about her, why she started the champagne house and how Veuve became one of the most sought after champagnes in the world. The tour was in English and was pretty full. It was also quite pricey (compared to free tours at most of the smaller houses), but at the end you get a tasting of three glasses of champagne, including one glass of vintage that sells at over 100 euros a bottle- so I’d say its worth the price!
The Veuve tour is done in the chalk caves, which is where the champagne is stored. Its pretty cool walking around the maze of caves and seeing champagnes stashed in every nook and cranny!
There’s a staircase commemorating every vintage year at Veuve, and C. and I were happy to see our birth years! We’re both vintage.
As I said, the tasting afterward was a real highlight. It was cool to compare the difference between a vintage and a brut, for instance. And now I can say such things and actually pretend (with more authority) that I know what I’m talking about, too!
Where to Stay in Champagne Region, France
We stayed in the region for just one night, but decided on a place that sounded perfect: Dans Les Vignes, which translates literally to “in the vines”. Its in a little down called Chamery. Everyone in Chamery seems to make their own champagne, so if you get in early-ish, you can park and go for a walk around the little town, sampling champagnes from the smallest houses (which in my opinion can make some pretty darn good champagnes) and taking in the sights.
Where to Eat in Champagne Region, France
On the Saturday we were busy tasting champagnes, as most houses are closed on Sundays. We thus treated Sunday as a day to drive around and in the late afternoon had a long and lazy lunch at Brasserie Le Jardin, the more laid-back sister restaurant of Les Crayeres, which is a Michelin-starred restaurant and amazing-looking hotel. After eating there, take a walk around the gardens. If you get a 4pm or 5pm train, you’ll have just enough time to digest before dropping off your car and going back to the station, which is exactly what we did.