Epernay is around 1.5 hours from Paris by train, and 30 minutes from Reims. With its UNESCO listed Avenue du Champagne and inclusion on the “100 most remarkable sites of taste in France” – you’re in for a treat if you visit.
The railway line from Paris reached Epernay in 1849 and trade in Champagne boomed which led to the naming of the Avenue de Champagne. Previously known as rue Royale, and Fauborg du Commerce, it was renamed in 1925 and now receives almost half a million visitors each year
The train station is in the centre of Epernay so you don’t have to walk far to reach the sites. This includes the world-famous Avenue de Champagne. Here you can’t help but ogle at the famous names and beautiful buildings that line this long road. Underneath it are 110km of cellars filled with bottles maturing slowly, watched carefully by experts.
Avenue de Champagne
The first Champagne house opened on the avenue in 1729, it belonged to Nicolas Ruinart. Taking a cellar visit is practically the law in this effervescent little town. Few can resist the allure of Moët et Chandon who moved to the Avenue in 1743. They have a super tasting tour and the shop is magnificent, the perfect place for your Champagne souvenir.
Take a tour with www.greeters-en-champagne.com/en. It’s an initiative in which local people, passionate about the area where they live, share their local knowledge with visitors. It’s free of charge and you’ll get a real insider’s view of Epernay.
In the summer months, pop into the tourist office at Epernay to discover the programme of “Esprits de Champagne” organised by the tourist office. For a really different taste experience, you coul take a flight in a hot air balloon over the Reims Mountains and the vineyards with Champagne on landing! Or go up, up and away in a tethered balloon, summer months only, for a 360 degree view of Epernay from 150m up in the air. Sipping Champagne from that height tastes rather special!
There are plenty of Champagne bars to fuel your bubble desires. But, one of the best I think, is C -Comme Champagne (8 Rue Gambetta 51200 Épernay). It’s a shop and tasting bar where the staff are incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. Delicious snacks are also on offer, the best of local products from cheese to chocolate. And the tastings vary from by the glass in the bar to a picnic tasting in the cellars. There are even gourmet dishes to have with your bubbles. The shop is terrific too, there is lots of information about the fizz and who produced it.
Visit nearby Hautvillers – the birthplace of Champagne
5km north of Epernay is the place where legend has it, the story of Champagne bubbles began – Hautvillers.
Dom Perignon was a French Benedictine monk who served at the Abbey of Hautvillers. He worked in the Abbey cellars for almost 50 years. His days were spent improving the methods for the maturation of wines, the blending of different grapes, corking the bottles and the pruning of vines to improve the grape quality. Apparently he actually spent much of his time trying to rid the wine of bubbles! He is though, the person we associate most with the invention of Champagne. The legend that he cried “Brothers, come quick, I am tasting the stars” when sipping the bubbles has stuck, in no small part thanks to brilliant French marketing.
There’s no train station in Hautvillers but you can hire a bike (including electric bike) from Epernay Tourist Office. The ride takes around 30 minutes: www.tourisme-hautvillers.com
More on Champagne
The history of the Avenue de Champagne
Les Riceys, off the beaten track in Champagne
Champagne, the French Elixir
Classic Champagne cocktails
Reims – what to see and do in the bubbly city