By Sara Sanabria
“You know, it’s really nice to see the horizon again, I really missed the sky,” said my friend as our TER glided through la montagne de Reims. She and I had decided to explore the towns around Reims because, after all, Champagne-Ardenne is world-renowned for its history and elegance. Yet for those of us who live here it is seldom explored. However, as the school year is only just starting, there is more than enough time to begin your exploration of this culturally rich area, and where better to start than Épernay, the Champagne capital of the world!
Where to go:
- Cathedral: Once you left Épernay’s train station, head towards the city center. At the traffic circle look to your right and you will see La Cathédrale Notre Dame. While not as impressive as our Notre Dame, this one is quaint and charming.
- Synagogue: Built in 1880, this Byzantine-style building sits just right of the cathedral and is worth a quick pop-in.
- Theatre Gabrielle Dorziat: Still in the same traffic circle, this Italian designed theatre adds yet another elegant touch to an already charming area.
- Hôtel de ville: From the traffic circle you can cut through a small green park that will lead you to the city hall.
- Avenue de Champagne: Heading past the city hall you will arrive on Avenue de Champagne. This is the most famous street in town because as the name may suggest, most of the champagne houses can be found here or nearby. To your right from the exit of the town hall you will be able to find the tourist office and to your left you can see Moët and Chandon, the largest Champagne house in the world!
Where to taste champagne:
- Moët & Chandon: For 24 Euros you can enjoy their tour traditionnel, which is available both in English and French. From the main lobby, a guide will give you a historical tour of the building and its caves and an explanation of the champagne-making process. Finally the tour will end with a tasting of a glass of “Imperial” champagne in a glamorous tasting room. Tours are available throughout the day, however, you should reserve in advance if you are going on a weekend or Friday afternoon.
- Maison de Champagne Castellane: Still on Rue de Champagne, this champagne house was established in 1895 and in true “la belle epoque” fashion, it is elegant and romantic, its stark red bricks representing the red cross St. Andrew will definitely leave an impression. It offers tours daily from 14h to 18h. Tours are available in English and French and are only 14 euros.
- Champagne Charles Mignon: Located on 7, rue Irène Joliot-Curie, this smaller Champagne house offers a cozy experience. It offers tours in both French and English and is open from 13h30 to 17h.
- Champagne Georges Cartier: On rue Jean Chandon Moët you can find another smaller champagne house if you are looking for a more intimate experience. It offers tastings and a tour of the caves followed and is open from 10h to 20h everyday.
- Champagne bars/tasting houses: Throughout Épernay there are plenty of different establishments those who prefer to skip the tour and go straight to the champagne tasting. Almost every one of the main streets will have several bars and tasting houses, but the largest concentration of them is found along Rue Gambetta (Épernay has one too!).
Where to hike:
What with its fame for Champagne, Épernay’s natural beauty is sometimes put on the backburner, but with its rolling hills and endless skyline this is a great destination for an afternoon hike. Below is a map of popular hiking trails and a link for a complete guide to hiking around Épernay.
Where to stay:
If you want to extend your day trip here are a few options:
- Hotel Le Clos Raymi: Located on 3 rue Joseph de Venoge this red-bricked hotel has double rooms for 120 euros a night.
- Chambres d’hôtes la croisette: On the west hillside of Épernay, La Croisette enjoys a quiet, safe environment near the vineyards and the town centre. Swimming pool from June to August. Prices start from 69 Euros a night.
- The municipal camping is located along the river. It is a 5-minute drive from two shopping centers and 2 km from the city center. Prices are on a reservation basis by calling (00-33) (0) 3 26 55 32 14 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.