The Fiery guide to all the Champagne! Part 2

In Part 2 of the Fiery Explorer’s guide to the Champagne region, I explain which Champagne Houses we visited, recommendations for buying fantastic Champagne under €20 and share to where best stay to maximize your time drinking all the delicious bubbles!

Fiery guide to Champagne region
After our trip, I was 100% a #Champagne snob 😉

Which Champagne Houses should I visit?

There are hundreds of Champagne houses in the champagne region, the majority of which are open for visits and most importantly – tastings!

When we decided to drive over to the Champagne region, everyone got to choose one house to visit, or it was up to the others to give suggestions. As it was all our first time visiting the region, we thought we would learn about Champagne by doing two tours. One was Mumm, and my choice was Veuve Clicquot, both located in Reims.

Fiery guide to Champagne region
The bottles of vintage Champagne resting at Veuve Clicquot
Fiery Guide to Champagne region
My spoils at Veuve Clicquot alone…

Do I need to book the tastings in advance?

For the majority of Champagne houses, you do not need to book in advance. The smaller houses in the villages will often be open during the day and have a tasting room. At Champagne J.M. Gobillard et Fils, we got a three glass tasting for €5. YES, FIVE EUROS. The glasses were not large, which was perfect, but large enough to taste the difference between their vintage and non-vintage Champagnes.

The larger houses such as Mumm, Veuve Clicquot, and Pommery usually offer tours as well as tastings. If you want to participate in a tour, I really recommend booking it in advance. Not only are you then assured of a place in the tour, but it is cheaper than booking it locally. I also advise booking directly through their website, and not through another site/operator, as this will be more expensive. If you only want to do a tasting or visit their store, you can visit them during open hours.

I want to explore the Champagne region in a #fiery way – how many Champagne houses should I visit?

I know, it’s tempting to just plan driving from village to village, going from tasting to tasting and maximizing your champagne time. But I’m going to be honest, this region has more to offer than just Champagne, and a #fiery trip should 100% revolve around more than Champagne. See Champagne as the beautiful bubbly river, that you continuously see during your trip, while you explore nature in the area, your friendships, your relationship, French food… I think you catch my drift.

Our trip was framed by Champagne, and it became the catalyst of our discussions and fun that we had as a group of friends. For a few of my friends I felt it intensified the deep conversations they had during the weekend. For others, it became the fuel for fun of the weekend. Not that we need that, mind you, but it’s nice when it’s pink and bubbly! For me, it helped me stand more in the present, and be grateful for the life that I have and the experiences I am able to live with others. There really isn’t a better reason to have Champagne is there 😘?

Back to the Champagne guide and which houses to visit…

I recommend choosing a few places such as 1-3 villages and either Reims or Épernay. Take your time to stroll through the villages and do a tour in the city. I really recommend doing at least one tour in a large Champagne house, so you are able to see the impressive network of tunnels that are home to millions of bottles of Champagne, and learn about the production process. See also the Champagne 101 in Part 1 of this guide.

Then I really urge you to chose 1-3 villages and to really explore the smaller Champagne houses. They have cheaper tastings (yay!), fantastic views (yay again!) and allow you to taste a lot of different types of Champagne! You will also need some time for whoever is driving to sober up a little too.

Allow some time to explore the region. To stand still for a bit, take in the scenery and the beauty around you. On the way to one of the villages we were visiting, we stopped near a field of beautiful purple flowers. And we just stood there for a while, taking in the view of the green hills, the villages in the horizon, the purple flowers spreading all around us. I sat there, listening to the sounds of the wind rustling through the thousands of purple flowers dancing in the wind. Accompanying the wind was the sound of bees, very diligently working through the fields of flowers. It was calming and grounding, and helped me appreciate the moment even more!

(FYI – we made sure not to step into any of the farmers fields and did not walk into the field of wild flowers either. If you do stop to admire the view or the fields, please be respectful of nature and the property of the farmers).

Which one was the most Fiery of Champagne Houses?

My favorite by far was Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin (VCP)! This was the house I really wanted to visit because it has a history of a great business woman. She didn’t care one little toss about what people thought of her and was responsible for putting this Champagne House on the map. The house itself was established in 1772 by Philippe Clicquot. When his son passed away, his 27-year-old widow Barbe Clicquot Ponsardin took over the control of the house in 1805. This is when the name of the Champagne house changed to Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin (Veuve = widow in French).

Barbe Clicquot Ponsardin was responsible for several innovations in the Champagne industry. These include making the first vintage Champagne, creating the riding table (allows for a clear Champagne) and changing the way rosé Champagne was manufactured. Until this day, the VCP house spends a lot of time in developing and celebrating women in their business, and that is something to always be celebrated in my book. If you do visit them and take a tour, I highly recommend taking the tour that includes a tasting of their Grande Dame Champagne!

The last Champagne house we visited was another one of my favorites. We drove to the village of Chigny-les-Roses, one of the premier cru villages. One of my friends had e-mailed them whether they would be open on Sunday, and Michel Tixier had kindly e-mailed us back that he had just arrived back from holiday, but would happily open for us. That’s how we ended up having a ‘private’ tour and tasting on Sunday! He was extremely kind, explaining about the family business (there are four Tixier Champagne houses in the village!) and how they manage the harvest season.

The entire tasting was so warm and welcoming, and we had a great time tasting their different Champagnes. We also left with over 10 bottles, and had to re-organize the car to get all of them to fit!

Where do we book the tours and tastings in advance?

We booked them directly through the website of the Champagne Houses. I’ve listed the ones we visited below, with links to the tours and tastings if they have them.

Fiery Guide to Champagne region
Me in my natural element!
Fiery Guide to Champagne region
Michel Tixier opened on Sunday, especially for us to have a tasting <3!

Where do I stay to maximize my exposure to Champagne?

We only visited the Montagne de Reims and Vallée de la Marne regions – the two regions surrounding Reims and Épernay. I would recommend staying in either of these two cities, as these have the most infrastructure such as restaurants, shops, and public transportation access.

We decided to stay in Reims, walking distance from an area with a lot of restaurants and a few bars. This was done deliberately, so our friend that was driving during the day, could relax and have a little more champagne during the evening.

This is the most surprising thing we encountered: there were no taxis! There must be some taxis you can call, but we tried several companies and were not able to book any. Admittedly, we had not really done any research about this before we left, as we were going by car ourselves. This is a good thing to keep in mind when you are traveling between the villages. Please don’t drink and drive! Our strategy was to visit a village, and after the last tasting give some time for our friend who was driving to rest.

Villages to explore in the Champagne region

As mentioned in Part 1 of the Fiery Explorer’s guide to the ALL the Champagne, there are 321 villages in the Champagne region. This means that making a pre-selection is key if you want to maximize your time tasting this delicious bubbly! I found a very detailed source on all the Champagne villages here, but read on for the #Fiery recommendations!

Which villages you discover of course depends on where you are staying in the Champagne region. If you want to explore the Montagne de Reims region, the best villages to visit are said to be: Ambonnay, Ay-Champagne, Bouzy, Vezenay, Verzy. All of these five villages produce Grand Cru Champagne, the highest rating of Champagne awarded, and are home to many Champagne houses. In the Valleé de la Marne, Pinot Meunier is the most common grape and the best villages to visit are Mareuil-sur-Ay (mainly Pinot Noir), Dizy, Hautvillers and Sté-Gemme. These are mainly Premier Cru villages, and are home to some exceptional Champagne!

A little bit about the history of Champagne

I can definitely recommend a visit to Hautvillers, which is not only an extremely picturesque village. It’s also said to be the birthplace of Champagne. Contrary to popular belief, the French did not invent sparkling wine. The British were already producing their version of sparkling wine when the winemakers in the Champagne region were still trying to remove the bubbles from their wine.

The region had been challenged to produce a wine that could rival the Burgundy wines. However, as this region is colder, the first fermentation step would stop due to the cold cellars the bottles were kept in. Once spring began, the fermentation would start again, creating the famous bubbles! The Benedictine monk Dom Perignon is accredited with the invention of the second fermentation in the bottle, making Hautvillers the birthplace of Champagne in the form we know it today. The village itself is beautiful and full of cute details in the architecture. Our last tasting here was at Champagne G. Tribaut, which has a tasting room overlooking the hills surrounding the village.

Fiery guide to Champagne region

Don’t miss out on this when in the #fiery Champagne region

Route du Champagne:

Around the first weekend of August, there is an annual festival named ‘Route du Champagne’. This provides the visitor with a Champagne Passport (for €25!!), and an organized route to visit different Champagne Houses. The 2019 edition will take place in the Vallée de l’Arce en Seine region, on July 28th and 29th. More information can be found here (I only found the French link, sorry!)

Restaurants & Bars

We were only in Reims for a short time, so I cannot share an in-depth guide to all the hotspots. I’m sharing below some of the places we visited which I really liked, and also some places I wish we had visited!

Le Clos in Reims – Not a Biergarten, but a Champagne-garten, complete with a colourful courtyard to enjoy your Champagne. Fun, crowded and full of beautiful French men – recommendation!

Au Petit Comptoir in Reims – a lovely French restaurant in Reims, where we had a delicious three-course meal the last night we were in Reims.

Brasserie du Boulingrin in Reims – a more traditional French restaurant in Reims, with good French food and a great selection of Champagne. Good selection if you’re looking to be more budget friendly!

Café de Palais in Reims – An Art Déco restaurant serving French food, comes highly recommended.

The Perching Bar near Verzy – I’m so sorry we missed this when we were in the region. The Perching Bar is a Champagne Bar – in the form of a luxury tree hut! At the moment it’s on appointment only. However, check back on their website and on the website of tourism in the Champagne area.

Viewpoints and photo spots

The Champagne region is beautiful in itself, consisting of hills rolling through a green, wooded and grape-filled area. There is such bliss in sitting somewhere and just watching the sunset slowly fall over the vineyards. Better yet if you’re drinking away a glass of lovely bubbles! There are some great viewpoints around Hautvillers, see the google maps below for their locations.

Buy all the champagne!

If there is a Champagne you really love, I 100% recommend getting a bottle or two in their stores. As they tend to be a much lower price point than for what you can buy it at home. However, the more well-known houses tend to be more expensive. I bought nine (we’re allowed to transport a lot within EU borders 😉) bottles during our visit, of which most were under €20! My trick was to taste the Champagnes at the smaller houses and buy their standard Champagne or rosé Champagne.

I hope you enjoyed reading the Fiery Explorer’s guide to the Champagne region! If you have any more questions, please post them below, or contact me through Instagram or Facebook!

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