This bank holiday I was lucky enough to be taken to Epernay in the Champagne region of France to celebrate my birthday, and I couldn’t recommend a short break there enough.
If you’re looking for a relaxing and romantic weekend break somewhere only a short drive away from the UK, then Champagne is the one for you.
Champagne House Tours
One of the best things about visiting Champagne, aside from coiffing endless amounts of fizz, was visiting the Champagne houses and learning about how it’s made.
There is a bit of a difference between the tours you can take at the big and small champagne houses. At G.H. Mumm (00 33 3 26 49 59 70; mumm.com) and Champagne De Castellane (00 33 3 26 51 19 19; http://www.castellane.com/en/) we joined formal and structured tours with a big group of around 20.
Champagne Gardet, a smaller house that supplies the likes of the House of Lords, Virgin Airways, and Marylebone Cricket Club (http://www.champagne-gardet.com) gave us a tour all on our own, which was really informative and gave a more detailed idea of how champagne is made, and then we had a private tasting in their beautiful gardens.
All were equally as informative and impressive, and I’d definitely recommend going on at least two cellar tours if you’re really interested in finding out about the champagne-making process, and trying the different types the region has to offer. Cellar tours cost around £10-20 for an hour-long tour of the cellars, factory, and a tasting at the end.
It’s also worth noting that if you go for a tasting and you plan to buy several bottles, you usually get tasting for free.
Tastings (or ‘dégustation’ en Francais)
We went to Hautvillers on my birthday and enjoyed a lovely tasting lunch and champs (obvs) at Au 36 (03 26 51 58 37; http://www.au36.net), which offers champagne tasting, food platters and a wide selection to buy from the local area on sale in their shop.
When we’d finished they booked us a cab for later in the afternoon (because our French is so embarrassingly terrible, and many people in the region don’t speak English, though all the tours we went on were in English, phew!) and we went for a lovely stroll around Hautvillers, which is home to several smaller champagne producers, including Champagne Tribaut (00 33 3 26 59 40 57; champagne.g.tribaut.com) which had the best view over the region. We sat in the sun for a hour enjoying a selection of drinks, while we looked over the miles of grapes.
C-Comme (03 26 32 09 55; https://www.c-comme.fr/gb/) is a champagne bar in Epernay with a friendly and English-speaking bar tender who explained the different options of the tasting menus and made us feel very welcome.
Cellar tours and tastings
G.H. Mumm – Reims. An informative tour, a good history of the company and a great overview of how champagne is made.
Champagne Gardet – Chigny-les-Roses. Really lovely personal tour and a beautiful garden to enjoy the tasting experience in.
Champagne Tribaut – Hautvillers. Probably the best view over the region and some really tasty brut champagne.
Le Chevelie – Hautvilers. A nice small champagne house with a great view and a cute cat.
Au 36 – Hautvillers. Situated on Rue Dom Perignon, and has a great selection of champagne, rose cakes (Champagne’s signature cake) and food
Champagne de Castellane – Epernay. Offers a tour, tasting and you can climb the 200-and-something steps to their tower that overlooks the region and gives great views on a clear day.
Moët & Chandon – Epernay. Tour closed until October 2015, but there are places to buy and taste.
La Cave – Epernay. Tasty, classic French food for affordable prices. Definitely recommend.
La Grillande Gourmande – Epernay. The number one restaurant in Epernay, not horrifically expensive for what I’d guess is a hair’s breadth away from being a Michelin star restaurant.
Au 36 – Hautvillers. The place to go for a relaxing tasting experience, tasty aperitifs and a great shop.
I honestly couldn’t think of a better place to spend my birthday, than the region where 300 million bottles of champagne are produced a year. BUBBLES FOR EVERYONE.