The Route Touristique du Champagne – the Champagne Route: could anything sound like a better holiday destination?
The first thing you have to know is that Champagne – real Champagne and not just sparkling white wine – only comes from the Champagne region in France. To truly be a Champagne it must be grown and produced under the very strict rules of the appellation from pinot noir, chardonnay or pinot meurier grapes grown under appellation rules on certain land within the Champagne region.
This region stretches along the Marne Valley and its surroundings, starting around 75 miles east of Paris and heading to the cities of Epernay and Reims, famous for their champagne producers. It stretches as far south as Cote des Bar and Sezanne.
The Champagne Route covers 360 miles with acres of vineyards, and countless villages full of family run wineries. There are around 80 in total and most of them have open cellar doors, tours and tastings. The sign ‘point d’accueil’ (welcome point) indicates the best to visit.
The route is actually five different trails you can follow. The Massif de St-Thierry is a circular route north-west of Reims, the Montagne de Reims covers the hillsides between Reims and Epernay, the Cote des Blancs route heads south from Epernay, the Vallee de la Marne is a great one for walkers following the River Marne from Epernay to Dormans, and the Cote des Bar route lies east of Troyes.
If you love Champagne, one place you’ll really want to visit is Hautvillers in the Marne Valley, famous for its abbey where Dom Pérignon discovered the secret of Champagne-making in the 17th century.
Moët et Chandon have their cellars at Epernay, and a visit here is definitely worthwhile. It’s the largest cellars in the region and stretches for a labyrinthine 17.4 miles (28 km) 10-30 meters underground. They have regularly scheduled Champagne tours and tastings. Equally important is Veuve Cliquot in Reims although here tours are by appointment.
But there is more to the Champagne Route than just the bubbly stuff. Dotted with lovely old villages there are churches to visit, forests to drive through and hilltops to enjoy views over the miles of vineyards. So actually, even if you never drink Champagne, the Champagne Route is still worth exploring for its beauty and history alone.
The best way to tour the Champagne Route is by car, but if you don’t have a car, take a guided tour. That way you’ll be assured of finding the highlights – and you’ll be free to participate in all the tastings you like.