How to spend 72 hours in France's Champagne region

Just two-and-a-half hours by car from Calais, Champagne is the perfect place for a weekend of fun and fizz.Thursday, 26 September 2019

No matter how many countries plant vines, France remains the cradle of wine culture. The fizz of champagne, the blended reds and sweet whites of Bordeaux and the tiny soil variations that you taste in a glass of pinot noir or chardonnay from Burgundy are the standards that other regions have adopted as their own. The variety is stunning: the Loire Valley alone has enough different wine styles to make most wine-producing countries jealous.

Whether you want to sample local wines at superb restaurants, wander the hills that nourish the vines or explore local museums and farmers’ markets, France is the ideal destination. Those seeking an authentic wine experience should look out for the Vignobles & Découvertes label — the national wine tourism label of France.

The two most important northern wine regions are the world-famous Champagne, with its vine-covered hills and the network of Roman-built underground cellars beneath Reims, and the Loire Valley, where vineyards dotted with graceful châteaux stretch for hundreds of miles along France’s longest river. It never hurts to have a glass of fine wine to look forward to at the end of a day spent tasting and sightseeing.

How to spend a weekend in the Champagne region

Day 1: Go back in time

Begin a day in Reims with a visit to the magnificent cathedral. Keep an eye out for the stained-glass window donated by Champagne’s 44 wine-producing villages — it depicts numerous stages  of the winemaking process as well as Dom Pérignon, the monk credited with creating modern Champagne. Descend further into the past with a tour of the Taittinger cellars, which include Roman-era graffiti and stairs to the now-demolished Abbey of St Nicaise, as well as, of course, millions of bottles of Champagne. 

For a drop of what those bottles contain, stop by Le Wine Bar by Le Vintage on Place du Forum; then, when hunger strikes, head to Doko Koko, the less formal younger sister of the Michelin-starred Racine. For accommodation, La Demeure des Sacres is a great four-room maison d’hôtes located near the cathedral. Alternatively, splash out on a stay at Domaine Les Crayères, including dinner at the impressive two Michelin-star Le Parc, which offers an impressive wine list, including, of course, pages of champagnes to choose from.

Day 2: Visit West Marne Valley

The next day, head an hour west to Marne Valley, an area dotted with row upon row of vines, picturesque country villages, Romanesque bell towers and princely castles. Attractions and activities on offer here include raising a glass at Champagne Lévèque Déhan, joining a workshop based around the senses at Champagne Méteyer Père et Fils and trying your hand at conquering an escape room at Maison Pannier. 

Day 3: Admire the Aube region

Spend the last day in the Aube region, responsible for a quarter of France’s champagne. In the picturesque town of Troyes, the region’s medieval capital, explore the Rachi Synagogue and the legendary Église Sainte-Madeleine. Next, head southeast to Côte des Bar, which stretches across 17,000 acres. Visit the family-owned Drappier champagne house, then sip your way through the vineyards that are almost exclusively planted with pinot noir grapes. 

Essentials

Getting there
It takes two and a half hours by car to drive from Calais to Reims. There are up to 23 sailings a day between Dover and Calais. Book your next trip today at poferries.com.

Find out more at visitfrenchwine.com

Published in the September 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller Food

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