Vineyards around Épernay
In the town of Épernay is the renowned Avenue de Champagne, lined with big Champagne houses, such as Möet et Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Mercier, and Perrier Jouët. Beneath the streets are over 60 miles of subterranean cellars containing millions and millions of bottles of sparkling wine.
The tourism office in Épernay is situated on the famous Avenue. Head over there for additional information about the area and its various attractions. Take the Petit Train Touristique Mill'Bulles (Little Tourist Train of a Thousand Bubbles) for a quick tour to learn about the fascinating heritage of the town and enjoy its quirky street art and stately buildings.
As a bonus, you will almost always find a couple of Champagne houses hosting free tastings at the office. Be sure to have a glass or two before you head out.
Möet et Chandon
We joined the English-speaking tour (reservation highly recommended!) and were introduced to the history of the house and the Champagne making process from vine to wine. We walked through the underground caves, past riddling racks of sparkling wine bottles, where lees were gradually urged to the necks. The cellar also boasts of a beautifully carved wooden barrel that was once filled with port, a gift from Napoleon. By the end of the tour, the thirsty gang was rewarded with delicious Champagne. Yum!
|Napoleon's Gift of Port|
|Picture with the Dom|
Side Note, Special Town - Hautvillers
We spent the night at a cottage (known as a gite) in Hautvillers. Hautvillers is a cute little commune about four miles north of Épernay and surrounded by vineyards. In this town is also the Abbey of St. Peter, where Dom Pérignon and Dom Thierry Ruinart refined the process of Champagne making. Attached to the abbey is the Church of St. Sindulphe, which is also the final resting place of the Dom.
You will find info about different gites at the tourism office. It is definitely a wonderful lodging option, especially for group accommodation. The one inconvenience is that you have to figure out transportation, which can be a bit challenging if you don't speak enough French to order a taxi or fancy driving on narrow hilly roads.
My Verdict: If possible, visit Épernay with a Francophone. A little French goes a long way. However, once you get there, be prepared to be blown away by the beauty of Champagne country. Visiting in the summer poses a challenge as it is prime vacation time for the many small Grower Champagne makers and restaurants. But drink some Champagne and go with the flow. It will still be a trip to remember!