Guide to Champagne
With rolling fields neatly combed by vines, sun trap terraces serving variations of the region’s famous tipple and historic Champagne houses opening up their cellar doors (and encyclopaedic knowledge) to visitors, it’s certainly one of France’s most alluring regions to visit. History runs deep here, from Napoleonic lore, sharing toasts with Russian tsars to women whipping the vineyards into shape to the threatening thud of German bombs in the distance. These layers of history pair beautifully with the extraordinary landscape, storybook towns and chateaux (best viewed from a convertible zipping through the emerald green countryside), all of which form a UNESCO world heritage site. Naturally, where there’s Champagne, there are also a host of superlative restaurants and hotels – all twisting like sunflowers towards the effervescent drink (always quaffed from a tulip-shaped glass).
Couples visiting Champagne for wedding tastings, honeymoons or romantic trips are repeatedly bowled over by the Old World charm of these chateaux hotels with their scenic pools and Champagne-centred rituals, as are the conscious travellers who soon learn of the various houses’ commendable efforts to lessen their carbon footprint. The joy of exploring the region under your own steam is also stumbling upon the smaller, lesser-known growers – many producing innovative Champagnes and offering an unvarnished glimpse into the nuts and bolts of wine-making (typically involving larger-than-life characters).
With over 300 Champagne houses, 140 cooperatives and more than 16,000 growers, planning a trip here can be a little overwhelming. Given the region’s popularity with couples, as well as the drink’s consolidated status as the ultimate tipple to celebrate with (Champagne can only derive from the region itself), we felt it only sensible to curate our own romantic guide to Champagne.
The Best Hotels
Dotted in fairytale chateaux, Champagne is a treasure trove of elegant and historic hotels, all whispering tales of royalty, film stars and the 19th century beau monde seduced by the region’s fizz-focused charms. An obvious, if not the gold-standard spot to drop your Goyard trunks at is Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa – quite the antithesis of the region’s flamboyant chateau and instead a polished, modern reimagining of an old coaching inn, with sweeping views over the emerald Marne Valley. The glass and quartz contemporary architecture is a paean to the effervescence of Champagne itself – with its smooth edges and pale, blonde-then-honey palette. When not quaffing Champagne on the terrace, the spa is a welcome hiatus from all that sunshine, tastings and caviar suppers. For the photogenic chateau stay, head to Domaine Les Crayeres’ opulent embrace in Reims. Expect thick four poster drapes, Rococo-style chests and a profusion of antiques, all with that clipped service worthy of Louis XIV’s court. Reim’s big ticket Champagne houses are an easy stroll away – a boon for those wanting to get stuck into the tastings. Set in rolling parkland, Chateau de Courcelles also packs plenty of 17th century oomph, while Villa Eugene has the feel of an affluent family home (it once belonged to the Mercier family) – though less French fancy overkill and more light-filled cream rooms overlooking an inviting pool and surrounding manicured gardens.
The Lesser-Known Houses and Growers
Far from confined to the blockbuster Champagne houses, the region – broken down into four wine-growing sub-regions): Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Côte des Blancs and Côte des Bar – is teeming with lesser known houses and growers. Visiting them offers a glimpse into Champagne’s soul and the sheer passion, sweat and skill that goes into producing the gold standard of sparkling wines. Tours and tastings at growers tend to be more intimate, if not a little rustic, with fantastic behind-the-scenes access and an all-round authentic experience. Amongst a raft of growers, couples can pull up at the green and well-groomed Larmandier-Bernier in Vertus, owned by Pierre and Sophie Larmandier (8th generation Côtes des Blancs Champagne makers); Pierre Péters in the postcard-pretty village of le Mesnil-sur-Oger where Rolphe Péter’s family have been producing Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Champagne since 1919; and Jacques Selosse at Chateau-ready Hôtel Les Avisés for organically-minded wine-making.
The Best Restaurants
Gastronomes rejoice. Champagne is a warren of top foodie spots, many showcasing the region’s penchant for haute cuisine (expect an abundance of foie gras and foam). Among the innovative, norm-shifting haunts is Racines in Reims, where Japanese chef Kazukuki Tanaka deftly fuses French and Japanese classics on his menu, all of which are finely tuned by local sommeliers to the region’s Champagnes. It’s worth booking ahead, with only 15 covers per night. For a more easygoing lunch in Reims, head to Sacré Burger for the holy blend of burgers and bubbles. But then again, if a blow-the-budget evening is on the cards, L’Assiette Champenoise on the fringes of Reims is a three-Michelin-starred sensory assault, as well as a masterclass in how a sustainable, zero-waste ethos and fine dining can co-exist. Les Crayères two-Michelin-starred Le Parc restaurant also proudly displays its lofty, locavore credentials on a menu enjoyed in the splendid grounds once owned by Louise Pommery. Les Avisés is a must-visit, set in a gently restored, and perfectly symmetrical 19th century mansion, where the chef (and co-owner) uses the region’s seasonal bounty to whip up an ever-changing menu of Champagne-friendly dishes. Expect innovative twists on French classics such as cod à la vapeur with wild rice, Espelette pepper and Yuzu écume, all scribbled on the blackboard that morning.
The Classic Houses to Visit for Tastings
A romantic trip to Champagne wouldn’t be complete without visiting its most prestigious houses, most of which are located in Reims and Epernay. These are all steeped in remarkable history and offer labyrinthine chalky cellars (crayères) filled with ageing, meticulously tipped, bottles. These include houses such as Ruinart in Reims (founded in 1729) with its deep crayeres and perfectly-formed gardens, the imposing chateaux of Taitinger (still owned by the Taitinger family), and Moet and Chandon (another 16th century house, founded by Claud Moet with the region’s largest underground maze of cellars). We’d also recommend a pit stop at Veuve Clicquot, particularly for its feminist success story, where Madame Cliquot took the business to new heights and even invented rosé Champagne. Whether visiting for wedding Champagnes or simply embarking on romantic bucket-list jaunts into the heart of French wine-making country, classic house hopping is a key part of the Champagne experience, where the true essence of the region reveals itself.
The Best Towns and Villages to Explore
While Champagne is first and foremost an epicurean exercise, there is so much to do beyond the cellar. The region’s pastel-hued villages and towns are well worth visiting, particularly 16th century, timber-clad Troyes with its Gothic cathedral and Modern Art Museum; Epernay as the beating heart of Champagne, where chateaux lord over their vine-covered kingdoms and couples can meander between them on bikes, or simply take refuge from the sun in the quaint, traditional cafes and brasseries. Just north of Epernay lies the Medieval village of Hautvillers, where the tomb of Dom Pérignon is located (the monk and alleged inventor of Champagne in the 17th century). Famed for its links to the French monarchy, Reims is the perfect final stop on any Champagne jaunt. It was under the cavernous ceiling of its Cathedral that the Kings of France were crowned and where King Clovis, the first king of France’s baptism was toasted with local wine (rendering the provenance of the very definition and inception of Champagne a sacred one). Underneath the city lies a chalky network of tunnels and cellars, originally carved out by the Romans. Here, locals sip Champagne like quotidien tonic at Le Café du Palais. Join them before heading to the Palace of Tau, once home to some of France’s most illustrious kings.
For Eco-conscious Couples
Couples with a conscience would be wise to pick Champagne as a honeymoon spot, a pre-wedding tasting adventure or a romantic trip à deux. Firstly, the region can easily be reached by TGV from Paris, which is an easy Eurostar journey from London, removing the need for air travel and already minimising carbon footprint for responsible travellers. But then there’s the eco-conscious thrust of the region itself. Champagne was the first wine region to fully assess its carbon footprint (2003) and, from these results, draw up an action plan to make the region and the production of the drink more sustainable. The Comité Champagne has set an ambitious target to achieve full environmental certification by 2030, with pioneering changes already in place such as reducing bottle weight, recycling vineyard water and trialling petrol-free shipping. Over half the region has so far gained environmental certification, and these impressive strides in sustainability are bound to strike a chord with responsible couples for their wedding day, or those looking to offset a few romantic days of fizz-fuelled indulgence with some impressive eco-feats.
To fully research this romantic guide to Champagne, The Wedding Edition team headed out to the region’s vine-coated hills and Medieval towns. Here are their most romantic moments – consider them nuggets of inspiration for any impending jaunt to the world’s most famous wine region.
Anisa: ‘My most romantic moment was watching the sunset over the vineyards from the Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa terrace with a glass of their exquisite Champagne. It’s the uninterrupted views of the vineyards that make it so special. The sheer spec of the food and service at dinner, paired beautifully with Champagnes, completes this remarkable experience.’
Francesca: ‘For me, the Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa is an unparalleled romantic setting. Whether I was indulging in the spa or relaxing in my suite, the hotel’s clever design allowed me to appreciate breathtaking views across Champagne’s vineyards. One of my highlights from the trip was our dinner here. Golden hour partnered with a delicious Champagne-paired dinner accompanied by incredible views is a hard moment to top.’
Isabella: ‘Tasting at Boutique 19 – here the tasting is seriously cool. Not only is it on the most stylish avenue (Avenue De Champagne) but the team here are pioneers in educating and champion the up and coming vigneron. ‘
Kendra: ‘Discovering the cellars at Louis Brochet – for 4 generations Louis Brochet have been showcasing their brilliant vineyards and we can see why. expect little four-legged furry friends running around whilst you taste their delicious range (the Blanc de Blanc is a showstopper) and rolling green hills lined with the worlds most covered grapevines.’
Yasmin: It has to be the romantic lunch we had at Château de Sacy. The view onto the vines (all bookended with red roses) was an enchanting backdrop for lunch – accompanied by light, crisp Champagne. The staff had a yesteryear charm to them and the setting was an exhale, personified.’
To plan your romantic trip to Champagne, France, visit: champagne.fr/en
Related content: Honeymoon Review: Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa