IN THE CHAMPAGNE REGION OF NORTHEASTERN FRANCE, three grape varieties—Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier—have been enriched by a unique terroir and artfully blended in winemaking. The earliest Champagne wines were popular with royalty in medieval times, but it was the late 17th century before winemakers began to master fermentation and effervescence in the bubbly wine that came to be the legendary drink of celebration.
Champagne has stayed true to its traditions that became the benchmark method for making sparkling wine. Today, more than 300 producers reflect the passion of trailblazers who shaped the Champagne industry—from the Benedictine monk Dom Pierre Pérignon to visionary merchants such as Claude Ruinart and a plucky widow, Veuve Clicquot. Their stories are revealed in tours and tastings at Champagne houses across the winemaking region.
Moët & Chandon, a favorite on the elegant Avenue de Champagne in Épernay, showcases the region’s largest labyrinth of cellars. Two standouts in the city of Reims are the house of Mumm (the official Champagne of the Kentucky Derby and Formula E) and Vranken-Pommery, for its contemporary art installations in the ancient caves, once chalk quarries dug by the Gallo-Romans. Pommery offers an optional tour of its Villa Demoiselle, a must-see for lovers of Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles. Beaucoup de Champagne may already have you flying high, but an aerial tour with Aéro-Club Épernay Plivot is a wonderful way to enjoy the scenery. Or take the bus—Bus en Vignes—for a countryside excursion that includes an epicurean feast with Champagne pairings.
Highlights of a visit to the region include a tour of Reims’ famous Gothic cathedral, where 25 kings have been crowned. With recent restorations, the cathedral’s stained glass windows feature modern designs by Marc Chagall and German artist Imi Knoebel. And, not to be missed, the medieval village of Hautvillers is a true gem, home to the abbey where Dom Pérignon spent 47 years blending grapes, laying the foundation for the acclaimed “Méthode Champenoise.”
Champagne captures the essence of French savoir faire, and its effervescence goes beyond bubbles in a bottle. Sipping a flute of the sparkling wine that fizzes with panache is said to make the soul come alive for all who taste it. Santé!
Château de Fère Sleep like royalty in this historic château-hotel, 40 minutes from Reims, with lovely grounds to roam against the backdrop of ruins of the original 12th-century fortification.
Hôtel Jean Moët The 18th-century manor house is centrally located in Épernay, just steps from Avenue de Champagne. Enjoy the cozy Champagne bar, spa and breakfast in the indoor garden.
L’Assiette Champenoise Close to Reims, this manor house in a parklike setting is famous for gastronomy and wine pairings by owner/chef Arnaud Lallement, awarded three Michelin stars.
Le César Hôtel Provins The owners of this design hotel, a dentist and orthopedic surgeon couple, have stylishly renovated the old post office in medieval Provins, between Paris and Champagne.