The first time you travel to anywhere, it’s hard to know all the dos and don’ts… I have found it’s especially hard in Champagne because there is not a lot that is written about travel in the region. Tourism is HUGE in Champagne but it is still a little way behind how other wine regions in online information for planning.
So I am making it my personal mission to make it EASY for anyone who wants to travel in Champagne to plan a cracking itinerary!
I wrote this post – my top five tips for travelling in Champagne – as the first in my Champagne Travel blog because there are a few key tips that should come before the nitty-gritty of booking tours and tastings.
Things like… when is the best time to visit (and when are not such great times to visit), how long should I spend (I do moderate myself.. if I listened to my heart I would tell you to go for at least a month!), and tips for getting around when you are there.
And make sure you check out my other posts to help you nail your trip to Champagne… see the links at the end of this post.
My top five tips for travelling in Champagne
1. Plan for a three-day minumum
If you want to really see Champagne, you need to have at least three days… but if you had five you would see much more without rushing. The major centres in Champagne – Epernay and Reims – are awesome and have a lot to offer and are the most popular places to visit on a Champagne itinerary.
BUT if you stick just to these towns, you will miss the most breathtakingly beautiful parts of Champagne (refer to this sunrise below that I saw on my last trip.)
Dawn in Chigney-Les-Roses
In my humble – and admittedly champagne-obsessed – opinion you need at least one day for Reims, one day for Epernay (from there you can take in Hautvillers too), and one day to explore further afield.
Which brings me to tip number two…
2. Make time to explore outside Reims and Epernay
Epernay and Reims are amazing towns and the largest towns, so they are the places most people choose to stay. But to really appreciate the beauty and diversity, the heart and soul of Champagne, you need to get amongst the villages and the vineyards. You can hire a local tour guide for this – I write more about that here (add link), but you can also drive yourself around.
Everything in Champagne is relatively close (when you come from a big country like Australia anyway!) but realistically you can’t tour the entire region in one day. Or even three days. But if one day is all you have, I would focus on enjoying the area around Reims and Epernay.
I actually made a video of my top tips when I came back from my most recent trip to Champagne which says pretty much the same thing so if you like to watch, check that out.
While you can drive the main road from Reims to Epernay in about 30 mins, I recommend taking the scenic route… read my post here on what I would do with just one day dedicated to cruising around the region in my One-day self-guided driving tour of Champagne (this post is coming soon!) .. and get some inspo from my photo gallery.
This still only takes in one small corner of the region but it is a very beautiful corner and will make for a day you won’t forget!
3. When to go (and when not to go)
When you visit is also an important consideration.
Summer is – of course – high season and the weather is amazing so it makes sense that everyone wants to go then… but it is busy. Really busy. And you need to know that some of the villages in Champagne are really quite small and have limited options for accommodation, making accommodation – and tours – harder to book and much more expensive in June through July (even in May).
And what a lot of visitors don’t realise is that August is the month the French take their summer holidays. Across the entire country, a lot of places are closed for the whole month and Champagne is no different. A lot of smaller producers close their tastings and tours… some for the whole month. Even starting from Bastille Day (July 14), a lot of smaller houses and producers start to wind down, which means there is less to see and do and taste, so you really need to check in advance.
And an extra complication for August – September is the harvest season. And last year, we saw an early harvest starting in late August. Harvest has generally been in September but thanks to climate change, the average date for starting harvest has been creeping forward. Champagne producers have been known to be called back early from their August holidays, so I predict they may start winding down earlier so they get a break before the madness of harvest commences.
And harvest can be a super-exciting time to visit but…
- the producers are obviously working hard focused on the grapes, not visitors and
- the region is flooded with visitors! Those who are there to pick the grapes and wine writers and journalists from all over the world descend on the region so finding accommodation can be very hard.
So September is not the ideal time to visit unless you want to be a part of harvest, which can be a lot of fun, but the catch is you won’t know when harvest is until just a week or two beforehand so your timeframe needs to be flexible.
4. Getting around the region
You can travel to Epernay or Reims from Paris via the train really easily. And the train will take you between Epernay And Reims easily too (with regular stops at Rilly-la-Montagne and few stops at Ay-Champagne). But otherwise, there are no buses or public transport options to get you around from village to village.
And walking between villages isn’t a good idea – even though some distances are short enough for someone like me – because there are no footpaths or sidewalks or walking tracks. You can ride bikes but be ready for road riding (with all the cars and farming equipment!) and hills. Grape vines need hills to grow so your quads will get a workout for any decent view.
So that means you will need to:
- Hire a car … which is a shocking waste of champagne tasting opportunities for someone so I won’t even discuss that here!
- Book a private driver… but I found the day rates for drivers made my eyes water, especially as I was travelling solo so I won’t elaborate on that as an option, but it does exist if you want to do your research.
- Book a local tour guide … it works out better value than a driver OR
- Use the taxi service… there was no Uber in Champagne when I last visited in 2018 (and my spies will let me know if/when Uber does expand out of Paris and I will update you!).
A bit more detail on the train… the train from Paris to Epernay or Reims takes about 90 mins or 45 on the fast train. Between Epernay and Reims it’s about 30 mins and costs about Euro 7. There is an app you can download which I did all my train booking through – visit the website OUI.sncf or search for the app. All electronic tickets made it so easy. The train stations in Epernay and Reims are walking distance from the centre of town and my hotels… it just depends how much luggage you have if you want to walk. There are taxi ranks at the stations if you don’t want to walk.
My experience with taxis in Reims was they were a total pain. I had no luck getting any good service – and all the champagne houses and hotel staff I spoke to complained about the taxis in Reims too. When I was staying at my hotel, the staff called and arranged taxis for me and it wasn’t too bad. But when I stayed in my Airbnb in Reims, I tried calling and texting and booking online, but just couldn’t get a single cab. I ended up finding it easier to walk to the train station to jump in one… but even then on busy days, there wasn’t a cab in sight! If you are relying on cabs, make sure you allow plenty of time!
But in Epernay, taxis are another story. Sofien runs ABC Taxis and all his drivers speak English. He and his guys drove me everywhere in my five weeks and were SOOOOO nice and helpful. I had Sofien on speed dial and the night before I needed a taxi, I would text him to let him know where I needed to go the following day and he’d look after it. Can’t recommend his service highly enough! I can’t imagine how a private driver could possibly top these guys.
A quick note about how taxi fares work in Champagne…
When they work out the fare, they charge you for the trip to get to you (before they pick you up) and then to take you to your destination. Which does make it more expensive and hard to predict the costs but if you don’t want to worry about driving (and missing out on champagne), it’s your only option. I found a lot of tourists complained about it… but you are just better off accepting it as their local system and getting on with it, but it is good to know in advance.
What do taxis cost? The most expensive ride I had was probably E80 from Epernay to Chigny-les-rose (about 25 mins) but it was late at night… and via the McDonalds drive-thru (you can take the girl out of Australia but you can’t take the Aussie out of the girl!). While taxis were my biggest expense (after accommodation and flights), I really didn’t want to hire a car so it was the only answer. And when it came to Sofien and his team, they were so awesome and helpful I didn’t mind one bit.
5. Book ahead!
Let me say that again, BOOK AHEAD!
And if you are planning to go in the French summer, book way ahead! I mean book months ahead – NOT weeks or days ahead – to get the dates and times you want to fit your itinerary.
Book ahead for accommodation, tours and tastings.
I know in Australia you can just rock up at a cellar door and get a tasting. I think it mostly works the same in New Zealand and the US too… but generally that’s not the case in Champagne.
There are a few caveats to this tip…
… there are some places you can just show up for a tasting, like some of the champagne tasting rooms along the Ave de Champagne in Epernay and the smaller villages. But you won’t get a cellar tour, and if it’s busy you might get stuck waiting and miss your other appointments.
… I have seen people just ‘show up’ at some of the bigger houses in Reims or Epernay (where they run dozens of tours and tastings every day) and they have been accommodated.
BUT my best advice is NOT to risk it. On a super-busy day, you could miss out. And if you do get added last minute, it generally delays the start of the tour and will impact the winemakers and tour guides AND all the clever people who booked in advance because the tour is late and crowded #badmanners #dontbethatguy #dontbethatgirl #dontbethatgroup
That’s a wrap on my main tips for travelling in Champagne.
I LOVE the champagne region, it is just so beautiful and the locals are lovely. Forget everything you’ve ever heard about the French… it is NOT my experience at all.
I would LOVE for you to email me and let me be your personal Champagne Travel Concierge! I will work with my network of local Champagne spies to plan a personalised itinerary to match the time of year, the occasion, your group size, and any of your personal preferences! Email email@example.com so I can start planning the Champagne trip of your dreams now!
Make sure you check out my other travel tips especially My top tips for booking tastings and tours in Champagne where I…
- Recommend guides I have had personal, fabulous experiences with.
- Let you in on a secret site where you can book tastings at HUNDREDS of houses
- Give you links to the big houses you can book with directly.
Links to my other champagne travel posts are below. Have you been to Champagne and have a hot tip? If you do visit after reading my tips, make sure you post a pic and tag @bubbleandflute #bubbleandflute #happychamper #champagnefan
My other champange travel posts
I don’t get paid any commission or affiliate or referral fee for any of my recommendations and I have no vested interest in any of the businesses I recommend. That is not how I work. All of my content is my own opinion based on my personal experience and I earn nothing for sharing it with you.
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