To sip a glass of champagne (or two), follow in my footsteps, and head to the famed region where it’s produced, the delightful, French city of Reims. Only an hour by train from Paris, this unofficial capital of the champagne wine-growing region, is home to many of the top champagne houses, as well as the famous Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims where French kings were crowned for over 1,000 years.
The House of Veuve Clicquot
For a thoroughly regal experience to embark on your champagne tastings, do yourself a favor and stay at Domaine Les Crayères. The castle named for the region’s chalk cellars (or crayères) dates back to 1904 and was once the house of the De Polignac family. From here, it’s a short stroll to some of the region’s top champagne houses. Like the famed Veuve Clicquot cellars where you can enjoy tastings of their iconic cuvée, Brut Carte Jaune plus a vintage cuvée.
Established in 1772, the champagne house was taken over by Madame Clicquot following the founder’s untimely death, who changed the name to Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin – translated to Widow of Clicquot. It was Madame Clicquot – known to have said “If in the search of perfection, we must take two steps at a time, I do believe that we should not be content in only taking one.” – who also invented the riddling table to improve the wine’s clarification and get crystal clear champagne while speeding up production. The creation of rose champagne is also credited to this bold woman.
Take a drive to the vines of their distinguished La Grande Dame for a taste of Veuve Clicquot’s prestige cuvee and a look at the property where equally illustrious events take place.
The House of Ruinart
Another premium champagne house not to miss is Ruinart. Started by Nicholas Ruinart in 1729, this was the first champagne-producing company to open its doors in Reims. A visit to Maison Ruinart’s ancient white chalk quarries that compose the cellars, is an experience in both history and art. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, set in the heart of the crayères, the artist duo Mouawad Laurier has created a visual and sound experience, combining art, sustainable development, and artificial intelligence. Once you taste Ruinart’s Blanc de Blancs made of Chardonnay grapes and harvested from the Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims terroirs, you’ll see why a visit to this celebrated champagne house is worth traveling for.
In addition to drinking all that delicious bubbly, be sure to see all of the art that is omnipresent in various forms throughout the Maison, from sculptures in the garden to mixed media in the hallways and paintings in the tasting rooms. Even their latest innovative paper packaging, a step deeper towards their commitment to sustainability, can be considered a form of art.
Stay in a Historic Castle
Stepping onto Domaine Les Crayères’ vast terrace looking over a lush seven-hectare park makes you forget you are indeed in a city. Though there’s no mistaking you’re in the iconic Reims champagne region when you enter the castle-style hotel bar and lounge where red and green hues set a romantic mood and there are over 600 champagne options to choose from. How does one choose? With only 20 rooms and suites, each one decadently dressed in Belle Epoque furnishings and richly printed upholstery, this five-star hotel evokes visions of Versailles when entering the opulent salons filled with antiques and historic oil paintings. While its more discreet dining rooms invite into a gourmet experience helmed by Chef Philippe Mille. Here at two-Michelin-starred restaurant Le Parc regional tastes combine with the chef’s signature twist to create a multi-course tasting menu that won’t soon be forgotten. Even breakfast is a ceremonial affair with freshly baked pastries, homemade spreads, and polished silverware. For a more casual meal at the creative whims of Phillipe Mille, the neighboring brasserie Le Jardin sets an appetizingly modern scene. No matter which gastronomy option you go for, you can be assured that every meal is washed down with the finest glass of French champagne. We’ll drink to that.