Things to Do in Champagne
Notre-Dame de Reims is known as the seat of the region’s archdiocese and also the location of coronations for kings of France. Built on the former site of a church that was destroyed by fire in 1211, the impressive portals, statues and spires of Notre Dame have become one of the most popular attractions in Reims.
After taking in the chevet’s ornate exterior and Notre Dame’s famous rose window, travelers can venture indoors where colorful stained glass dating back to the 13th and 20th centuries decorates the nave and altar. A vast collection of tapestries, including a series representing the life of the Virgin Mary, is also on display, and the church’s treasury, dating back some 800 years, showcases rare artifacts like a holy flask broken during the French Revolution.
Founded in 1858 by Alexandre Louis Pommery and Narcisse Greno, Champagne Pommery was at one time better known for its wool trading than for its bubbly. Today, however, this massive house is one of the Champagne region’s largest producers of the popular celebratory beverage and a destination for travelers seeking to sample sparkling glasses in the same setting where it’s produced.
Visitors can tour the network of chalk pits that sits beneath the city of Reims, where more than 20 million bottles of champagne are stored in a natural temperature-controlled environment. Guided tours include a trip around the grounds, a visit to the cellars and a detailed explanation of how this favorite beverage is produced, bottled and distributed.
In 1827, three German brothers brought their experience of producing and merchandising wine to the Champagne region. Jacobus, Gottlieb and Phillip Mumm founded the House of Mumm, and set about producing some of the most well-regarded and celebrated champagnes in the world.
In 1852, the business was taken over by Georges Hermann Mumm, and under his direction, the winery was producing over 3 million bottles of champagne a year. In the 1920s, a Parisian lawyer named Rene LaLou became president, and for the next 50 years, Mumm champagnes greatly increased the house's output while maintaining the quality of the product set a century before. A period of malaise and lackluster vintages followed his death, but in the 1990s, technological innovations and tinkering with the grape compositions ensured that the legendary excellence of Mumm champagnes was here to stay.
Moët et Chandon is a worldwide name today, but it didn't exactly come from humble beginnings. From the very start it was a favorite of King Louis XV, and soon after it was known throughout Europe as the Champagne to drink. From Napoleon to Queen Victoria, everyone wanted a glass of Moët et Chandon! Now under the umbrella brand of LVMH Moët Hennessy • Louis Vuitton, 26 million bottles are produced yearly, and the brand continues to be associated with the finer things in life.
But elitist, they are not. The Moët et Chandon headquarters in Epernay are open to the public for tours and tastings, and visitors can walk through the 17 miles of underground cellars, learn how Champagne is made and then choose from a selection of tastings that bring a new appreciation to this most celebratory of drinks.
Just north of popular Épernay, Hautvillers at first may seem like just another village in the countryside. But for true fans of Champagne, it has become a pilgrim's destination. That's because it is the birthplace of Champagne! The town's Saint-Pierre Abbey is where Dom Pérignon first made the bubbly elixir, and today he is buried in the abbey, now owned by Moët & Chandon.
But there's more to Hautvillers than simply this historical fact. A stroll through the streets reveals the whimsical iron signs that grace every public or commercial building and what lies within. And there are wine tastings at Au 36, charming dining options and lots of activities nearby. Hautvillers' motto is “Entre Vignes et Forêts,” meaning between the vineyards and the forest–the perfect place to discover the magic of this verdant region.
Where Dijon is a centre for Burgundy's red wine production (and that of mustard), Epernay is the main entrepot for the wines of the Champagne region. Visitors from all over the world come to this small town to buy champagne and see how it is bottled. As it is the center for champagne production, its economy and tourism largely revolve around sparkling wines.
Like most other metropolitan areas in France, Epernay can trace its history to the last days of Rome. Indeed, the town is replete with the obligatory 16th-century church and Old Quarter; however, these quaint relics of long-gone eras have been somewhat overshadowed by a cheerily modern streak. This doesn't mean that the town's charm has disappeared under a bunch of apartments and malls; rather, Epernay's appeal spreads outside its limits to the surrounding countryside, where the wealthy wine merchants and champagne producers keep impressive maisons.
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