Paris Part Quatre (Champagne in Champagne)

This is part four in a seven-part series on my trip to Paris. Read all the parts here.

By Thursday, I was feeling more comfortable than ever in the city. I had the Metro system down pat, a favorite shop to stop for necessities like instant coffee and nutella for my breakfast toast. With a lot of Paris under our belts, we’d set aside the day to knock out one more of my top priorities: drinking a sip of champagne while in Champagne.

My aunt had rented a car to get us to the region just northeast of Paris where the bubbly comes from, and once we got the car (graciously upgraded to include in-dash – and in English – navigation!), we were headed off on the two and a half hour country drive to Reims. In researching the region, everyone recommended sticking to the two main towns, Reims and Épernay – pick one or both, and plan in advance which champagne houses to see while you’re there. I chose Reims for a couple of reasons: both Veuve Clicquot and Taittinger are based there, and the town itself is rife with history, home to the cathedral where centuries of French rulers have been coronated.

The drive – once we navigated out of Paris proper! – was lovely, all rolling French countryside and provincial villages nestled into hillsides. A bit delayed leaving the city, we made our way right to Taittinger for the early afternoon tour I’d booked in advanced. I’d tried to book one at Veuve Clicquot as well, but they responded to my inquiry that they were closed for the off-season until April. One is better than none, right? What’s more, I’ve got a classic Grace Kelly Taittinger ad hanging in my dining room, making the visit seem all the more fitting.

Villages don’t come more French provincial than this.

The tour itself is fairly standard, with a video on the history of the house to start and then an informative walk around the underground caves where the champagne bottles ferment. In the case of Taittinger, the family purchased the house just a few generations ago, and moved operations to an abbey dating from the 4th century. Walking through the chilled caves, seeing all the bottles in various states of repose as they wait to be turned was pretty cool. As we came back up to ground level, our tour guide had a glass of the good stuff waiting for us, the perfect reward.

Champagne in Champagne!

After the tour, I wanted to explore the town more. Home to its own Notre Dame cathedral, I took a twenty minute stroll through Reims towards the church. This second Notre Dame does not disappoint; they’re so similar, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for the one in Paris. Sure enough, inside its vaulted ceilings are the rose windows you’d expect and a placard recognizing all the royals crowned there since 1223, including Louis IX (aka St. Louis), Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI. Once again, I found myself awed by the history that surrounded me.

By the time I’d soaked in the history of Reims’ Notre Dame, I was starving and my aunt was ready to embark on a longer, leisurely drive back to Paris through new countryside. Confident I could find my way back, I stayed in town for a late lunch and spent the evening wandering through what is really a beautiful small town as I made my way to the train station.

I quickly learned confidence is no substitute for actual French language skills, as the ticket agent politely replied Non, when I asked my standard, Parlez-vous anglais? Thankfully, she actually did have just enough English – and I had just enough French – to fumble through getting me a one-way ticket back to the city. I killed the hour till the train in the waiting area and soon I was on a high-speed bullet back to Paris; getting back only took 45 minutes, a condensed trip I was grateful for, as the cold I woke up with that morning was in full swing by then. But that’s another story…

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We didn’t use the Paris Pass at all for our day trip to Champagne.