While France’s northeastern region of Champagne has always had its draws — picturesque villages, rolling hills, a labyrinthine network of underground chalk galleries, not to mention global name recognition — it’s only relatively recently that the iconic houses that forged its luxe reputation have taken a serious interest in tourism.
“Lots of the houses had little trains you could take [through the cellars] that were reminiscent of something you would have seen at Disney World,” remembers Christian Holthausen, a French-American strategic consultant in the wine & spirits industry, of his early career in Champagne in the 1990s. “There was always a gift shop with ice buckets and t-shirts for sale. If you were a tourist, you were never invited for lunch or dinner. You were just given a generic list of suggestions for dining options, straddling a line between ludicrously expensive and horribly grim.”
Over the years there have been winemakers looking to change this and establish more immersive experiences that would attract consumers as much as industry folks. In 2011, Anselme Selosse, the legendary winemaker who runs the Domaine Jacques Selosse with his wife Corinne, opened one of the first bistronomy-focused hotel-restaurants in the heart of the vines, Les Avisés (see the lodging and dining section below). Then there was the game-changing Terres et Vins de Champagne collective “made up of some of the best grower-producers in the region,” says Holthauses, who “wanted to democratize the experience of visiting producers in order to really understand the mechanics of the region,” and eventually launched the now popular Le Printemps des Champagne tasting event held each April.
But it wasn’t until Champagne’s hillsides, houses, and cellars earned UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2015 that Le Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne and the regional tourism board began seriously ramping up promotion of the region from an oenotourism perspective, launching events and flashy advertising campaigns to cement the Champagne region as a veritable must-go for both French and foreign travelers, and Champagne the drink as something to pair with more than a special occasion. (For a time, posters across France advertised fizzing flutes of Champagne alongside glazed donuts, hard-boiled eggs, and a half-eaten slice of quiche.)
So far the collective efforts seem to be working. International visits to the region have increased dramatically — Taittinger, for example, reported a 21 percent jump in foreign tourism traffic between 2015 and 2018 — and today, a visitor to Champagne can cycle through the region’s quaint villages, visit the vines by quad bike, soar over Epernay in a hot air balloon, and most importantly, eat in a host of excellent restaurants, ones that showcase how Champagne connects to daily life as a wine that complements food. Champagne may have been slow to embrace wine tourism but if these new experiences are any indication, there is a firm commitment to making up for lost time.
A final note: This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list by any means — there are some 360 Champagne houses (and 16,200 winemakers) in the appellation and some still don’t offer public visits at all, but this guide is a good place to start.
What to Know Before You Go
The grapes: The dominant trio of grape varietals to remember when it comes to champagne production: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. Chardonnay represents approximately 70% of vineyards and (almost always) makes up 100% of Blanc de Blancs Champagnes, characterized by its exclusively white grape composition.
The subregions: The historic (and most talked about) heart of the region has been concentrated in the subregions between the towns of Reims and Épernay, namely the Montagne de Reims, Côte des Blancs, and the Vallée de la Marne. But you will also find beautiful champagnes produced in two other subregions: the Côte de Sézanne and the Côte des Bar in the department (an administrative subdivision, similar to a county or province) of Aube. Pinot Noir-dominant, the Côte des Bar, which is close to the medieval city of Troyes (and very close to Burgundy), is gaining attention for its experimental grower champagnes.
Blends vs. single-vineyard wines: While there are a growing number of single-vineyard or single-parcel champagnes produced today across the regions (including the Clos des Goisses from Philipponnat, below), the majority of Champagnes are blended wines. And in case you’re wondering if one approach is better than the other, or if small estates produce better quality Champagnes than large houses, the answer is: whatever you like.
But you’ll learn more about all that, as well as the process of making Champagne and the geological and environmental specificity that shapes the region’s unique terroir, during your visits to these forward-looking houses.
Champagne & Food Experiences
The versatility of Piot-Sevillano champagnes and a brand new tasting center for the independent house, with views overlooking the vines and the Marne valley, is what led Christine Scher-Sévillano and her husband to start offering gastronomic picnics in 2020. For 10 generations, winemaking has been the lifeblood of the Piot family, who owns 20 acres in the small village of Vincelles, west of Épernay. Since 2007, Christine and her husband have preserved that heritage while taking it further with low intervention viticulture (currently transitioning to organic), single-terroir Champagnes, and a new tasting and event space in a former school located in the village.
“We produce atypical, fruity, Champagnes that are either delicate or vinous. They’re perfectly adaptable to a range of dishes,” says Christine. Specifically, she says the house’s Fraicheur de Coteau Extra Brut cuvée pairs well with scallops, oysters, and sushi. Their Prestige cuvée, a Blanc de Noirs aged longer, is more powerful and therefore better complemented by heartier foods such as steak, truffle pastas, and cheese.
Three food-and-Champagne pairing options are offered in the new tasting center (from $56): land, sea, and cheese, themes that Christine developed with her friend and sommelier Frédéric Pagneux. The cheese pairing is perhaps the most original given how infrequently fromage-specific tasting menus are offered in conjunction with Champagne. Each of the three-course dishes, served in glass, reusable jars, are prepared by chef Christophe Tinot of the nearby restaurant and catering company Le P’tit Boursault and come with a glass of a different Piot-Sévillano cuvée — that you’ll certainly want to (and should) take home.
In 2017, this fourth-generation family-run champagne house in Damery opened a professional tasting room and state-of-the-art kitchen, where Anne Malassagne and her brother Antoine oversee cooking workshops (by appointment only) meant to highlight the pairing potential for their champagnes. That might be roasted chicken with a glass of their Brut Intense or a slightly more involved dish using local ingredients, but either way, visitors leave with a better appreciation for the various Champagne styles and how they can complement almost anything you might want to eat. “In spite of what you might think, very few people actually drink Champagne with caviar or lobster,” says Malassgne, “but nearly everyone I know drinks Champagne with roasted chicken or with Comté cheese.”
Come spring, the house will once again run Champenois lunches in a cabin situated at the heart of its vines in Bisseuil. Prices available upon request.
The Philipponnat family, who traces its roots to the region as far back as the 16th century and has been operating as a producer since 1910, occupies unique real estate in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ. The house is best known for the Clos des Goisses, a 13.5-acre vineyard adjacent to the winery purchased back in 1935 and largely considered one of the region’s most exceptional terroirs. That’s in part thanks to the orientation of the vineyard: south-facing and situated on a steep 45-degree slope, which makes it about 1.5 degrees warmer than average for the region. During one of the house’s special visits (available only upon request via email, $290 per person), guests can tour its special walled vineyard, among other Philipponnat plots, on foot before heading onto a vintage bullet boat and sailing the Marne river for an hour and a half — just enough time for a tasting of several cuvées, including Clos des Goisses and Royale Réserve Brut, and digging into a seasonal picnic lunch prepared by the chefs at the Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa (see below), including seasonal salads, local cheeses, and desserts that make the wines shine.
As one of only a handful of houses with crayères — Gallo-Roman chalk quarries that were hand-dug into the limestone subsoil approximately 100 feet deep, and used today as cellars — Ruinart already boasts one of the most sought-after visits to book. But beyond the two-hour guided visit with a tasting (around $79) including two cuvées, by appointment only) or sampling cuvées by the glass, the house began serving weekend brunch in the garden in the summer of 2020. The resident chef Valérie Radou creates the bistronomic menu, sourcing entirely from local Champenois producers, after going through and tasting Ruinart Brut, Ruinart Millésimé, Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, and Ruinart Rosé cuvées with the oenological team. “I take into consideration a number of elements: the weather during the bottle’s harvest year, which can play a role in the composition of a dish,” Radou explains. “I assess acidity, freshness, olfactive notes as well as textural qualities such as fullness, smoothness. From there, I seek out products, spices, and herbs that would make suitable matches.”
Depending on the season, you might find a brunch spread featuring fennel and orange salads (best paired with the Blanc de Blancs), Champenois pink lentils, a chard and pine nut tart, a selection of cheeses such as Chaource, Langres, and Tomme des Ardennes, and fruit-based desserts like rhubarb tart, cherry clafoutis, peaches in lemon verbena syrup, pineapple infused with ginger and lemon syrup, and sweet spiced oranges.
Despite the number of major Champagne houses that lord over the avenue de Champagne in Épernay, none have offered a full fine dining experience until Perrier-Jouët launched Belle Epoque Society in June 2021, the 200-year-old house’s new culinary program meant to fit within a range of budgets. On the more accessible end and open to the public (Wednesday to Sunday), there’s Cellier, an elegant champagne bar adjacent the Perrier-Joüet boutique and production facility, that serves the house’s Blanc de Blancs with elevated snacks (when it opened, there was house-smoked salmon marinated in roasted sesame and yuzu, seasonal sandwiches on focaccia, and seasonal salads) inside, beneath a canopy of dried plants and flowers or outside, in a courtyard garden.
The more exclusive culinary experience (only 12 seats) is set across the street from Cellier in the UNESCO-protected 18th-century private mansion, called the Maison Belle Epoque, that was once home to Perrier-Jouët’s founding family. Though the house was fully restored in 2017, the Friday and Saturday lunches served among the largest private collection of French Art Nouveau in Europe mark the first time it has opened to the public. After a brief tour of the ground floor, from sitting rooms filled with Louis Majorelle tables and armoires, and Toulouse-Lautrec originals to a lounge kitted out with a fireplace mantle designed by Hector Guimard (known for his elaborate entrances to Paris metro stations), guests take their seats for a seven dish pairing lunch ($280 per person) concocted by French superstar chef Pierre Gagnaire in collaboration with his protege Sébastien Morellon, and the house’s cellar master, Séverine Frerson.
Unlike most pairing menus in which the wine is meant to complement the food, here it’s the food that adapts to the cuvées (in the case of the fall menu, that was Belle Epoque Blanc de Blancs 2006, Belle Epoque 2021, and Belle Epoque Rosé 2010), not the reverse. The citrus notes in the Belle Epoque Rosé 2010, for example, was highlighted with desserts such as a poached pear granita atop fresh grapes and quince jelly cut with Champagne marc, that leaned fruity and acidic rather than sweet.
Where else to eat
The Michelin-starred Japanese chef Kazuyuki Tanaka, chef-owner of this contemporary French-Japanese restaurant in Reims, is an avowed fan of Champagne and hires young sommeliers attuned to the rising generation of Champagne producers in the region to develop a sharp wine list to pair with his inventive cooking. Multiple tasting menus (roughly between $85–$250) showcase the chef’s deep affection for French products and preference for lighter (read: sans creamy sauces) preparations, each exquisitely presented. It all goes down in a pared-back dining room with a delicate dance of table service overseen by the chef’s wife Marine. With only 15 seats per sitting, you’ll definitely need to plan ahead and book well in advance.
Au Bon Manger (Reims)
Plan to order one of everything from this popular wine bar and deli in Reims, run by Aline and Eric Serva. Whether in the selection of the natural wines and biodynamic Champagnes (served by the glass or by bottle) or the sourcing of produce and meats from small purveyors, transparency is the abiding ethos for the Servas, who have welcomed a strong international contingent of clients since they opened in 2018. Don’t be surprised if there’s a bit of a wait: there are more products than there are tables but it’s worth lingering with a glass or stopping in for provisions to take home.
Le Garde Champêtre (Aube)
It’s in a disused train depot in the Aube, on the southern edge of the region, that serial restaurateur and wine merchant Juan Sanchez (known for La Dernière Goutte, Fish, Semilla, and Freddy’s in Paris) and associates (including Champagne producers Cédric and Emilie Bouchard, Jean-Pierre and Véronique Josselin) set up an affordable farm-to-table bistro, organic farm, and three-room auberge. What isn’t pulled directly from the farm is sourced from local producers, while an ever-rotating series of dishes are prepared in a massive open kitchen with 23-foot high ceilings and a seven-foot wide hearth oven by a talented crew of international resident chefs (Sayaka Sawaguchi, Gil Nogueira, Nathan Fallowfield and Jose Neves) and the occasional guest chef (most recently that was Robert Mendoza from Vivant Deux in Paris). Depending on the season, the range of dishes might include steamed cod, grilled leeks and candied garden tomatoes in a caldeirada sauce, grilled and citrus-marinated artichokes with an almond puree, salsa verde and wild oregano. Or, there could be squid cooked on the fire, served with tonkotsu and sorrel and mustard flowers, all with homemade sourdough bread. This has become a popular choice for food travelers, chefs, and local Champagne producers, so reserving is crucial. (Starting from $26 for lunch)
Sacré Burger (Reims)
Yes it is a good idea to try Champenois burgers (and hot dogs, and fried chicken wings) and pair them with bubbly. What began as a food truck has turned into an institution, drawing in everyone from locals, VIP chefs, industry heavyweights, and the occasional record producer who passes through town. Dishes (starting at $15) are named after locally relevant historical figures — the Clovis, the Charlemagne, the François I — and served with craft beer or natural wines and Champagnes. Sensing the dearth of fun, unpretentious food in Épernay, the owners have now brought their vibe to the historic town with Sacré Bistro.
L’Assiette Champenoise (Tinqueux, near Reims)
If you’re prepared to drop “une petite fortune” (ranging between $165 to more than $560 per person) on a restaurant experience, make it this one. Chef Arnaud Lallement, who earned his third Michelin in 2014 for this gastronomic restaurant-hotel he took over from his parents, is not only a champion of local food and wine producers, but among the most vocal activists of sustainable fishing and agriculture and seasonal, low-waste cooking. While the food menu may be short (only a few options per course), the Champagne selection runs 1,000 references deep. Both in the glass and on the plate, Lallement pays tribute to the excellence of French products with tremendous skill and respect for the artisans that make his work possible.
Where to sleep
Champagne has been shockingly limited in quality, contemporary lodging until very recently. And in Épernay especially, there has been a shortage of hotels to meet demand. Thankfully, that’s starting to change. Here are a few hotels and inns you’ll be happy to check into after a long day of touring and tasting.
Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa (between Reims and Épernay)
Fans of room service will be particularly interested in the “Champagne Please” button on room phones at The Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa, which summons a trolley of bubbles to your door. The region’s first luxury wellness establishment, the hotel is a clear draw, with panoramic views of the vines (specifically, those of the villages of Épernay, Chouilly, Aÿ, Cramant, and Avize) from nearly every room. The property can arrange a variety of different outdoor experiences in the region but among the best is participating in the harvest with one of the pioneers of biodynamic Champagne-making, Leclerc Briant. On property, there’s an unbelievable 16,000-square-foot spa and pool (plus an outdoor pool), a bistro and a one-Michelin-star gastronomic restaurant, with food-and-Champagne pairing menus that highlight a different house each month, and Champagne concierges available to arrange tours, visits, and tastings of local houses. Rooms starting at $593 per night.
Le Château de Sacy (Reims area)
Little remains of this late 19th-century manor’s original decor but since being restored in 2015 and later opened as a 12-room hotel, the three-story Château once again draws in locals and visitors to its supreme location on a hillside surrounded by vines, southwest of Reims. Come for one of the spacious rooms, done up with both contemporary furnishings and antique treasures, dine in the restaurant’s glass-enclosed sunroom, and finish the night by the fireplace with one of six rotating Champagnes, served by the glass, from big houses and smaller producers. Rooms starting at $225 per night.
Le 25bis by Leclerc Briant (Épernay)
This is a five-room guesthouse from the biodynamic Champagne house Leclerc Briant, bringing together sleek Scandi design with an impressive array of French antiques and vintage furnishings in an 18th-century residence. Breakfast is served in a beautiful, sun-drenched dining room done up in hand-painted Zuber wallpaper but there is no on-site restaurant for lunch or dinner. Guests can book a private tour of the Leclerc Briant winery and/or head to the ground-floor boutique and tasting room to try (and buy) the house’s complete range. Rooms starting at $315 per night.
Les Avisés (Avize)
For the last ten years, this late 19th-century manor house has been owned and run as a10n-room guesthouse by the Jacques Selosse Champagne estate in Avize, southeast of Épernay, run by Anselme Selosse and his wife Corinne (Selosse remains hugely influential in championing terroir-specific wines). The on-site bistronomic restaurant, overseen by chef Stéphane Rossillon, is popular among locals. Naturally, the Champagne selection is robust, and if you’re lucky, you may be offered the chance to try Substance, produced from a single chardonnay vineyard in Avize using the solera system (blending successive vintages) and one of the house’s most exceptional wines. Rooms starting at $225 per night.
The River House at Le Garde Champêtre (Gyé-sur-Seine)
A three-room bed & breakfast with shared kitchen set up in an 18th-century farmhouse, run by Juan Sanchez and his associates at Le Garde Champêtre, overlooking the Seine river in the southernmost edge of Champagne. Completely renovated by architect Alexis Cautain and interior designer Kelly Lippmann in the summer of 2020, each room is minimalist but inviting, with bed linens in cozy earthy tones, antique wood furnishings, and velvety vintage armchairs. Le Garde Champêtre restaurant is a 10-minute walk away along the river. Rooms starting at $125 per night.
Lindsey Tramuta is a Paris-based writer and the author of The New Paris and The New Parisienne: The Women & Ideas Shaping Paris. Joann Pai is a food & travel photographer in Paris, originally from Vancouver, Canada.