When it comes to celebrations, there’s no sound more satisfying—or festive—than the dramatic pop of a Champagne cork. Bubbles are often the drink of choice used to toast milestone moments from marriages to big birthdays. The tradition dates back to the coronation of French kings in the Champagne capital of Reims, where nearly 30 of France’s royalty were crowned and anointed with bottles of bubbly. Just a quick train ride from the capital of romance, Paris, Champagne is about as charming as wine country can get (think Venice-style cities, medieval monuments and château-dotted hillsides), with hundreds of cellars tucked right off the official wine route. Whether you want to visit the maison that supplied the sparkles for your wedding reception or want to embark on a romantic road trip voyaging through a part of French wine country nearly as popular as Bordeaux, here's how to taste your way around Champagne’s towns—and what to sip once you get there.
How to Get There
Fly into Paris and spend your first night in France recovering from jetlag in the most glamorous way possible: with Champagne in your suite at a charming boutique hotel like the Grand Hôtel du Palais Royal. The former Paris opera house is home to 68 modern rooms with wrought-iron terraces overlooking a few of the city’s famous sites (from the Prestige Suite, you can even soak in your tub while admiring views of Montmartre and the Palais-Royal gardens). Fuel up on croissants and coffee the next morning and hop on the 45-minute express TGV train from Paris’ Gare de l’Est to Reims-Centre. The station sits right in the heart of town, but if you plan on exploring multiple cities, it’s worth renting a car so you can easily cruise through the region without worrying about navigating public transportation (plus, road trips through wine country are très romantique).
What to Do
Call Reims your home base, holing away in a chic château like the marquise-designed Domaine les Crayères. This Old World beauty gives Versailles a run for its money. Think decadent drapes, marble-clad fireplaces and gilded tubs, plus balcony views overlooking the landscaped park. When you're finally ready to slip out of your sumptuous suite, it's time to hit the main attraction: wineries. This is the part where a bit of planning comes into play, since tastings require a rendez-vous. In some wine regions, you can hop to multiple wineries in a day, but in Champagne, you’ll be lucky if you can squeeze in two and still have time for a leisurely French lunch. Get your bearings on a city tour of Reims, dubbed the “coronation capital,” since French kings were once crowned in its Notre-Dame Cathedral. Then, tour one of the grand Champagne houses like Maison Ruinart (the region’s oldest) or Veuve Clicquot, which offers a full-day experience from cellar and vineyard visits to tasting workshops that will help perfect your palate.
Over 300 miles of landmarked trails form the Champagne Tourist Route, with roads passing by cellars in five parts of the region: the Côte des Bar, Côte des Blancs, Saint-Thierry Massif, Reims Mountain and Marne Valley. Set off through the gates in the southern part of Reims, making your way through the Montagne de Reims’ vineyard-covered hills before reaching the Verzenay Lighthouse (which operated as an observation tower for French troops in the First World War). Climb the 101 steps to the panoramic viewpoint on top to snap the perfect Instagram shot.
Champagne’s major houses lie in Reims and Épernay, but if you’re looking to sample more artisanal styles of bubbly, visit a few of the smaller producers in surrounding cities like the “cradle of Champagne,” Hautvillers, where Dom Pérignon mastered the Champagne method, or the Grand Cru village of Bouzy in the Mountain of Reims. Here, fourth-generation Champagne Delavenne Père & Fils open up their small, family run cellars for appointment-only visits and tastings (meaning you won’t have to worry about competing with massive tour buses).
Where to Stay
Sleep in the countryside in a château that’s so stunning, Christian Dior chose it as the backdrop for many of his parties. The 18-room Château de Courcelles is also the place where Napoleon first met his wife, Marie-Louise of Austria. Surrounded by over 50 acres of gorgeous French gardens and forests where philosophers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau loved to stroll, the château is a destination in itself where you and your other half will feel like the 17th century royalty that once slept here.
For a stay just as lavish but with rooms on the more contemporary side, book a terrace suite at L’Assiette Champenoise, where you can soak in between wine tours in your private Jacuzzi tub and sip Champagne al fresco on the aptly named zen lounge. If you need an excuse to leave this cozy enclave, the cuisine here will surely do the trick. Take a seat at the namesake restaurant that’s one of the most revered region (and rated three Michelin stars) and prepare for a meal that will be just as memorable as the Champagne houses you visit. Each dish weaves together market-fresh fare for artistically prepped plates that are the epitome of French fine dining (just wait until the cheese course rolls out!).
In the official capital of Épernay, home to Moët & Chandon, the 15-room La Villa Eugène blends in beautifully with the other 19th-century mansions lining the city’s main street, the Avenue de Champagne. Suites are just as lavish as you’d imagine (chandeliers, claw-foot tubs), but the price tag isn’t as steep as Paris’ palace hotels, with rooms starting around $200 per night.
This summer, Champagne’s first wellness resort is also swinging open its doors near Épernay in a revamped, 19th-century Post House. The Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa—part of a collection of haute hotels in spots like St. Barts—will feature 49 rooms (including the super luxe Suite Joséphine overlooking the valley), a Biologique Recherche-stocked spa, and a restaurant helmed by two Michelin-starred chef Jean-Denis Rieubland, formerly of Le Chantecler in Nice.
Where to Eat
In France, what (and where) you eat is just as important as what you’re sipping with it. Pause for lunch in between cellar tours in Épernay, taking a seat on the terrace in the center of town at La Banque, housed in the former Banque de France building. Around the corner, Hôtel les Berceaux opens up to a Michelin star gastronomic eatery and bistro, le 7, a favorite with the local lunch crowd for its classic French fare of foie gras, Champagne-braised salmon, and cassolette of escargot. In Reims, foodies fawn over Kazuyuki Tanaka’s Japanese-French fusion, Racine, an intimate tasting menu restaurant revolving around locally sourced ingredients like kohlrabi (a type of wild cabbage) and spruce. For a bistro version (read: three instead of eight courses), reserve a table at sister restaurant Doko Koko, a 20-seat eatery where Kazu’s brother runs the kitchen.