For this edition of ‘Route Touristique’, we are taking a look at Épernay: the capital of Champagne. The town is located approximately 18 miles south of Reims and is ideally situated for Champagne tourists. It lays immediately in between the Côte des Blancs (east and south) and the Vallée de la Marne (west and north). It is also in close proximity to the Montagne de Reims (east and north). Within minutes, you can be in the villages and vineyards, home to excellent artisan winemakers.
Épernay is where you will find the famous Avenue de Champagne, the Champs Elysées of Champagne. The last few years has seen a project of regeneration as the region attempted to attain UNESCO status; this finally being achieved in July 2015. Virtually every building on the Avenue de Champagne has been restored to its former glory. The town is home to a number of the famous big houses of Champagne as well as some smaller, interesting houses and one excellent small producer: Janisson-Baradon. In fact Janisson Baradon now have an beautiful tasting room/boutique and terrace on the roundabout at the bottom of the Avenue de Champagne. Just across the road you will find another boutique and tasting room for R&L Legras, a very good producer from just up the road in Chouilly. Yet another super smaller domaine: Collard-Picard, has found a home on the Avenue de Champagne with their boutique and tasting room.
There are some good lodging options and very good restaurants meaning that Épernay will make a superb base for anyone touring the region by car or even having a couple of days exploring the town alone. The last few years have also seen a number of tasting bars setting-up business, like C.Comme at the Hôtel Jean Moët and one more excellent shop: Le 520 to join Salvatori among others. Le 520 even have a guest producer offering tastings every Saturday throughout the year.
Épernay does have vineyards surrounding parts of the town, but these were only scored at 88% meaning it was classified as Deuxième Cru quality (a system now largely - and thankfully defunct). In the hands of really good domaines such as Janisson-Baradon, excellent cuvées can still be made from less exalted terroir. The vineyards are planted with 52% Chardonnay, 27% Pinot Noir and 21% Pinot Meunier.
Along with the pretty town hall and the tourist office, the Avenue de Champagne alone is home to ten Champagne houses: Moët & Chandon, Perrier-Jouët, Esterlin, Collard-Picard (boutique), A. Bergère (boutique and lodging), Vranken/Demoiselle (plus Heidsieck & Co. Monopole), De Venoge, Boizel, Paul-Etienne Saint Germain and Mercier. De Castellane is just off the Avenue near to Mercier. Also based in the town are: Pol Roger, Alfred Gratien, Mansard and Charles Ellner. Three interesting houses worth checking out are Janisson-Baradon, Leclerc Briant and Testulat.
Hotels, Chambres d’Hôtes and Gîtes are available in the town and some notable ones being: Hôtel Les Berceaux, Hôtel La Villa Eugène, Hôtel Jean Moët & Spa, Le Clos Raymi, Champagne A. Bergère and Parva Domus. There are lots of eating options from cheap cafés to brasseries and fine restaurants. We can recommend Les Berceaux, Bistro 7, La Table Kobus, La Grillade Gourmande, Le Théâtre and La Banque which also has a tasting bar. Speaking of which, C.Comme and Fines Bulles are handy for a tasting or an aperitif before dinner. If snacking is more your thing, there are some excellent Boulangeries and Pâtisseries that produce sumptuous pastries.
Two shops worth a visit if you still have some euros left are Salvatori which is stocked to the rafters with interesting houses and prestige cuvées. The relatively new Le 520 houses the best of the best when it comes to grower-Champagnes and really must be the best champagne shop in the World!
Épernay is an easy town to get about and all of the Champagne houses, restaurants and shops are within walking distance from the lodgings we have mentioned, making this a great Champagne base. Bicycles and a little two-seat electric car can be hired from the Tourist Office.
For our tourist map of Épernay, click here.
Please click on the images to enlarge