Why Did We Go?
We knew very little about the Champagne Region, or the history and making of Champagne. We thought a small bus trip, with a limited number of passengers and a dedicated driver-guide would be a great option. We were not disappointed. The other four passengers were great company and we all got along well. The driver was excellent and kept us entertained with commentary, while not over doing it as some are prone to do.
The Bus Trip
We were picked up at our hotel at 7am, which was very convenient. The drive to Rheims took about ninety minutes through some very scenic countryside. Arriving early in Rheims, we went straight to the Cathedral Notre Dame.
The front of the Rheims Notre Dame Cathedral was undergoing restoration work when we arrived. This is always disappointing for a visitor, but necessary for the long-term preservation of great monuments. The interior was magnificent as expected and we spent an hour looking around and the rose stained-glass windows are worth the visit themselves.
From Rheims we drove 30 minutes to Epernay to see the Moet Chandon cellars. The tour through the cellars was amazing. The sheer volume of champagne here is amazing. The guide took us on a walk through the underground cellars explain the champagne process as we went.
On finishing the tour, we were given a glass each to sample, along with the opportunity to buy more from the gift shop, along with a range of other branded souvenirs. After this, we had lunch, which was provided by the tour company, before driving to one of Moet-Chandon’s vineyards to see the vines.
Avernay Val D’Or
As a contrast to the huge production at Moet-Chandon, we drove to Maison Gabriel Pagin Fils Estate 15 minutes’ drive away in Avernay Val D’Or. This is a small family operation. The tasting here was a much more informal affair, although still as tasty. The contrast was even more apparent when we saw the storage cellar and production rooms. It was several times smaller, but all the more impressive, because of the family connections that still run the business and harvest grapes from their own vineyards.
Chatillon Sur Marne
Our final stop for the day was thirty minutes away in Chatillon Sur Marne. Here we saw C Michalet Champagne. This was a total contrast to the previous two operations. The tasting was done in the owner’s house, around a small intimate table. Absolutely fabulous. The champagne was excellent and the hospitality first-rate. This was the high-light of the day’s tours.
As an excellent aside from the tasting, while the owners were setting up we wandered around the town and found a huge statue of Pope Urban II staring out over the Marne River. We also looked over the local Notre Dame church. The church was very nice, especially considering it’s not on the tourist trail and a working church with a local congregation.
What Did We Think?
The whole day was an excellent experience, from the guide, the other passengers and everywhere we visited. From the magnificence of Rheims Cathedral, to the Avernay Val D’Or church and Moet-Chandon to C Michalet, we had a great day. Taking a guided small party bus tour was a great idea. We were taken to places promptly, without having to worry about driving and could sample the champagne, without having to worry about consuming too much.