Bubbles and Beyond: A Short Break in Épernay

Deep inside a champagne cellar

Épernay – the short break

“He’s drunk,” said my companion, as we stood before the statue of Dom Pérignon, in the forecourt of the opulent Moët et Chandon building. It was the heart of France’s Épernay, where we had decided to take a short break. The town was less than six hours’ drive from London, including the Channel Tunnel.

Deep inside a champagne cellar
Deep inside a champagne cellar

“There’s nothing wrong with too much champagne,” I replied. “At least he looks happy.” The statue was of a balding Bénédictine monk, half smiling, thrusting a bottle of champagne before him. If a statue could be welcoming, this was it.

Dom Pérignon’s legacy

Dom Pérignon was a cellerier (cellarer), for 47 years, at the Abbaye Saint-Pierre d’Hautvillers, six kilometres north of Épernay. He died in 1715. One of seven children, he did much to make champagne the drink it is today. His was an era when in-bottle refermentation was a massive problem, as up to 90% of bottles could explode. Cellarers would frequently wear metal facemasks for protection. It was Dom Pérignon who stated that grapes should not be physically trodden, and that wine should be blind tasted, so the taster was not influenced by origin. The monk’s achievements led Moët et Chandon to develop its finest drink, the purely vintage Dom Pérignon champagne, “DP” to many. Champagne is normally a blend, so a vintage is something special. DP has sold for astounding prices. A single bottle of its 1959 Rosé version once fetched US$84700.

Épernay's statue of Dom Pérignon
Épernay’s statue of Dom Pérignon

Épernay’s historic attractions

Yet Épernay is not all about champagne, although clearly the drink is important. Best for our short break was the claimed 45-minute stroll around the centre of town, good also for a wheelchair, and reaching 14 of Épernay’s finest sights. None had anything to do with bubbly.

“The French must walk fast,” said my companion, out of breath, after we had been walking for 45 minutes but had only reached sight number 8.

The UNESCO-recognised Avenue de Champagne in Épernay
The UNESCO-recognised Avenue de Champagne in Épernay

I nodded. Forty-five minutes might have been sufficient for a long-legged Épernay resident, a so-called Sparnacien, but for us the unguided walk, paper map in hand, took over two hours. There were photographs and coffee, chit-chat and shopping, snacks by the plenty, and frequent signs laden with fact and information. Throughout we resisted the temptation to glug champagne, which in Épernay is not always easy.

The walk offered plenty, starting and finishing at Épernay’s Town Hall on the UNESCO-recognised, and opulent Avenue de Champagne. Épernay has sadly seen much warfare, too, as evidenced by the Monument aux Martyrs de la Résistance in the town centre, and the pockmarked façade of Épernay’s Notre-Dame church, created by shrapnel from World War One. There are Renaissance façades, Art Deco buildings, balloon rides, restaurants by the dozen, and the Théâtre Gabrielle Dorziat. The theatre was inaugurated in 1902 and named after the renowned Sparnacienne who popularised the designs of Coco Chanel. For the environmentalist within me, Épernay even has its Parc de l’Horticulture that contains an unusual, twisted beech. No wonder our stroll took longer than its stated 45 minutes.

The shrapnel-pockmarked façade of Épernay's Notre-Dame church
The shrapnel-pockmarked façade of Épernay’s Notre-Dame church

Champagne and its cellars

It would be dishonest to claim that champagne played no part in our visit to Épernay. The choice of champagne houses offering tours is huge, as there are nearly 500 houses and co-operatives in the area. The drink is linked to 35,000 hectares of vines, 450,000 annual visitors, and 110 kilometres of underground cellar buried deep within subterranean chalk. At the time of the harvest, the so-called vendange, 128,000 pickers are required and Épernay becomes a metropolis. The task is performed manually as it is the only way to truly protect the grapes.

It is possible to spend a fortune visiting a champagne house, with its lashings of wine, impeccable food, and a cellar tour that covers nearly everything. Do dress warmly if you go, as champagne cellars can be chilly. I had once visited Pol Roger, on the Avenue de Champagne, and its seven kilometres of cellar. This time Pol Roger was too expensive, so we sought something smaller, and I am glad we did. Just outside town and in the small village of Pierry, was Champagne Vollereaux. At one-tenth the price of the larger establishments, this family-run house still had nearly two kilometres of cellar and 48 hectares of vines. An excellent tour was followed by three glasses of champagne, properly quaffed by each member of the small, 7-person group. Tragically, I was forced to spit as I needed to be in London by nightfall.

So Épernay? It is a remarkable town, not far from UK, and with something for all, even those who do not drink bubbly. Try a short break. I doubt you will regret it.

***

If you go…

Where it is

Épernay is in the Marne department of north-eastern France’s Grand Est region and can be found at the following co-ordinates: 49°2′31″N 3°57′53″E.

Getting there

Distances
Paris: 150 kms (93 miles)
Reims: 27 kms (17 miles)
Brussels: 320 kms (199 miles)
London: 440 kms (273 miles)
Dusseldorf: 405 kms (251 miles)
Lyon: 478 kms (297 miles)

Rail
Épernay’s train station offers connections to major French cities and is well connected to Reims and Paris. making it accessible for those travelling from afar.

Air
The nearest major airport is Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, which is about 150 kilometres away. From there, it can be train, car rental, even taxi to reach Epernay.

Bus
Épernay is accessible by bus from various parts of France. Regional and national bus services connect it to larger cities and towns. See https://www.sncf.com/en for French options.

Parking
Épernay has several public parking areas, both on-street and off-street. It’s advisable to check parking rules and restrictions before your visit. See https://www.parkme.com/en-gb/pernay-fr-parking.

Accessibility

For information on accessibility in Epernay, consult the town’s official tourism website (https://www.epernay-tourisme.com/en/). There are local tours that are accessible for wheelchairs. See https://www.getyourguide.co.uk/epernay-l35220/wheelchair-accessible-tc239/.

Places to eat

Le Théâtre
Address: 8 place Mendès-France, Épernay, 51200, France
Tel: +33 3 26 58 88 19

La Grillade Gourmande
Address: 16 Rue de Reims, 51200 Épernay, France
Tel: +33 3 26 55 44 22
Web: https://www.lagrilladegourmande.com

La Table Kobus
Address: 3 Rue Dr Rousseau, 51200 Épernay, France
Tel: +33 3 26 51 53 53
Web: https://www.la-table-kobus.fr

Places to stay

Hôtel Jean Moët
Address: 7 Rue Jean Moët, 51200 Épernay, France
Tel: +33 3 26 32 19 22
Web: https://www.hoteljeanmoet.com

La Villa Eugene
Address: 82-84 Avenue de Champagne, 51200 Épernay, France
Tel: +33 3 26 32 44 76
Web: https://www.villa-eugene.com/en/

Les Berceaux
Address: 13 Rue des Berceaux, 51200 Épernay, France
Tel: +33 3 26 55 28 84
Web: https://www.lesberceaux.com

Other things to see

Stroll along the Avenue de Champagne
Web: https://www.epernay-tourisme.com/decouvrir/epernay-son-avenue-de-champagne/

Take a ride in the Captive Balloon

Address: Esplanade Charles de Gaulle, 51200 Épernay, France

Tel: +33 (0)3 26 57 89 24

Email: accueil@ballon-epernay.com

Web: https://www.ballon-epernay.com/en/

Visit Champagne Pol Roger
Address: 1, Rue Winston Churchill, 51200 Épernay, France
Tel: +33 3 26 59 58 00
Email: polroger@polroger.fr
Web: https://www.polroger.com/en/

Visit Champagne Vollereaux
Address: 48 Rue Léon Bourgeois, 51530 Pierry, France
Tel: +33 3 26 54 03 05
Email: contact@champagne-vollereaux.fr
Web: https://www.champagne-vollereaux.fr/en/

Stroll around Épernay
A real treat but work on two hours, not the 45 minutes suggested by the Tourist Office map.
Web: https://www.epernay-tourisme.com/en/discover/epernay-its-avenue-de-champagne/visit-the-city-center-of-epernay/

Other Guided Tours
There is plenty of choice in Épernay.
Web: https://www.getyourguide.co.uk/epernay-l35220/

More information

Tourist Office Epernay ‘Pays de Champagne’
Address: 7 Avenue de Champagne, 51200 Épernay, France
Tel: +33 3 26 53 33 00
Web: https://www.epernay-tourisme.com/en/

Discover France
Web: http://discoverfrance.net

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Richard Villar

Travel writer, doctor & international mountain leader

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