Travel Spotlight: Champagne Region
One of the many great things about living in Paris is that you’re always just a few hours away from a famous wine region: Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Champagne, Chablis, and the Loire Valley are all just a few hours from Paris by car or train. Going straight to the source is not only an educational and photo-worthy adventure, it’s also a lot cheaper to buy wine where it’s made! We always stock up.
Champagne is my personal favorite (to drink and to visit), and it’s one of the easiest regions to get to from Paris — just 2 hours by car, depending on which part of Champagne you go to (note: you’ll want a car to easily hop from village to village). Most people head straight to Reims/Epernay, in the Northern part of the Champagne region, where all the big-name champagne houses are (think: Veuve Cliquot, Mumm, and Moet Chandon.) If you want to be wow’ed by glitzy chateaus and multi-lingual tasting tours, then Reims/Epernay is great. But…
… if you prefer the more low-key, quaint country villages that also make amazing champagne, then head south. My personal favorite is the Aube region (shown on the map above), where you can visit Renoir’s old summer home, wander through stone-walled villages, and taste champagne in the homes of producers. It’s divine.
Below is my go-to itinerary for a weekend in Champagne’s Aube region (Essoyes, Les Riceys, Bar-sur-Aube, Gye-sur-Seine, and Troyes).
Where to Stay:
My personal favorite is a B&B called La Rosaraie in the town of Essoyes (where Renoir had his summer home). There have a separate chateau with 3 guest rooms decorated with cool antiques, a big flowery courtyard, pond, and vegetable garden. The hosts are a sweet older couple who will welcome you with champagne and offer an organic breakfast with home-baked brioche and cakes. Rooms are 120-130€ per night.
For families, we found this great Airbnb (Gite La Ptite Lazz) in the town of Les Riceys. It has 4 bedrooms, full kitchen and dining area, a rooftop terrace, and a handful of champagne tasting rooms within walking distance. It’s very affordable too!
Champagne Tasting in the Aube / Cote de Bar region:
There are about 45 champagne producers in the Aube region alone. We like to visit small producers and natural / biodynamic when possible, and it’s best to give them a call the day you’d like to visit, just to be sure someone will be around (they usually are). Some of our favorites have been:
Ruppert Leroy (Essoyes) - certified organic in 2013, the tasting salon is located right in the village of Essoyes, where Renoir had his summer home.
Champagne Fleury (Courteron) - the first biodynamic champagne in history (since 1989, before it was cool). They only offer tastings Monday through Friday.
Eric Schreiber (Courteron) - this passionate biodynamic winemaker swears that his champagne won’t give you a headache, no matter how much you drink. I’m sold! Call ahead for a tasting & visit.
Champagne Bartnicki (Gye-sur-Seine) - 4th generation champagne-producers, you can stop by for a tasting in their historic home. Vincent Bartnicki is a friendly and festive host, with a good variety of cuvees & price points (16€ and up).
Champagne Morel (Les Riceys) - one of the few places you can find the famous “rosé des Riceys”, a rosé made from the pinot noir from this region of Champagne.
Guy de Forez (Les Riceys) - Guy practices sustainable wine-growing, and is currently redesigning the winery to be more eco-friendly. He makes wonderful, affordable champagne and rosé des Riceys. Visit him in the village of Les Riceys, Saturdays from 9-12pm and 2-6pm.
Champagne Devaux (Bar-sur-Seine) - one of the bigger, fancier champagne houses in the Aube region. A good spot if you want more of the upscale tour & tasting experience, and glitzy photo-opps. Free tasting and self-guided tour offered.
Where to Eat in Champagne’s Aube Region:
Keep in mind that in smaller towns in France, most businesses close for lunch between 12-2pm (including tasting rooms). So, you have no choice but to go enjoy a long leisurely lunch somewhere!
When driving from Paris, we usually stop for lunch in Troyes, the largest city near the Aube region with a bustling downtown known for its medieval buildings (and outlet shopping, randomly). Here’s a few places we’ve enjoyed:
Caffe Cosi (Troyes) - hearty, modern Italian food, a sunny terrace, and a cute corner of Italian food products for sale inside.
Chez Felix (Troyes) - one of the most modern, chic restaurants in the medieval town of Troyes, Chez Felix is hidden down a narrow alley, and feels like a truly hidden gem. Neo-bistro cuisine, cocktails, and plenty of wine await for lunch or dinner.
Small town dining options:
Le Garde Champetre (Gye-sur-Seine) - My favorite meal in France (so far) was had at this beautiful organic farm & restaurant. They’ve converted an old train station into a rustic-chic restaurant with an open kitchen and an incredibly-priced dinner menu: 3-courses for 27€ (a la carte options also available). Naturally, there’s lots of veggies on the menu (from their farm), local wines & champagne, and they even make their own honey. I loved the Northern California meets French country vibe. Reservations recommended.
Joly Patricia Creperie (Bar-sur-Seine) - they offer nearly 100 types of sweet and savory crepes, made-to-order in a cozy dining room. Casual and affordable, it’s a perfect spot for a quick & hearty lunch between champagne tastings. Find them in downtown Bar-sur-Seine: 146 Grande Rue de la Résistance.
Hotel Le Marius in Les Riceys looks a bit cheesy from the outside, but the restaurant is downstairs in a stone cellar, with a cool cavernous vibe. Makes a nice stop for a more upscale lunch.