When we’re in France I love to visit champagne caves in Epernay. Easily accessible by train from Paris but also an easy drive if you come from England to Calais by ferry and are heading to other parts of Europe. Over the years we’ve visited the caves 3 times and tried a number of the champagne houses. Most of the action happens along the aptly named Avenue de Champagne. Here you will find Moet et Chandon, Pol Roger, Mercier, Collard Picard, Perrier Jouet and more… In this post I describe two of our favourite champagne house tours in Epernay.
On our most recent visit we decided to go back to Mercier champagne house. They have an underground tour of their caves that includes a small train ride. We were working on the assumption that this would entertain the children for a short while and allow us to experience the tour in peace.
The visit at Mercier begins with a short film. Then lifts take you 30 metres underground. The vast 18km maze of cellars, tunnels and caves are carved out of the chalk. We boarded the small train to tour the different parts of the caves. This far underground the temperature and humidity are constant year round. Providing the optimal conditions to cellar the champagne. It’s a little on the chilly side if you’ve come from hot summer temperatures, so bring a light layer.
The tunnels are interesting to explore and many have been in use for centuries. The tunnels under the nearby city of Reims were dug in Roman times, around 80BC, to mine salt and chalk.
Ascending back up to the tasting rooms we enjoy a delicious glass of champagne. Tour options include upgrades to taste 3 different styles of champagne. We had a lot of driving ahead of us so tasted just the one glass and a bottle to take away. Mercier is a fairly touristy experience, it is light on the technical details which is why we chose it this time, so it wasn’t too much for the kids to cope with. Tours at Mercier Champagne start at 18 Euros, including a glass of champagne.
Mercier also have one of the largest barrels in the world, created in 1889 for the Paris Exhibition it holds 200,000 bottles. The pictures of how they got the giant barrel to Paris are fascinating. It was towed with 24 oxen and 12 horses and broke 2 bridges with its weight!
Champagne de Castellane
n 2006 we visited Champagne de Castellane, not quite opposite Mercier. We were lucky to be the only ones on the ‘tour’ at the time. There are no trains and less touristy touches here but lots of information about the history of champagne making. Depending on the day and time of your tour you may see some current production and they allow you to see the bottling of the champagne which you don’t see in other cellars. They show the more modern side of wine and champagne making alongside the history. Tours at Champagne de Castellane start from 14 Euros including a glass of champagne.
Champagne Caves in Reims
If your favourite champagne house is not in Epernay they may have their cellar door or visitor’s centre in the city of Reims around half an hours drive away. There you will find Veuve Clicquot, Tattinger, Mumm, Lanson and more…
3 Tips for Visiting Champagne Caves in France
Book in advance – most larger houses allow you to book online. Tours in English may only be at certain times so check and book in advance to avoid disappointment, especially in busier seasons.
Visit a larger and a smaller champagne house. If you can, visit a larger well known house, with a professional tour, maybe even an underground train! And also visit a smaller house where you may have a chance of getting closer to the production process, and asking more questions. The 2 different experiences give you a well rounded tour.
Make some room in your luggage for shopping. The cellar doors have very good prices on champagne and accessories that make a lovely memento of your trip. Save some baggage allowance!