Making the Most of Your Time
Threading the triangle between Reims, Épernay, and Château-Thierry are the famous Routes Touristique du Champagne (Champagne Roads), which divvy up the region into four fabulous itineraries. These follow the main four côtes of the Champagne vineyards. Northwest of Reims (use the Tinqueux exit) is the Massif de Saint-Thierry—a vineyard-rich region once hallowed by kings. Heading south of Reims to Épernay, veer west along the Vallée de la Marne through the Hauteurs d'Épernay, traveling west on the right bank of the river and east on the left. To the east of Épernay lies the most beautiful stretch of Champagne Country: the Montagne de Reims. To the south of Épernay is the Côte de Blancs, the "cradle of Chardonnay." More than 80 producers of Champagne are scattered along these roads, and you can guarantee a better reception if you call the ones you'd like to visit in advance.
The two main centers to the Champagne Wine Road are Reims and Épernay, which are about 64 km (40 miles) apart if you work your way through the wine villages that dot the slopes of the Montagne de Reims. Start in Reims, with its host of major Champagne houses, then go south on D951 and east on D26 through pretty Rilly-la-Montagne, Mailly-Champagne, and Verzy, where you can visit local producers Étienne and Anne-Laure Lefevre at 30 rue de Villers (03–26–97–96–99 www.champagne-etienne-lefevre.com). Continue south to Ambonnay, then track back west to Bouzy, Ay, and Hautvillers—where Dom Pérignon is buried in the village church—before crossing the Marne River to Épernay, whose Avenue de Champagne is home to several producers.
From Épernay, travel south along the Côte de Blanc to Vertus, 19 km (12 miles) away, where Pierre and Sophie Larmandier will sell and tell you all about their biodynamic Champagne at 19 avenue du General-de-Gaulle (03–26–52–13–24 www.larmandier.fr). If you're heading back to Paris, take D1 from Épernay west along the banks of the Marne to Château-Thierry 50 km (30 miles) away. The steep-climbing vineyards hugging the river are the most scenic in Champagne. For maps of the four Routes Touristiques du Champagne, stop at the Marne Regional Tourist Office in Châlons-en-Champagne or the tourist offices in Reims or Épernay.