Champagne -Ardenne and Burgundy
France has a wealth of wine regions and is such a large country you will need to focus on which area to explore. Most of us have a limited time scale, which is why we chose these two adjoining departments which offer you many opportunities to taste great wine and wonderful local food. You will find using France’s fantastic facilities for campers easily the best and most economical way to visit. Many of these sites are literally surrounded by vineyards and/or very close to interesting wine centres. We travelled in our motorhome, but many other visitors used caravans or tents. You will find details of how to do this and where to stay at the end of this post.
So off we go on our chosen route:
First Stop Epernay
Epernay is the Champagne capital of the world and the place to go if you want to visit the most famous houses. The headquarters of Pol Roger’s Champagne was renamed 1 Rue Winston Churchill, after the famous statesman with a passion for champagne described it as the world’s most drinkable address. However most of us who share his passion head up the impressive Avenue du Champagne where most of the champagne houses from Moet to Mercier have their headquarters in splendid buildings lining this famous boulevard. Walking from one end to the other is quite a hike especially when you realise that there are about a hundred kilometres of cellars carved out of the chalk rocks storing the famous drink in perfect conditions beneath your feet.
Champagne Mercier Visit and Tasting
Now you have an enjoyable dilemma. Which house to visit? Some have informal tastings in charming courtyards where you just wander in and sit down. Others have grand high gates and look rather intimidating and unwelcoming. Here the tourist office which is on the avenue is a great help. We chose Mercier even though most of its product is sold in France because we had heard that is a very professional tour including a train ride, great value for money and you don’t have to book. Just turn up during opening hours and wait for your tour in the beautiful reception area. An English audio guide is included in the ticket price. A slow lift takes you 30 metres underground in darkness so you can experience a dramatic tableau as you descend. Your audio guide will automatically trigger explaining points of interest, as a mini train carries you through the cellars . It is a fascinating, atmospheric if chilly experience!
Now the highlight of the tour-the chance to taste the product! This is also included in the ticket price which depends on how many samples you want to taste, one two or three generous glasses, each of a different type. Enjoy your champagne as you chat to the friendly sommelier. A word of warning, the usual shopping experience is on the way out and one tasting a day is quite sufficient you’ll find!!
Moet et Chandon Visit
You will have to book ahead for this tour. Our camp site office booked this for us but The Tourist Office will also oblige. Our booking was for 4.00 pm, although we set off early because The Tour de France was due in town that day! The good news is that Moet’s House is near the beginning of The Avenue de Champagne so it isn’t too far to walk. The bad news is that the tickets are more expensive for this, the start of the tour is a little worthy with a strong company history slant and the video is rather boring. However the tastings are very good, and after a guided walk through the cellars John spotted this very old bottle of Dom Perignon (Moet’s most prestigious brand). There are three levels of ticket prices depending on the Champagnes chosen. The higher prices allow you to sample rare and more expensive vintages. The tasting room is part of the cellar and beautifully decorated in keeping with Moet’s fine presentation. The servings are generous and the service professional and interesting. As usual you exit through the very tempting shop.
Getting Among the Grapes
Just a few kilometres north east of Epernay is the village of Mutigny where you can enjoy a walk among the vineyards. The trail is about a kilometre long and takes an hour to complete stopping along the way to read numbered guide posts. They are written in French and English and give you interesting information about vine growing and wine production. The route is very pleasant if a little undulating, providing you with a splendid panorama across the vine covered hillsides. You will not find much else of interest around the village but the Aire for Camping Cars provides a free overnight stay in quiet surroundings. More about these terrific French stopovers later.
Onwards to Chablis
If you head south for a couple of hours you will reach Chablis where you can enjoy a different wine experience. The area is famed for the dry white wine that bears the town’s name. Again you will be spoilt for choice here as Chablis and its environs are littered with winemakers offering opportunities to taste.
As usual the tourist office is very helpful, and they organised a visit to William Fevre, which is just a short stroll across town. Although you can just walk into their shop and purchase a tasting, the prebooked tour takes you round the winery and ends in the tasting room. The 10 euro fee includes a great crus selection and a discount for any wine you buy.
Our visit was personal and informative. At first we were surprised to find that their biggest market is Japan, but this is not really that surprising when you remember that Chablis is a great match for seafood.
Chablis itself is charming with plenty of places to eat and drink, and there are many shops selling local delicacies, in particular an interesting speciality sausage. The Municipal Camp site is set amongst trees in a park by a river and everything is within walking distance. Across the town is The Chablisienne. a co-operative which offers good value and a wide range of wines to taste and buy.
It has an informal setting and you can just walk in and browse. There is plenty to look at while you wait to be served, including a good sensory display to help develop your sense of smell.
Beaune The Wine Capital of Burgundy
As you expect there are plenty of places to taste wine in this bustling cultural centre. After wandering through its narrow cobbled streets you can sit in a cafe in a sunny square and watch the world go by. There are plenty of restaurants and this is one the few places in France where the shops don’t shut at lunchtime. While we were there we enjoyed walking round an outdoor antique market, which was full of wine related artefacts.
You will find, as we did, the best place to taste wine is The Marche Aux Vins,which is housed in the 15th century church of the Cordeliers.
There are two price ranges for you to choose from, a cup or a glass,the latter including some premier wines at the end of your tour.Just wander through the cellars from station to station at your leisure, helping yourself from the bottles-very informal and atmospheric. But a word of caution, do not go mad at the beginning, or you will be too inebriated to enjoy the better wines which come at the end.As a nice touch you are allowed to keep your cup and glass as a souvenir.The shop is well stocked if a little expensive.
During your stay a visit to the magnificent Hotel Dieu is a must. This is a 15th century hospital where patients were treated until 1971. It has been beautifully restored and is filled with interesting antiquities concerned with medicine and wine. The Hospice still has its own vineyard and every year a major wine auction takes place during November. This where Burgundy wine prices are set for the season.
If you stay at the well-positioned Municipal camp site as we did, you will be able to stroll into town in under 10 minutes. This is a really excellent site with a good restaurant. It’s very popular but was fully booked some of the time and turning people away in July. It might be worth booking in advance in this instance (not normally necessary we have found).
A good way to get your bearings, is to catch the mini-train, which will take you around the ancient town and even out into the vineyards. It leaves from outside the famous Hotel-Dieu every hour,but make sure you join the carriage with English audio!
A Night of France Passion
Just a few kilometres south-west of Beaune you have the chance to stay for free in one of the many France Passion sites. Farmers and artisans offer hospitality to motorhomers travelling through the region in the hope visitors will buy their produce.
We stayed in the vineyard of Bernard Dury. His is a particularly well organised site with electricity, Wifi and water on tap if you wish to pay extra. Otherwise you can stay for free.
He has a well-stocked fridge full of his wines, all suitably chilled and ready to tempt the traveller.
We were especially impressed by his Cremant which was delicious.It is easy to buy ,you simply put the correct money in the envelope provided and leave it in his postbox. Officially you are only supposed to be offered one night’s stay at these places, but we saw evidence that you could stay longer if you wished. France Passion, a great scheme!
Last Stop Meursault
For wine lovers this camp site is perfectly positioned. La Grappe D’Or is surrounded by vineyards and you can relax on your terraced pitch and witness the activity in the fields. In July we watched the farmers negotiating the narrow rows of vines on their strange top heavy machines, spraying and weeding.
You will find it very pleasant, especially when the sun is shining to wander round the vineyards getting in among the grapes. Just downhill from the campsite we noticed a few rows of vines that were much taller and more separated than the others.
We asked the receptionist at the office about these, and she explained that they were experimental plots, which made tending the vines much easier. They avoided the use of the special narrow machinery, which is really quite dangerous. However these methods can not be widely applied because of the strict traditional laws dictated by the Burgundian wine authority.
If you want to venture further afield, the campsite hires out bicycles at a reasonable daily rate.There are plenty of quiet lanes and tracks to explore. On site the restaurant is of an exceptional standard for campsite fare, and locals appear to patronise it. This is a good recommendation in itself. It even had its own label local wine, and the white was particularly good.
The town which gives its name to the local wine is a five minute stroll from the camp site and has the usual shops and restaurants. There are many individual wine makers competing for your custom in the area.
We went to Bernard Delagrange and enjoyed an excellent tasting in their traditional chateau. After our purchase we could wander through the cellars and into the private gardens where we waited for our order to be completed.
Sadly having run out of time we now had to leave Burgundy behind and make our way back home. Still there is always next year and many more wine growing areas in France to explore!
See our blog post which explains how to use these facilities.
- Acsi out of season camping card & guide
- Aires de Service for Camping Cars
- Municipal Camp Sites
- France Passion