I have visited the Champagne-Ardennes region twice in a short amount of time. From the Netherlands it is only a short drive (about four hours, depending on where you’re from), the landscapes are beautiful and it is always a good idea to drink champagne for an entire weekend!
Both times I stayed in Epernay. In Epernay the “Avenue de Champagne” is located, which is a stately street which houses a lot of famous champagne houses. If you stay in Epernay you can visit most champagne houses by foot, which is handy when you want to do several tastings. One time I stayed in an Airbnb which was close to the city center and one time in the Kyriad hotel, which is located at the end of the Avenue de Champagne. Both cost about € 60 a night, which is a very reasonable price and leaves budget to try to taste as many champagnes! The Kyriad was a little bit outdated, however had fine sleeping comfort.
The main activity in Epernay is visiting the champagne houses of course.. I have visited the following:
Mercier: At Mercier you receive an audio tour and will visit the cellars by an open train. Mercier is very commercial, so the tour is very well organized and it is super sleek. The tour is very entertaining and contains cool audiovisuals. Because you receive your own audio guide headphones, in a language of choice, it is really easy to listen to the explanations about the cellars, the marketing and the champagne making process. The cellars are beautifully decorated by some sort of carvings. The champagne itself was not my favorite, but different tastes for everyone and the tour itself is a lot of fun. I really liked that this tour also explained a lot about the marketing aspects of champagne. The cheapest tour includes one glass of champagne and costs € 18.
Castellane: In this house you can visit a large part of the cellars and you can do tours in English. I found this the most extensive tour that I have done, however I had a guide whose English was hard to follow, so the quality of the tour will also depend on that. I recommend visiting Mercier first, so you know the basics and can ask questions for follow up during this tour. This tour felt very personal.
Champagne G. Tribaut: You cannot visit the cellars, but the location of Tribaut is very beautiful: on top of the hills in Hautvillers. You can taste champagne for about € 4 a glass and it was very tasty. When you buy sufficient champagne ( I think from 6 bottles on) you do not have to pay for the tasting.
Tattinger: Tattinger was the fanciest house I visited. The cellars were really beautiful and the champagne was super tasty, but I thought the tour was very rushed. The groups were really big and the guide did not wait for the last visitor when explaining about the cellars. We traveled from Epernay to Reims to visit this house, but I would not particularly recommend this. Of course the quality of the visit does depend on the quality of the guide.
Charles Mignon: Charles Mignon is a smaller champagne house, where you receive a tour in very understandable English by the daughter of the owner. There is lots of time to ask questions and what was very nice was that you had a say in which champagne you wanted to taste. Unfortunately you could only see a small part of the cellars. The tour was € 16 per person and included two glasses of champagne.
There are many more champagne houses to visit in the surroundings of Epernay and Reims. There are many houses where you do not need a reservation and where you can join a tour spontaneously. However if you really want to visit a specific house, it is always better to do your research beforehand. We were not able to visit Moet & Chandon, because we did not book early enough and there were no English tours left when we would visit.
Besides tasting champagne there are many other activities in the region:
Hautvillers: Hautvillers is the prettiest town in the champagne region. It is super charming, super French, with wildflowers and cute little houses with louvre hatches. It is like the Provence, but then in the North of France. From Hautvillers you have beautiful views of Epernay and the grape bushes. Definitely worth spending an afternoon or going for lunch. If you like an active day, you can do a walk from Hautvillers, find more information here: https://www.champagne-ardenne-tourism.co.uk/sites/champagne-ardenne/files/content/files/bat_fiche_vignoble51_gb.pdf.
Reims: Reims is one of the main cities in the region and is charming enough to visit for an afternoon (or more). I particularly loved the Reims Cathedral, which looks a little bit like a mixture of the Notre Dame and the Sagrada Familia and contains beautiful stained glass windows. If you like shopping and French brands, Reims is perfect for you: There are shops of Sandro, Maje, the Kooples, Galerie Lafayette etc as well as budget options such as Pimkie and H&M.
Ballon captif: In the center of Epernay there is a big air balloon, which is attached and can only go up. You can buy a ticket for € 12 per person and join the balloon ride. The balloon goes up for several minutes and you get beautiful views of Epernay. This sounds a bit lame, but was actually a really cool activity. The landing is much more smooth than when in a real air balloon and there is also no noise from the gas.
Cycling: Unfortunately I did not get to do this, but I noticed several cycling tours and you can rent a bicycle yourself as well.
I had several dinners at Epernay and I would recommend having dinner at Chez Max. This restaurant is located just out of the center of Epernay and looks a bit dated. However the service is good, the price-quality of the food is good. I loved the cheese platter which comes in a cart, and you can choose six cheeses yourself. The other dinners were fine as well, but nothing I would particularly recommend.