The drink may be associated with wealth and refinement, but the region its grown in is surprisingly affordable to visit – just ask one of the many thousands of cash-strapped students who call it home.
I matriculated at Sciences Po Paris’s regional campus in Reims, Grand-Est, in 2017. Never in my life had I had a glass of bubbly – in fact, I had spent the latter half of my teenage years sipping on warm Bud Lights and Michelob Ultra’s in my fair share of basements and backyards.
So, when served not one, not two, but an unlimited number of flutes of a brut whose name escapes me at my new student orientation, I was thrilled. I had come to France to study, and thus I expected the cheap eats and swill-like alcohol to follow.
Not that those things didn’t have their time and place in Reims – they did. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that alongside every case of cheap Stella at a party, there was also a bottle of local champagne that had cost the host or hostess just an extra €5 or so to provide.
Champagne tastings that won’t break the bank
The Champagne region is often visited by afficionados who have no problem listing off the Grandes Marques, their finest vintages and paying a hefty price for them, too. But even if you’re just a casual enjoyer of the delicious drink – as most of us are – the region has just as much to offer you, whatever your budget may be.
When you look online, you may be floored by $200-$300 tours to visit multiple caves. However, it’s possible to get a tasting or two in without overspending. In Reims, for instance, the caves of Veuve Cliquot, Pommery, Taittinger and more are all located within the city limits, connected by the CITURA network of buses and tramways, for which a day pass costs €4,55.
A visit to some of the more famous champagne houses, like Pommery or Veuve Cliquot, will set you back €26 or €40, respectively, for a tour and tasting. When you get to the smaller houses, prices go up – Taittinger charges €60 for a tour and tasting, while Ruinart charges €75, for example.
Perhaps that was why my friends and I elected to take a short walk from where those caves were located to the local Carrefour or Franprix. Back in the day – from 2017 to 2019, to be exact – those grocery stores would never charge more than €20 for a bottle from those local brands. Our personal favourite, Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte, usually ran us back about €12.
A perfect spring afternoon would entail two to three bottles of Feuillatte from the Franprix in Saint-Timothée, a baguette and some pastries from the local boulangerie – le Pain de Saint Timothée – and some fresh butter from the butcher across the street. We would then picnic in the park next to the Basilique Saint-Remi, an old basilica that is free to visit and, in my opinion, rivals its more famous neighbour – the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Reims – in terms of beauty.
Reims: Paris’ cheaper neighbour
Outside of the region’s namesake drink, there are a lot of cheap and interesting cultural things to do. While it is no longer possible to visit the Notre-Dame de Paris, the Notre-Dame de Reims is intact, and boasts a long history of crowning French kings and queens before the revolution. Another key historic site is the Musée de la Reddition, which marks the spot where the Axis powers surrendered on the 7th of May, 1945.
Restaurants in the centre of Reims, on the Place d’Erlon, will cost you just a fraction of what you’d pay in Paris, as does accommodation. In fact, access to the French capital is easy and can be cheap, too, if you buy either an off-hour train ticket or an even cheaper bus ticket.
While studying in the region isn’t for everyone – especially those lacking in French skills or looking to live in a big, bustling city – there’s a trip to Champagne that can fit any budget and any traveller.
So bring your real friends, your sham friends, your broke friends or your bougie friends.
Lead photo credit : Champagne doesn't have to be expensive © dayso on Unsplash
Leave a reply
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *