Last Updated on 16th March 2023 by Sophie Nadeau
One of the more charming and delightful villages to visit in the French region of Champagne, Grand-Est is that of Hautvillers, the historic capital of Champagne. After all, it was here, in this sleepy little town, that Dom Pérignon aided in the development of the sparkling wine that is known globally as Champagne. Here’s a guide to the best things to do in Hautvillers, as well as things to know before you go.
Hautvillers is located in the South of the Montagne de Reims, a regional natural park which is where most vineyards that produce Champagne are located.
The small Champagne village lies surrounded by a sea of Champagne growing vineyards, while within the town itself there are countless small family-run producers who offer tastings of the local wine.
Best things to do in Hautvillers
Of course, the most important, and undoubtedly the most visited, attraction of Hautvillers is its abbey, which was founded by Saint Nirvard in the 7th-century. At the time, Saint Nirvard (nephew of King Dagobert of France) was the Archbishop of Reims.
Though the first church on site was founded in the 7th-century, it was eventually destroyed. Over time, several more ecclesiastical buildings were constructed on the site of the original church. In total, the Abbey of Saint Peter has been rebuilt 5 times in various styles, including Roman and Gothic.
One of the highlights of the Abbey is that it is the final resting place of Dom Pérignon (1639 – 1715), who is widely regarded to be one of the greatest pioneers of the Champagne making process that has given us the beloved sparkling wine as we know it today.
Dom Pérignon worked as a cellar-master in the Abbey of Hautvillers and is now interred in the choir of the Abbey. Today, the Abbey of Hautvillers appears on the listing of the UNESCO Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars and is free to visit.
If you’ve done any research on Champagne, then no doubt you’ll know that one of the best things to do in the region is to go for a Champagne tasting at various houses dotted across the area.
While you can taste Champagne at some houses for free, others charge a fee of €10 or €20. To be honest, I personally prefer the Champagne Houses that allow you to taste for free as they seem to be more sure of their product, and therefore more sure that you’ll buy a few bottles! When I was in Champagne, I bought from two different houses, both of which offered free tastings!
There are a few places where you can sample the sparkling wine in Hautvillers. Some of the top noted to visit include Champagne G.Tribaut à Hautvillers, Champagne J.M. Gobillard et Fils, and Jean Pierre Patigny (though the latter is quite pricey at €20 a tasting). For a greater insight into Champagne production, check out these fun facts about Champagne.
Wander around the town
Truth be told, one of the greatest delights of discovering rural France is wandering around medieval streets that look as if they have been plucked straight out of a storybook.
After all, there are plenty of little pedestrian only lanes that cut through the houses and are delightful to wander through. In the past, these would have been vital to fire safety in Hautvillers as many of the houses would have been made of wood and small lanes between the houses ensured that residents could flee any fires quickly.
Hautvillers is particularly known for its typical ‘maisons champenoises’ (Champagne houses) which is a specific type of architecture whereby brick is used to frame doors and windows. Many of the houses also have dormer windows featuring ox-eye windows.
When strolling around the town, be sure to also look out for the wrought iron signs (known in French as fer forgé) that are used to depict various businesses. I.e. outside of a hotel, there is a wrought iron sign depicting a monk sleeping.
These would have been commonly used during the Middle Ages when people couldn’t read or write (around 80% of the population) but would have used the pictures to work out what the business sold/ did.
Today, there are around 140 wrought iron signs still visible in Hautvillers, which are simply gorgeous to admire. Some of these signs are incredibly intricate, and my favourite is probably the ship which is surrounded by zrought iron vines complete with grapes and says Nectar amat nec mergitur, which is a take on paris’ motto Fluctuat nec Mergitur.
Thanks to Hautvillers’ enviable position at the top of a steep hill in the heart of Champagne, there are glorious views over the vines and beyond to be found at various vistas across town. One of the best views is from Belvedere Dom Perignon, which is on the road towards Epernay.
Things to know before visiting Hautvillers
One of the key things to know about the little Champagne town is that it is teeming with activity throughout the year (particularly from Spring through to Autumn) and there are even things open on a Sunday (a rarity in rural France).
Hautvillers is home to a tourist office, which is located in the main town square, directly opposite a particularly sunny terrace that serves food and drinks throughout the week.
The staff at the tourist office are friendly and helpful and you can get free regional maps and advice on things to do in the area in French or English. For more ideas of nearby attractions, check out our 3 days in Champagne guide.
Where to stay in Hautvillers
Due to its tiny size, there are actually only a handful of places to stay in the little town, though there is a greater selection of places to stay within a fifteen minute drive. With this being said, Hautvillers does indeed make for a great base to explore the nearby region thanks to its location. You’ll want a car to get around. Check car rental comparison prices here.
Sans-soucis en plein coeur d’Hautvillers: Situated right in the heart of Hautvillers, Sans-soucis en plein coeur d’Hautvillers is a furnished flat with 2 bedrooms, a kitchen with a dishwasher and a microwave. Check prices and availability here.
Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa: Though not technically within Hautvillers itself and instead a short drive away in a nearby town, this five-star hotel is one of the most luxurious places to stay in all of Champagne. Highlights include a pool, spa, and restaurant onsite. Check prices and availability here.
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Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, travel, pizza, and history. A fan of all things France related, she runs solosophie.com when she’s not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming something sweet. She currently splits her time between Paris and London. Subscribe to Sophie’s YouTube Channel.