Reems (Eng.) or Rance (Fre.), it truly doesn’t matter how you pronounce it. I mean we say Paris and it is technically called Paree! The most important word you need to know is Champagne.
Best known for its incredible cathedral, Reims is footsteps away from the vineyards of France’s most popular export! Only 45 minutes from Paris, a day trip to sip the bubbly stuff is easy as Pommery on any holiday to the City of Lights.
A mix of architecture, from Medieval wonders, Renaissance houses, Roman ruins, plus little of the two Arts, Deco and Nouveau, thrown in for good measure, make Reims an architecture jewel.
Heavily attacked by the Germans in World War I, George Burdett Ford, an American architect and Art Deco fan, was brought in to rebuild in the 20s. Each building on an intersection has rounded corners and a few remaining stores and restaurants have that distinctly 20’s look.
Somehow, it all works and Reims is the perfect spot to base yourself before you head out to the countryside. Although I was only there for two nights, I know I want to return!
Here are my Best Bits of Reims:
Let’s start with the biggie – Champagne! Although LVMH has cornered the market in the most luxurious drink in the world, each champagne house has retained its own individual feel and, of course, taste. There are tours of almost all the most popular maisons, which is great for us who, not only drink this divine libation, but want to know more.
Right in town are the Veuve Clicquot crayers – 24 kilometers of chalk tunnels that were originally dug out by the Romans in 80 BC. Supposedly about 100,000,000 bottles are stored down below. Take the tour and then toast to those crafty Italians who knew a good thing even way back then!
Trésors de Champagne
There are too many small champagne producers to count, but that hasn’t stopped the fabulous Trésors de Champagne from whittling down the best for the layman to sample.
The shop itself is tons of fun…each producer is represented by a bottle on the ceiling with a number on it. Pull one down and all the info you need is on the back of the bottle. The number is reflected on a map of the Champagne region on the floor beneath the bottle.
The staff is incredibly knowledgeable and guided me to the best of the Demi-Sec, a sweeter version of champagne, that is almost never drunk by serious enthusiasts, but should be, as it is seriously tasty.
Waïda et Fils Patisserie
If you need even more champagne, you can find it smothered in chocolate at Waïda, the prettiest patisserie in town. The cork-shaped candies made me wish every cork were made out of chocolate and I am slowly eating the champagne filled ones – telling not even the Cypriot that I have any left!
While redoing the place a few years ago, the original gold mosaic covered walls were found. After being restored to their former glory, the mosaics glisten and have made Waïda a wonder of Art Nouveau decoration.
Notre-Dame des Reims – Statues
Of course you need to visit the 12th C Reims Cathedral, Notre-Dame des Reims, that’s a definite! It’s worth the Eurostar ticket alone. If you can trust the former Kings of France for one thing, it would be that they picked the perfect spot for their coronations. If its overwhelming French-Gothic exterior doesn’t blow your mind, then the interior will.
Sticking with the exterior right now, over 2000 statues look down on you as you circumvent the building. Don’t miss the headless bishop, Clovis & Clotilde the first Catholic king and queen of France, and Saint Remigius who discovered the Holy Oil of Reims.
Outside the entrance is the most famous of them all – the Smiling Angel. He was the symbol of French resistance again German hostility during WWI. His head was knocked off by the Germans, but all the pieces were collected and put back together after the war.
Notre-Dame de Reims – Stained Glass
Inside the cathedral lies a wonder of stained glass from throughout the ages. Over the door is the 13th C original rosette joined by its 1930’s partner. Explore the entire cathedral, looking up and making sure not to miss Marc Chagall’s windows in the back.
I have to admit my favorite was the Champagne Window where, if you look closely enough, you can see Dom Pérignon hard at work. Remember to pass by the cathedral at night when the lights are left on inside and the colors of the windows permeate the night air sky.
Rumor has it that you are supposed to dip these ‘perfect-shade of pink’ treats into your champagne and then pop the, then bubbly soaked, biscuits in your mouth. At least, that’s what Fossier has been telling the world to do since 1756. Not only the prettiest shop window in town, but also the oldest bakery in France, Fossier has perfected les rose de Reims, as well as so many other treats! It is definitely a Best Bit. (A few French we asked poo-pooed the champagne dipping story, but the romantic in me still wants to believe it!)
Palais du Tau
After taking in the cathedral, make sure you have enough stamina to roam through the Palais du Tau. Formerly the palace of the Archbishop of Reims, one of the most important jobs in France, this house of his was where the coronation of every King of France was organized. The Palais is now the Musée de l’Oeuvre of the cathedral, where the statues and tapestries are some of the most important in France. Just their size alone can blow overwhelm you.
Huitres & Coquillages
How do you define luxury? Having a pop-up shop on your street selling oysters & scallops could be one definition. Decadency was stopping there for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Every day, we woke to try another Fin de Clare, the Gillardeau, and Belons! Just for this alone is a reason to visit Reims!
PIN IT LATER!
I was the guest of Champagne & Ardenne Tourism & Voyages SNCF. Fares from London to Reims start at £90 standard class return per person. Journey times are from 4 hours 13minutes!