It’s the region on every wine lover’s list – Champagne.
Hop on the high-speed train from Paris and within 45 minutes, you’ll find yourself in Reims and the heart of Champagne. It’s a great day trip but to really feel the pulse of this iconic part of the wine world, why not stay a few days? You’ll find idyllic villages, world-class food, incredible history, and there’s champagne
The city of Reims (pronounced ‘Rahns’ with a soft ‘a’)
is home to numerous big name champagne houses and three UNESCO World Heritage sights. It’s also in the midst of 60% of the Champagne vineyards.
The many pedestrian only streets are lined with fascinating shops, cafés and fabulous Art Deco architecture, all beckoning you to slow down and savor the riches this historic city has to offer.
What to see in Reims
It’s hard to stroll the streets of Reims without coming upon the famous Cathedral Notre Dame de Reims. This magnificent, medieval, UNESCO World Heritage site is a ‘must see’ for the amazing architecture, stained glass windows and connection to the history of France and champagne.
Next Door is the Palais du Tau, housing many of the treasures of Reims and it’s a short walk to the third UNESCO landmark, Sainte Remi Basilica and Museum.
With sites like the Roman arch ‘La Porte du Mars’ that guards the entrance to the city, to the Musée de la Reddition’, where General Eisenhower accepted the surrender of the German forces, history lovers will be in their element.
Looking to do a little ‘local’ shopping? Don’t miss the Halles du Boulingrin. Built in 1929, this imposing structure houses a colorful indoor market, filled with foodie treasure.
But the main reason to visit Reims is to taste champagne and that is easy to do.
You’ll find some of the most famous names in bubbly, all waiting to invite you into their cool, chalk cellars: Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot, Mumm, Lanson, Roederer and more. Many are walking distance from the city center or a short taxi ride away.
Where To Eat in Reims
One cannot live by champagne alone, and finding delicious cuisine is not a problem.
Champenoise cooking tends to be on the hearty, comfort food side, with lots of braised and roasted meats, cream sauces and eggs. Look for things such as Boudin Blanc, a white pork sausage served with a creamy cognac sauce, gratins, and soft, rich cow’s milk cheese like Cendre de Champagne.
Brasserie Flo – located across from the train station, this cozy bistro boasts beautiful Art Deco interiors and a charming patio. The food showcases traditional dishes such as roasted duck, oysters, foie gras, and Charolais beef.
Café du Palais – another classic bistro, owned and operated by one family since 1929. Rumor has it that many heads of the champagne houses love to enjoy a leisurely lunch in this establishment, perhaps due to the terrific wine list, fresh produce and eclectic, Art Deco décor.
Dont forget that Reims has a few ‘classic’ treats you should try, most notably the Biscuits Rosé de Reims -crisp yet light textured pink cookies. Follow the locals and dip one in your champagne! The most famous maker is Maison Fossier and their shop is beautiful.
Where to stay in Reims
There’s a wide range of welcoming hotels from which to choose. The Reims tourist board has a list of accommodations, including B&B and homestays or try contacting Club Hôteliers Reims, who represent over 35 hotels.
Chateau de Fere, If you want a unique experience, this 5 Star luxury boutique castle offers stunning views of amazing towers and it’s atmosphere is full of rich history. The gourmet restaurant and mesmerizing French countryside grounds will have you feeling like royalty. It is just 30 minutes outside of Reims and about an hour outside Paris.
Grand Hotel Continental: You can’t beat the location of this three star hotel – 5 minutes from the train station and at the heart of shops, dining and everything Reims has to offer. With a variety of room styles in two buildings, all are well appointed and comfortable, with free wi-fi.
Whether you rent a car or hop on a train, a visit to Epernay is mandatory Champagne travel.
Considered the capital of the region, Epernay is an eminently walkable city, with great parks, shops and restaurants. But the highlight for wine-lovers is the Avenue de Champagne, known as the most expensive half-mile in the world. Lining this bustling boulevard are some of the biggest names in the champagne universe: Moët Chandon, Pol Roger, Pierrier-Jouët, Gosset among other notable monikers. But beneath the pavement, in over 110 km (68 miles) of cellars, lies the real wealth -over 200 million bottles of champagne.
Worth the effort:
Feeling adventurous? The best way to really know Champagne is to visit the vineyards, so consider renting a car for a day.
So buckle up and head just 30 minutes from Reims via the A4 and tranquil D23, you’ll find a truly unique, family run producer, Champagne Charlier & Fils. Located amongst the softly rolling hillside vineyards of the Vallée du la Marne, this small operation is run by multiple generations of the Charlier and Perrin families.
What makes their wines unique? They age all their base wines in large oak casks, known as foudres, for at least 8 months – longer for the reserves. This process gives the wines a unique breadth of flavor and elegance. Their tasting room is intimate and their wines, truly affordable, ranging from 16 € for the Carte Blanche Brut (a great aperitif) to the Special Club Vintage 2004 at 29€ – a steal at around $33.
Hop back in the car and venture west, to Passy-Grigny. With a population of 385, this is a true Champagne village, where wine is the main occupation.
At Champagne Dom Caudron, you’ll learn that co-operative wineries can be very innovative and creative. They specialize in the grape that grows best in the Marne, Pinot Meunier.
Aimé Caudron, was a popular priest and food lover who encouraged the local growers to make wine from their grapes, instead of selling them and, in 1929, twenty three growers set up the co-operative. Be sure to book ahead and enjoy one of their fabulous tour and tasting options. The “Harmony champenoise” features a guided tour of the winery, including a fun 3D experience, and tastings of four wines paired with local specialties.
Keep the vineyard vibe on your return to Reims by travelling the quieter D980. You’ll be back to enjoy ‘apero time’ and prepare for another exciting day in Champagne.