Over a dozen years ago, my Mum and I visited Reims as a day trip from Paris – our first sip of the fabled Champagne region. I can’t tell you how excited I was to visit Reims again as a guest of the Régionale du Tourisme Grand-Est but all thoughts are very much my own.
With train trips as quick as 45 minutes from Paris, Reims (or Rheims as the city is also known) is the perfect gateway to the rest of the Champagne region – and you don’t really need a car to explore the best of the city. As both my lovely friend and I are foodies, our plans consisted mostly of exploring the gastronomic offerings, with the occasional foray into the beautiful cultural history.
Did you know that Reims was founded by the Gauls, becoming a major city during the period of the Roman Empire? Reims later played a prominent ceremonial role in French monarchical history as the traditional site of the coronation of the kings of France.
Take a tour of one of the Champagne Houses
Something that you have to do is visit some of the well-known Champagne Houses which possess 250 km of cellars and Gallo-Roman galleries throughout the Champagne region. They open their doors for tours & tastings, most of which you need to pre-book in the busier seasons, but it’s well worth the tiny bit of travel admin.
This time we slipped in the Maison de Champagne G.H. Mumm. Visiting the cellars is fascinating – you are literally treading in the footsteps of those who breathe daily life into champagne, discovering some of the production secrets of this “wine of kings”, walking through history and exploring the cellar while savouring remarkable champagnes.
Dur. I mean, it’s a must! We sampled a few flutes whilst in Rheims; a glass of G. H. Mumm feet away from where it’s made, we sipped glasses of Castelnau, tried glasses of the Roger Manceaux – a boutique producer and a few more…
Visit Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Reims
If you’ll excuse the pun, the cathedral – is proudly the site of the coronation of French kings over the centuries – is heavenly.
From the double rose window (a real rarity) to the incredible stained glass windows showcasing the process of champagne throughout the years…
…all the way to a gorgeous set of Marc Chagall windows featuring Joan of Arc. (The English held Reims and the Cathedral until 1429 when it was liberated by Joan of Arc, allowing the Dauphin Charles to be crowned king on 17 July 1429. Following the death of Francis I of France, Henry II was crowned King of France on 25 July 1547 in Reims cathedral.)
Some evenings there is an AMAZING light & sound show on the exterior of the cathedral (completely for free) which has to witnessed to be believed. We were absolutely captivated.
Book in a cooking lesson with Au Piano des Chefs
Speaking of the beautiful Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Reims, we hopped next door for a fulsome cooking lesson/lunch with Eric of Au Piano des Chefs. We spent a very cheerful morning learning about cooking and nutrition, and being unleashed with a butane torch on our lunch…
…followed by a delicious dessert of caramelised strawberries, garden mint cream and a pistachio brittle.
#NailedIt. Almost. Chef asked us not to share this on social, but our efforts were too funny not to…
Wander, or take a walking tour with a local (aka controlled wandering)
It’s one of the best ways to learn about the history of a place – and be able to ask questions that occur to you. Our guide was lovely and pointed out all kinds of things that we would have missed, such as the tiny pavement paintings signifying the shops they were outside, like the burger restaurant and the boulangerie.
Pop into the Boulingrin Covered Market
Built in 1927 by the architect Émile Maigrot and the engineer Eugène Freyssinet, the Boulingrin Covered Market was created following an architecture competition launched in 1922 for the construction of a wholesale and retail market. The arch of weakly reinforced concrete which overhangs the stalls at a height of 19.85 metres is only 7 cm thick. Classed as a historic monument, the covered market has been newly renovated and restored to use in 2012. It won the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award in 2015.
And, it contains a wealth of local produce and baked goods each Wednesday, Friday and Saturday morning.
Nip into Fromage et Vin du Bolingrin
After visiting the market, walk through the neighbourhood & down Mars Street, “THE” street for food professionals, to get to the Place du Forum. (Want proof of this area’s foodie chops? At the time of writing, Greater Reims has won 9 stars in the Michelin Guide.)
Pop in and see the lovely lovely team at Fromage et Vin, and peruse their extensive wine and cheese selection. They can tell you the provenance of every delicious slice and recommend the perfect pairings. We were a little overwelmed with choice as they all sounded so delicious…
Two ended up on our lunch table, and they were scrumptious.
Oh, and find some of the “biscuits roses” (pink biscuits) of Reims are biscuits that you can savour by themselves as well as dipped in a flute of Champagne. The Maison Fossier and some bakeries in Reims perpetuate the tradition of this biscuit, which was coloured pink to hide the black spots of vanilla, once considered unappealing.
Dine at the Continental Hotel (full review here) and lunch in the neighbouring terrace of the art deco Brasserie Excelsior Reims
Our trip was delicious from start to finish….
What more could you need in a day-trip/overnight/weekend break? (For more ideas see the Reims tourism board website.)
Straw poll – Champagne, cheese or both?
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