72 Hours in Reims, France
it's rare that anything can ever quite live up to its reputation,
the Champagne region is as impressive as the sparkling
wine its grapes produce. The official drink of important
celebrations, Champagne was invented in the late seventeenth century
by the Benedictine monk Dom Pierre Pérignon from
grapes that are rumored to have been planted before the
birth of Christ. And while getting a full sense of the
history and beauty of this region would require a month
rather than three short days, you can cover a lot of the region by
basing your exploration of the Champagne region in Reims, located
less than two hours by car from Paris. Home to numerous
major Champagne houses, Reims will also allow you to experience
and understand much of the area's rich history.
REIMS DAY 1: Notre-Dame de Reims and Palace of Tau
We recommend two excellent hotels for
your stay in Reims. Château Les Crayères,
a magnificent, turn-of-the-century mansion, is situated
on a vast estate in the middle of the city. The spacious,
comfortable rooms here open out on to the surrounding
greenery, and the service is competent without being obsequious.
You may want to dine at the hotel's excellent restaurant
Restaurant Le Parc, where the cuisine possesses
a singular grace. Ingredients are combined in an inimitable
and "filtered" manner, thus eliminating over-richness,
and leaving only the essence of it. Le Parc is closed Monday and Tuesday and is open for lunch and dinner. A second hotel option is the Grand
Hôtel des Templiers. Located near the cathedral,
this magnificent nineteenth-century house boasts neo-Gothic
décor, a monumental wooden staircase, stained glass
windows and handsome lounges with dark wood paneling.
First-class services offered here include a swimming therapy-equipped heated pool and sauna facilities.
back to the history of this area, the first half of your
first day in Reims should be spent visiting the magnificent
historical landmarks, several of which are included in
the World Heritage List maintained by UNESCO.
visiting the sublime Notre-Dame de Reims, which
is illuminated by the pure, radiant expression of its
famous Smiling Angel, a masterpiece of French Gothic
sculpture. The vertiginous spires, glowing stained glass
and lacy stonework of Champagne's cathedrals (Soissons,
Laon, Troyes and Châlons-sur-Marne in addition
to Reims) are testaments not only to an enduring Christian
faith, but also a common will to assert France's unique
place in the world through its art, its technical mastery
and its political, military and financial might — in other
words, all the elements required to build a modern state.
This resolve, initiated by kings and bishops, was relayed
to the common people by their priests and flowed through
the land, giving rise to churches, abbeys and monasteries:
signs of the spiritual continuity and political cohesion
that ultimately extended to all of France.
over to the nearby Saint Rémi Basilica, the largest
Romanesque pilgrimage church in northern France. As the
name indicates, it was built in honor of Saint Rémi. The
nave was consecrated in 1049, whereas the apse was built
in the late twelfth century and is an example of early Gothic
style. The famous Benedictine Abbey of Saint Rémi, the
shrine of the Holy Ampula used for French kings' coronations,
is a magnificent classical building. It now
houses the city's Museum of History and Archeology with impressive collections from prehistory to the Renaissance
as well as a large military history section.
Saint Rémi Basilica
not to be missed is the Palace of Tau. The former
Archbishop's Palace was built by Mansart and Robert de
Cotte in 1690. Today it houses the cathedral's museum
with tapestries, sculptures and artifacts from the kings'
coronations. The "Salle du Tau," once used as
a banqueting hall after coronations, is most noteworthy.
afternoon of your first day can be spent experiencing
Champagne's soft and round native flavors: think of ivory-skinned
Chaource or buttery Pierre-Robert cheeses, silken boudin
blanc sausage and such typical sweets as pink-tinged biscuits
de Reims or croquinoles (tiny merinques). And naturally,
there's Champagne itself, the sparkling, elegant soul
of the region's chalk-rich soil, but we'll leave that
for Day 2 (and Day 3).
first stop of the afternoon should be La Cave aux Fromages.
For generations, the same family has overseen this shop,
where you can sample Chaource, Langres and Pierre-Robert,
as well as other appetizing cheeses. From here, you can
move on to Deléans.
Restaurant Le Foch
Since 1810 the gourmets
of Reims have indulged their sweet tooth here with a vast
array of candies and assorted chocolates. The pride of
the house is the chocolate-coated cherry in brandy, called
the Nelusko. Staying with the theme of sweets, make your
way to Maison Fossier, where you will be able to sample
the city's famous pink lady fingers (often dipped in sweet
or demi-sec Champagne). In fact, they're better with custards
or puddings than with bubbly! Also on hand is the local
version of gingerbread, made with rye flour.
A final stop
on your tour of the regional food shops of Reims should
be Charbonneaux-Brabant. Here, you'll find mustard
spiked with Champagne (in smooth or grainy versions) and
Champagne vinegar which is cask-aged for at least four
years. These two remarkable condiments are a nice way
to take a piece of your trip home with you.
you're not dining at Restaurant Le Parc and are looking
for something a bit more low-key, try Restaurant Le Foch. Here, chef Jacky Louazé
proves with his simple cooking based on products from
the terroir that he is a culinary star of Reims.
Continue to Day 2