Reims is in the Champagne region of France and is in my mind the official home of Champagne the lovely bubbly. It also boasts two UNESCO Heritage Sites; the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, and Champagne hillsides, houses and cellars.
This was an easy day trip from Paris, we left early (7am-ish) and got back to Paris in the early evening. If you’re looking for a champagne house tour, and to see the cathedral all in one shot I would highly recommend it, but I would also suggest that more time is spent in this beautiful town and region.
On this trip, we arrived by train, which was much easier than I thought it would be, not Japan easy but still easy. Once outside the train station we strolled through the park out front to go see the Porte Mars. This was my only opportunity on this trip to see anything Roman, but unfortunately it was all covered up in some kind of tenting for restoration work and we completely missed it, we wandered around for a bit before finally noticing the big tent over it. Needless to say I was a little sad about this, I even got to relive the sadness after looking it up while researching a couple of things for this post. So instead we wandered through town looking at the architecture and soaking up the atmosphere. If you’re less inclined to walk there is a tram that will take you to most places that you want to go.
I’ll admit that I really don’t know anything about architecture, what the styles are called or when they might have occurred, but it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it. And doors, I like doors, and there were so many interesting ones to see.
Eventually after many pictures, and a lot of walking, we made it to the centre of Reims and the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. I’ve learned that there a number of Notre-Dames in France, not just Notre-Dame de Paris. Notre-Dame de Reims is where the kings of France were once crowned. The cathedral has a long history of destruction, occupation, restoration and liberation. Throughout it’s history it has been damaged by war and fire, occupied by the English, and liberated by Joan of Arc. It has the second largest amount of statues and statuettes at the portals, and it has the smiling angel. It is also an amazing example of gothic architecture, with a lot less crowds than Notre-Dame in Paris making it easier to wander the grounds and interior at your leisure.
I found that I really like this church, in fact of all the churches we went to this is hands down my favourite. Most sides were accessible, you could get right up next to the building and take pictures of all the statues you could handle, some of them creepier than others. Have a look at the guy standing on someones face and tell me that isn’t nightmare worthy.
The other part I enjoyed about this particular church was that there were very few people around, which gave us the opportunity to wander and poke around to our hearts content. Now I don’t speak or read French beyond what is on the back of a cereal box. I’m Canadian, I know, for shame…. So I wasn’t able to read the plaque talking about Joan of Arc, but I do like how the photo turned with all the weird colours coming off the window.
After a simple picnic lunch in front of the cathedral, it was time to wander off again while making our way to Ruinart for a champagne tour. So.Damn.Excited!
This Champagne house was chosen as it’s the oldest established Champagne house, it’s not as well known as the other houses and it’s part of a UNESCO site. Score! Ruinart is also one of only 6 houses that use the Crayères to store their bottles.
With every step down into the Crayères the temperature dropped until we stood in what felt like near freezing temperatures. But it was pretty amazing to see. The chalk walls really felt like damp chalk, not much different than the chalk we used as kids to draw all over our parents driveway. The smell was also a musty chalky smell, not unpleasant, but a definite reminder of where you were.
The tour was great, we saw champagne, champagne and more champagne, all stacked in neat and orderly rows for as far as the eye could see…. wonderful. But at this point my feet were crying from the abuse that day, I had only sat down long enough for lunch. I was also very thirsty!
Thankfully the tour ended in the tasting room, where we got to enjoy four different champagnes. Two vintage, two non-vintage, of which one of each was a Rosé and the other white.
I was more than a little partial to the vintage white and splurged a bit to bring home a bottle to share with my better half. We finally opened the bottle around Christmas and it was even better than I remembered.
The next time I go I would stay in Reims or the region for more than a day and would definitely do another tour, maybe at another of the Champagne houses.
If you want to see more of my pictures from the trip have a look at my google photos