Reims is the gateway city to the Champagne region where visitors flock to vineyards, caves, and iconic Champagne houses to experience the eponymous drink.
Reims also stands on its own as a vibrant city with a rich history, excellent restaurants, formidable architecture and culture.
We took a one-day trip to Reims last month and boarded the TGV 9:28AM train at Gare de l‘Est station in Paris and arrived 45 minutes later at Reims.
Paris Champagne Tour organizes day trips to Champagne from Paris but also gives walking tours of Reims. We booked a tour for 10AM, but the tour company was kind enough to begin the tour at 10:30 because our train arrived at 10:14. Our genial guide Stephanie led the two-hour tour. The first part of the tour covered the effects of WWI, where 90 percent of the buildings in the city were destroyed. After the war, in the 1920's and 30's, the local government invited architects and builders from Paris to rebuild the city. Unlike the strict rules they faced under the Haussmann building codes in Paris, architects and builders were given free reign to stretch their imaginations with few restrictions. The result is an impressive array of unique but harmonious buildings making up the center of the city. We loved the architectural details, including the intricate iron and grillwork, ceramic tiles, and beautiful doors.
We also visited two other Art Deco masterpieces, The Carnegie Library and Café du Palais. American philanthropist and scion of the Carnegie fortune Andrew Carnegie donated money to rebuild the Reims library in 1928 after it was leveled in WWI. The striking lobby has a walls painted with a design of a blue circle pattern along with a spectacular centerpiece of a stained glass chandelier.
Café du Palais is a quirky and popular café in the center of Reims. Opened in 1930 by Louis Millet, his grandson Jean-Louis in the 1960's parlayed his passion for theater, jazz, and art, along with his grandmother’s parlor furniture, into an eclectic show place with everything from a Marc Chagall drawing to an Art Deco stained glass ceiling. The café serves a classic menu of French delicacies, including foie gras, pork pate, and floating island for dessert.
The tour ended with a visit to the Reims Cathedral. An architectural wonder in the Gothic style, the cathedral started construction in 1221, on the site of a former church from the early 400's, which burned in a fire in 1210. Flying buttresses are prevalent on all sides of the cathedral, giving it a dramatic beauty, and other highlights include 2,300 religious statues, cut limestone arches and a smiling angel. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991, Reims Cathedral holds significant historic importance, as it was where the kings of France were officially crowned from 1027 to 1825. Another important feature is the stupendous stained glass windows, beautifully illuminated by bright sunshine the day we visited. Marc Chagall created a series of nine stained glass windows for the cathedral just before his death in 1985, and in 2011, on the cathedral's 800th anniversary, German artist Imi Knoebel designed six windows, as a friendly alliance between France and Germany.
After a full and informative morning, we headed to the bistro Anna-S. la table amoureuse, which is located in a quiet, residential neighborhood, a five-minute walk from the cathedral. The modern style bistro was decorated in subtle, warm shades of purple and mauve, with tables spaciously set apart. We savored a starter of a hearty, winter salad of fried Reblochon cheese, bacon bites, and sautéed potatoes, followed by a classic duck a l’orange.
No visit to Reims would be complete without Champagne, so we did a tour and tasting at Maison Mumm. One of the oldest and most prestigious brands of Champagne, Maison Mumm was started by the Mumm brothers from Germany in 1827. Our one hour and fifteen minute visit consisted of a walk through the vast underground caves where the thousands of bottles of Champagne are stored and turned regularly, plus an in-depth account of the many step process by which Champagne is created, from grape to bottle. A flute of Mumm Cordon rouge, a Brut Champagne aged over 20 months with a blend of over 100 crus, was a delicious, bubbly ending to our visit.
We had a little bit of time for shopping for some local merchandise and discovered A L’Iris de Florence, a delightful family-owned shop originally opened in the 1930's. Another Art Deco beauty with wonderful architectural details, A L’Iris de Florence is an art and sculpture gallery, a china and glassware shop and a bridal registry, all under one roof.
We scarcely made the 5:15PM train back to Paris, packing in as much as we could in Reims. Our only regret was we didn’t stay overnight and have time to see many other sites, including Tau Palace, Abby Saint Remi, Musee Beaux Arts and Villa Demoiselle.
Hotel La Paix
A modern four-star hotel with indoor pool, near the Reims Cathedral
9 Rue Buirette, 51100
Grand Hotel des Templiers
A four-star hotel in a converted 19th century mansion with indoor pool and sauna
22 Rue des Templiers, 51100
Domaine Les Crayeres
A five-star chateau hotel with 20 rooms and Michelin star restaurant.
64 bd Henry Vasnier, 51100
Attractions, Tours and Restaurants
Paris Champagne Tour
Boutique A L’Iris de Florence
8 Rue de Talleyrand, 51100
Anna-S. la table amoureuse
6 rue Gambetta, 51100