Reims: Pop. Fizz. Clink.
Officially the unofficial capital of the Champagne region of France, and for that very reason- a major priority on my European bucket list.
Reims, France: not too big, not too small, not overly touristy, and all the champs. A feasible day trip on the train from Paris, or enough sipping and strolling to keep you satisfied for a weekend out of the big city. Easy to navigate, ample parking, and lucky for me- about 4 hours on the highway from my own home in Southern Germany.
Reims' big attraction is of course the many local champagne houses as well as the Cathedral Notre Dame. The Cathedral was an absolute spectacle for even those who have seen many churches throughout Europe. Grand in size and opulence, impeccably designed, and rich in history. If that's not enough for you, just take a look at one of the many sets of stained glass windows and try to not let your jaw hit the floor. Simply stunning. It's no wonder that French monarchs were ceremoniously crowned here beginning in the 11th century.
The current version of the church that we see was constructed in the 13th century. Many versions of the cathedral have stood here throughout the years due to expansions, and at certain times in history because of damage from war. In 1914, the cathedral suffered greatly when it was taken under fire from German bombs. Shattered windows, a mangled roof, and statues were destroyed. Restoration began in 1919 and the cathedral was reopened for worship in 1938.
A few more things to do around town?
Shop at the gorgeous Galleries Lafayette store, or enjoy culinary delights ranging from a quaint brasserie to fine French dining. Do as we did and go for a jog around the park and catch a view of the Porte Mars, an original gate to the city. Unfortunately during our visit in June 2017, it was covered in scaffolds for restoration, but still points for the jog. Last but not least, test your new found knowledge of sparking wines by visiting a champagne bar!
Let's get down to the REAL deal reason why you're here: the birthplace of bubbly!
It goes without saying that no trip to Reims would be complete without a visit to a champagne house. There are plenty of famed houses to select from- it all depends on what you'd like to get out of the visit!
Personally, we factored in which days we'd be in Reims, the history of each champagne house, tour package options, and reviews that we have heard from friends regarding their experience. For us, that meant a visit to the beautiful Taittinger Champagne House which was within walking distance of central Reims (bonus). If you can visit more than one while here, it would be fun to do a few different houses and compare the visits!
Ready to pop bottles!
Most of the Champagne Houses will have you book your visit directly with them online, which is what we were able to do for Taittinger. There were a few different options to select from regarding the tasting at the conclusion of the tour, so naturally I went with the more extensive option, for pure research reasons of course. Really though, I was curious to see if I could taste the difference between an entry level and top shelf vintage. This tasting also led to us leaving with a few hundred euro worth of "souvenirs" but that's a different story...
A few options for tasting packages were offered by Taittinger, accommodating both champagne novices as well as bubbly enthusiasts.
Taittinger is said to be one of the last great champagne houses who have held off being bought up (save 2005-06), losing their independence to some large beverage portfolio conglomerate... so if you are interested in an authentic experience and keeping it "local", this is a viable option to explore. The company is currently owned by the grandson of the original founder, and the family has an interesting history of being immersed in the French political and social scene.
Not to mention, Taittinger is totally a cellar of surprises! Chalk mine tunnels dating back to the 4th century (y'all know how I feel about old stuff) hold thousands upon thousands of bottles around every twist and turn, leading you deep underground. At this point, I'd like to make it known that if there is ever an apocalyptic situation, this is where I want to be barricaded to live out my last days in bubbly bliss. OK, thanks.
Thousands of bottles are kept in the underground chalk caves, waiting to reach their aging potential.
Other "need to know" tips for your visit:
Most champagne house tours will include to the underground cellars, which can include stairs and chilly conditions! Wear shoes you can walk in, and toss an extra shawl or scarf in your bag if you get cold easily.
Reims is about 45 minutes from Paris by high speed rail, and it's train station is about 5-10 minute walk from city center.
Interesting info about bubbly to wet your appetite:
Champagne isn't easy to produce! Cultivating and ripening to perfection the three most common varieties of Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay can be difficult because of the ever-changing and challenging climate in this region of France. Top ranking vintages can only be produced when specific conditions permit, which I think makes us feel better about the hefty price tag they sometimes carry. Pop those bottles with confidence, people.
The distinct shape of a champagne bottle is no coincidence, nor for cosmetics. The shape was born strictly out of necessity, as champagne is bottled at 80-90psi. That's where you get the POP from!
Cutting edge research has indicated that between one to three glasses of champagne each week could fight off memory loss associated with aging... but I forgot where I read that fun fact! <that's right, I have jokes>
A visit to charming Reims will have you falling in love with the allure of champagne all over again, realizing you don't always need a special occasion to pop, fizz, clink.
Santé and BON VOYAGE, BABES!! xoxo
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