‘Tis the season to drink champagne! And what better time to venture beyond the bubbles of this favourite festive tipple to visit Reims, deep in the heart of Champagne country… and well worth a visit.
The Champagne capital
Along with Épernay, Reims is the most important centre of Champagne production. Many of the largest champagne-producing houses, known as les grandes marques, have their headquarters in Reims, including Veuve Clicquot, Mumm, Tattinger and Pommery.
In order for the wine to bear the name Champagne and not be just any old bottle of fizz, it must be produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region, following rules that demand secondary fermentation of the wine in the bottle to create carbonation. In an effort to achieve consistency, Champagne houses generally blend the harvest of many vineyards. For most of their wines, they combine different vintages and mix the main grape varieties: pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay.
No visit to Reims would be complete without a tour of a champagne cave (cellar). Millions of champagne bottles are ageing in the canvas and tunnels deep under the streets, forming a maze below the city. Carved from chalk, some of these passages date back to Roman times. Most champagne houses offer guided tours that explore both the caves and the champagne production process, naturally ending with a tasting session!
Beyond the bubbles
As well as the champagne, Reims is famed for its history and architecture. The most spectacular of four UNESCO World Heritage sites in the city is the Notre-Dame de Reims, the cathedral where all the French kings were crowned from 815 to 1825. It was badly damaged by artillery in World War I and after its painstaking restoration was completed in 1938; it suffered further damage just years later in World War II. Yet it remains a spectacular example of Gothic architecture despite the damage.
Laden with statuettes, the cathedral has three spectacular western facade portals. A rose window above the central one is dedicated to the Virgin. The right portal portrays the Apocalypse and the Last Judgment; the left, martyrs and saints. It also has a stunning trio of stained glass windows in the apse created by Marc Chagall in 1974.
History, art and more…
Don’t miss the Museum of Surrender, where you can see the room where Germany signed the surrender documents ending the World War II in Europe. The massive Porte de Mars, with its three stone arches is a fine example of Reim’s Roman legacy. The city’s art gallery boasts superb watercolour portraits by Cranach the Elder and 20 paintings by French landscape painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.
When you’ve had your fill of culture, Reims also has numerous Michelin-starred restaurants. And there’s more than 220 hectares of parks and gardens, so you can walk off all that fine food and fizz.
Planning your visit
Want to go on your own champagne adventure? You can with Canvas Holidays. Stay at Camping La Croix du Vieux Pont at Berny Rivière, just an hour’s drive from Reims and a perfect base for exploring the region.