Stained-glass rose window in Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims
Peter Richardson/Getty Images
Hop the fast train from Paris for a fascinating foray into this sparkling French city.
Why settle for a Champagne cruise on the Seine when you can sip the world’s most famous sparkling wine in situ? A mere 45-minute TGV train ride from Paris’? Gare de l’Est station takes you to Reims, France, the historic heart of the Champagne region. This year’s harvest has already ended for the area’s 100,000 seasonal workers and 300 Champagne houses, making this month an ideal, laid-back time to take in the fall colors in the vineyards, the sights in town and the tantalizing tastes in your glass.DO:
Destroyed in World War I, Reims was rebuilt at the height of the Art Deco era and remains a top destination for history and architecture buffs alike. The Tourism Office of Reims (adjacent to the train station) rents self-guided audio tours to Reims’ numerous historic sites. The Museum of the Surrender recounts the major developments of World War II — particularly General Dwight Eisenhower’s acceptance of the German army’s unconditional surrender in that very room. Reims’ crown jewel, however, is the 801-year-old Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims, where 29 French kings were crowned over eight centuries. These days, a million visitors annually make the pilgrimage to see the soaring stained-glass windows (including some by famed modernist artist Marc Chagall) and hundreds of statues. Look on the north portal for the Smiling Angel, an icon of the city.
Rose Biscuits from Maison Fossier
Courtesy Maison Fossier
The list of Champagne houses in Reims proper reads like a New Year’s Eve roll call: Veuve Clicquot, Taittinger, Pommery. For a more intimate introduction, start by securing one of the limited number of spots on the tour at Ruinart, the oldest registered Champagne house (founded in 1729). Visitors descend nearly 12 stories to the 2,000-year-old chalk caves, where five miles of cellars provide the ideal nursery for Ruinart’s prestige cuvées. The friendly tours at G.H. Mumm (by reservation) provide an informative overview of the winemaking process — plus one or two glasses of bubbly to toast your new knowledge.
Outside of Reims, the Route Touristique du Champagne (Champagne Trail) meanders through 80 stops along the 300-mile stretch. Rent a car and follow the signs, or consider a day tour with La Vigne du Roy, whose guides do the driving for you and provide insider access to estates across the region.STAY:
A Relais & Châteaux property, Le Château Les ?Crayères in Reims is a regal, century-old manse set amid 17 acres of manicured gardens. Guests are greeted with a glass of Champagne (what else?) as they’re escorted to the 20 elegant rooms and suites. Another option is the Hôtel de la Paix, with 165 modern, moderately priced rooms just steps from the shops and restaurants of the Place Drouet d’Erlon pedestrian street.EAT:
Having earned two Michelin stars, Le Parc Les ?Crayères, the restaurant within Le Château Les Crayères, pairs refined French fare with flawless service in a majestic dining room. The vast wine list provides perfect pairings for such seasonal dishes as delicate turbot with slices of artichoke and eggplant. Less of a splurge but equally indulgent, La Table Anna serves such French favorites as foie gras, escargot and a succulent duck breast with gingerbread crumbles in a warm, welcoming atmosphere.SHOP:
Founded in 1756, Maison Fossier is famous for the delicate rose biscuits that are a Reims specialty. Its shortbread cookies — with an outline of the cathedral — and honey-laced gingerbread also make scrumptious souvenirs.
If You Go...
Tourism Office of Reims
33 8 92 70 13 51 www.reims-tourism.comG.H. Mumm
33 3 26 49 59 70www.mumm.comHôtel de la Paix
33 3 26 40 04 08www.hotel-lapaix.frLa Table Anna
33 3 26 89 12 12http://www.latableanna.frLa Vigne du Roy
Ruinart chalk cellar
John Carey/Getty Images
33 6 31 86 59 23www.lavigneduroy.comLe Château Les Crayères and Le Parc Les Crayères
33 3 26 24 90 00www.lescrayeres.comMaison Fossier
33 3 26 40 67 67www.fossier.frMuseum of the Surrender
33 3 26 47 84 19Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims