The City of Reims – A Perfect Pairing of History and Champagne

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.” Mark Twain

Before exploring the Champagne Region, sit back and enjoy a welcome glass of Champagne with a rooftop view of Reims

By train Reims is less than an hour from Paris, and once there this enchanting city opens up many opportunities to taste a plethora of Champagnes, both in the city and out in the surrounding wine region.

Reims, the City of Kings and Champagne is filled with spectacular architecture, statues and history. Many people visit Reims for the Champagne, but to truly experience the city you need to walk the street and take in the historical beauty that is everywhere.

Drouet-d’Erlon Square

A stroll through Drouet-d’Erlon square will take you past cafés, bakeries, shops and selection of nice restaurants. In the center of the square, you will see the Subé fountain, capped by a golden angel statue, the symbol of Reims.

“With a kiss let us set out for an unknown world.” -Alfred de Musset

Walking the grounds and venturing into Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims is like a journey back in time.

Besides its extraordinary historical significance, Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims is also recognized as one of the most prominent symbols of Gothic architecture still standing in Europe today. Construction of this Roman Catholic Cathedral, whose name means “Our Lady of Reims”, began in the 13th century and concluded in the 15th century . Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the Cathedral Reims is famous for being the traditional location for the coronation of the kings of France.

While mainly seen as a classic example of 13th century French Gothic art, due to the damage the cathedral sustained over the years and throughout both World Wars, there are examples of more recent architecture also visible.

In 1861, more than 2,300 statues were counted on the Cathedral, which makes Notre-Dame de Reims the cathedral with the most sculptures in France.

Surrounding the exterior there are several chimeras at the chevet of the cathedral. In the Christian religion, these mythical animals duty was to keep evil away outside the churches. There are 88 gargoyles outside Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims and many are mainly used to drain off rainwater.

“Architecture is the biggest unwritten document in history.” Daniel Libeskind

Built in the shape of a Latin cross, the cathedral measures 149 meters in length and 87 meters in height (including bell tower). Inside there are four chapels that surround the nave.

A sense of the Renaissance can be felt in the wood structures and wood carvings.

A magnificent Pipe Organ: Gothic in style, the organ-case has about 6742 pipes.

As with the stone work and statues in the cathedral, the wood carvings are equally exquisite.

“For me a stained glass window is a transparent partition between my heart and the heart of the world.” Marc Chagall

The Cathedral, known for its beautiful sculpture and statuary, also has the most beautiful stained glass windows. Although the cathedral was heavily damaged during World War I and some statuary and stained glass features were destroyed or damaged, some 13th century stained glass remains, having been restored.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims also reflects stain glass work of the twentieth century. Artist Marc Chagall created three beautiful stained glass panels in the mid 1970s. These windows are in the apse of the cathedral, behind the main altar. The middle window (seen above) tells the stories of Abraham and Christ. Christ on the cross dominates the right hand panel.

Fragments of primary colors can be found among the remaining ancient stained glass. Decades after the start of WW1, two sets of stained glass artworks created by German artist Imi Knoebel were installed in 2011 in the cathedral’s Saint Joseph chapel and in the Sacré Coeur chapel. Inviting a German artist to create art in a cathedral they nearly completely destroyed, was done to help heal scars from old strife that ran deep between nations.

Illuminated candles add to the spiritual ambience.

“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” – Francis of Assisi

Along with over a million visitors a year, when you step into Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims, you’ll be walking in the footsteps of some of France’s most famous figures. The cathedral has been the site of 31 French King coronations, beginning with Louis VIII in 1223. Perhaps the most famous coronation held at the site was the crowning of Charles VII in 1429, which was done in the presence of Joan of Arc. The last coronation held in the cathedral was that of Charles X in 1825.

In 1991, the Reims Cathedral was consecrated, it is featured on the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List.

In 2011, Reims Cathedral celebrated its 800th anniversary.

A Haven for Champagne

Reims, functions as one of the centers of champagne production, hence it is named the unofficial Champagne capital of France. Many of the largest les grandes marques (champagne producing houses) have their headquarters in Reims, and some are open for tasting and tours. Champagnes are aged in the many caves and tunnels under Reims, which form a sort of maze below the city, these passages date back to Roman times.

Champagne tasting in Reims

One alternative to visiting the Champagne houses in Reims is to simple explore the many wine bars and restaurants in the city to try an array of the vast Champagnes available during your stay.

With a radiant view of Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims, Bistrot 31 Cafe & Brasserie offers a wide variety of regional Champagnes. While wandering the city during the late afternoon this is a perfect location to sit outside and people watch as you begin your Champagne tasting journey.

Champagne OUDEA Rosé Premier Cru

Displaying a deep pink color, Champagne OUDEA Rosé Premier Cru draws you in with its effervescent Rosé bubbles and fresh fruit aromas. Sitting outside Bistrot 31 watching the students head home from school and hearing snippets of surrounding tables conversations it is easy to become enchanted by Reims and the glass of champagne in your hand. A rich and fruity Champagne, this Rosé exhibits a beautiful aromatic persistence making it a wonderful sip while taking in the historic and yet modern city that surrounds you.

It’s All About Aperitifs

Le Cul Sec Bar à Vin Reims

A short distance from the city center, but worth the walk is Le Cul Sec Bar à Vin Reims, a wine bar and restaurant that showcases a wonderful and long wine list. As you peruse the list you will find a selection of known and unknown champagnes, taking you on a voyage through the centuries of distinction that this region delivers. Combine this with atmosphere, pleasant service and a delicious menu and you have the ideal place for an Aperitif.

Palmer & Co Blancs de Noirs

From the first bubbly pour to the soft straw color in the glass to the smooth and balanced flavors this Champagne provides a sensationally sophisticated tasting experience.

Intensely aromatic with soft introductory notes of creamy smoked butter followed by stone fruits and ripe citrus aromas, this Champagne is luxuriously silky on the nose. On the palate the luxuriousness continues with a silky texture that teases your taste buds and flows smoothly over your tongue. A perfect balance of lightly smoky citrus fruit, honey and almond give a depth to this champagne that is both complex and refined.

The term Blanc de Noirs indicates, that a Champagne is made exclusively with red grape varieties. The Palmer & Co Blancs de Noirs is equal proportions of the two main red grapes, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Terrine is my new favorite French cuisine infatuation!

A hefty slice of delicious pork terrine served alongside gherkins, or cornichons, with a crusty bread.

Dinner at Au Cul de Poule

Au Cul de Poule is just a few steps from Le Cul Sec Bar à Vin Reims and well worth making a reservation for well priced authentic French cuisine.

Both of these locations are a good twenty minutes from the downtown area and if walking is not an option prearrange for a taxi to take you back to your hotel after dinner.

The menu at Au Cul de Poule is short, but the food is thoughtfully put together, gorgeously presented and perfectly delicious. The wine list has a nice selection to easily pair with each of the starters, entrees and desserts.

Denis Jeandeau Mâcon Chardonnay, with its buttery crispness was a excellent choice to pair with all three courses; terrine appetizer, Andouillette with potatoes and cream sauce and a beautifully light dessert served with the local glace biscuit rose de Reims.

A last supper at Aux 3 P’tits Bouchons

With organic wines from all regions of France, this is a perfect casual spot to relax with a collection of small plates and a glass bubbly,

Definitely book a table at Aux 3 P’tits Bouchons, this charming little wine bar is popular with the locals and serves fresh and locally sourced tapas style food. All organic, the food and wines by the glass changes regularly, so talk about the wines with the staff and scan the chalk board provided for the food details.

Robert Barbichon Reserve 4 Cepages Brut

Robert Barbichon is one of a handful of new breed small producers of organic and biodynamic Champagne. With just 9 hectares of vines in Gye sur Seine, Courteron and Celles sur Ource he produces wines that will make you take notice of this recent and continually evolving move toward producing more organic wines in France. Reserve 4 Cepages Brut releases a toasty yeastiness on the nose, like a loaf of fresh baked citrus zest flavored brioche. Complex layer of flavors come through on the palate which isn’t surprising with the blend of 70% Pinot Noir, and 10% each of Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. Creamy fruit flavors mingled with a dusting of spices and that same toasted brioche notes that you find in the aroma greet you with each sip. A glass of this wine was recommend by the server and I am so glad that she suggested it, otherwise I would never have discovered this opulent Champagne.

It is polite to hold eye contact when clinking someone’s glass. Otherwise, you risk seven years bad luck, according to the French superstition.

Champagne Lelarge-Pugeot

Champagne Lelarge-Pugeot is a boutique organic grower located in Vrigny who’s family has been making wine since 1789 and Champagne since 1930. The 7th generation of the Lelarge family, Dominique Lelarge, along with his wife and children are now practicing Biodynamic principles in the vineyards that were certified organic in 2013. They believe that letting the grape thrive as naturally as possible will allow it to truly express the terroir on which it grows.  Each sip of this Pale Golden champagne delivered creamy effervescence of ripe apricot and apple, with streaks of citrus zest and crisp mineral notes. Beautifully balanced this is lovely Champagne is 65% Meunier, 20% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnay. 

A satisfying dinner of homemade cracker with vegetable spreads and fresh mozzarella in pesto with crunchy bread.

After an all day champagne tasting and tour in the countryside, a light meal and some final glasses of champagne, was a fitting way to end a memorable two days in Reims.

Take the time to explore! Reims needs at least two full days but I could see spending a week here as a home base to discover more Champagnes, visit Champagne houses in the countryside and deeper look into the magnificent history of this magical city.

“In a perfect world, everyone would have a glass of Champagne every evening.” -Willie Gluckstern

Images © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.

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