Laid flat by the shells of World War I, Reims (pronounced like a nasal “Rance”, and traditionally spelled Rheims in English) was rebuilt afterwards with tact and touches of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, but lacks any great sense of antiquity. It makes up for this with a walkable centre, beneath which lies its real treasure – kilometre upon kilometre of bottles of fermenting champagne. The old centre of Reims clusters around one of the most impressive Gothic cathedrals in France – formerly the coronation church of dynasties of French monarchs going back to Clovis, the first king of the Franks, and later painted obsessively by Monet. The northernmost section of the old town was protected by the place de la République’s triumphal Roman arch, the Porte de Mars, reached via the grand squares of place Royale, place du Forum and place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville. To the west, place Drouet d’Erlon is the focus of the city’s nightlife and an almost-complete example of the city’s 1920s reconstruction. To the south, about fifteen minutes’ walk from the cathedral, is the other historical focus of the town, the Abbaye St-Remi, with the Jesuits’ College nearby. Most of the champagne houses are to the east of here, and still further east, there’s a museum of cars. These attractions, plus a handful of interesting museums and a big city buzz unusual in this part of France, make it worth a day or two’s stopover.
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Champagne-tasting in Reims
Champagne-tasting in Reims
Tours of the Reims champagne houses and caves generally need to be pre-booked but in summer it may be worth showing up on the off chance. Those in the southern part of town near the Abbaye St-Remi tend to have the most impressive cellars – some have been carved in cathedral-esque formations from the Gallo–Roman quarries used to build the city, long before champagne was invented. This is not a comprehensive list of all the maisons in the city, but includes the most visitor-friendly.
Lanson 66 rue de Courlancy t03 26 78 50 50, wlanson.fr. Worth the trip across the river because the in-depth tours take you into the factory, and demonstrate the mechanized process of champagne-making. Most days you’ll see the machines degorging the bottles, as well as labelling and filling them in preparation for the second fermentation. Mon–Fri; closed Aug; €15.
Taittinger 9 place St-Niçaise t03 26 85 45 35, wtaittinger.fr. Starts with a film show before a guided stroll through the ancient cellars, some of which have doodles and carvings added by more recent workers; there are also statues of St Vincent and St Jean, patron saints respectively of vignerons and cellar hands. Mid-March to mid-Nov daily 9.30–1pm & 2–5.30pm (last tour at 11.30am & 4.30pm); mid-Nov to mid-March Mon–Fri same hours; closed Sat & Sun; tour 1hr; €16.
G.H.Martel & Co 17 rue des Créneaux, near the Basilique St-Remi t03 26 82 70 67, wchampagnemartel.com. This a good-value tour with a dégustation of three champagnes as well as a film show and guided visit taking in the old equipment. Daily 10am–7pm, last tour at 5.45pm; €11.
Mumm 34 rue du Champ-de-Mars t03 26 49 59 70, wmumm.com. Known for its red-slashed Cordon Rouge label, Mumm’s un-French-sounding name is the legacy of its founders, German winemakers from the Rhine Valley who established the business in 1827. The guided tour includes a short film, and ends with a glass of either Cordon Rouge, the sweeter Cordon Vert, or the Extra Dry. March–Oct daily 9–11am & 2–5pm; Nov–Feb by appointment only on weekdays, Sat 9–11am & 2–5pm; €10–20.
Pommery 5 place du Général-Gouraud t03 26 61 62 55, wpommery.fr. The creator of the cute one-eighth size “Pop” bottles has excavated Roman quarries for its cellars – it claims to have been the first maison to do so. Take a train for part of the tour. Daily: April–Oct 9.30am–7pm; mid-Nov to March 10am–6pm; from €12.
Ruinart 4 rue des Crayères t03 26 77 51 51, wruinart.com. The fanciest of the champagne producers, housed in a swanky mansion was founded in 1729. The 45-minute tour is followed by a tasting of two prestige cuvées. Jan–Oct Tues–Sat 10am–4pm; Nov & Dec Tues–Sat 10am–4pm; €35.
Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin 1 place des Droits-de-l’Homme t03 26 89 53 90, wveuve-clicquot.com. In 1805 the widowed Mme Clicquot not only took over her husband’s business – veuve means “widow” in French – but also later bequeathed it to her business manager rather than to her children. The maison is one of the least pompous, and its caves some of the most spectacular, sited in ancient Gallo-Roman quarries. 10am–6pm (last tour at 4.15pm): April–Oct Tues–Sat; Nov–March Tues–Fri; from €25.