It’s 6 a.m. and I’m on vacation. As I wander around my hotel room half asleep, rushing to get ready, I curse at myself for waking up so early, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. It’s all so I can get the early, and slightly cheaper, train to Reims. From Gare de Paris-Est, Reims is just under an hour. This quick commute puts us in the land of Champagne in time for breakfast.
8 a.m. is a bit too early to start drinking in my books so when we arrived in Reims we made a quick stop at the local tourist office for a map and we head towards the city’s centre. For a cheap breakfast, we stopp at a Paul bakery where our breakfast consists of half a baguette with butter and jam, cafe au lait, and orange juice, of course! By the time we are finished eating, it’s 9:30… still too early for Champagne. The streets even appear to be sleepy still (mind you, it’s late fall and it’s rainy and cold), so we head towards Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims. Surprisingly it’s just around the corner and before we know it, we’re standing in all of its glory.
Wandering around Reims is very easy, but the big Champagne houses are a brisk 30 minute walk from the historical centre. Since our visit to Veuve Clicquot (the only house we booked a tour at) isn’t until 2 p.m., we decide to spend the rest of our morning exploring the Palace of Tau – which is conveniently located right next to the Cathedral. The Palace of Tau was home to the Archbishop of Reims and also where past kings of France resided before coronation, which happened right next door at the Cathedral. Paired with the church, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.
After wandering the halls of the grand Palace, and after trying my skills at puzzle making, it was time for lunch. At noon, it’s time for Champagne… but I have a glass of red instead. I figure I’ll get my fair share of Champagne in the afternoon and a good glass of red pairs nicely with my galette. Being vegetarian in Europe can either be easy, as in the case of France, or extremely difficult, as in the case of southern Germany. This time, my galette is topped with thin potatoes, red onion, and a delicious cream sauce. B has his with meat.
Now that lunch is over, it’s time for Champagne! We make our way on foot to Veuve Clicquot for our 2 p.m. tour. I’m honestly like a kid in a candy store as we head towards the front entrance. The entrance is as elegant as I had envisioned. The staff are extremely welcoming and seem genuinely happy to have us there. After a few quick snaps, one of the hosts lead us to the waiting room until our guide is ready. The room is completely branded, right down to the pillows and even a foosball table. A few others join us from around the world and before we know it, our guide is with us.
The Veuve Clicquot tour is quite extensive and happens mostly in the cellars below the house. As we make our way through the cellars, the guide tells us the story of Madame Clicquot, who became a widow at the young age of 27, and the history of the house that bears her name (Widow Clicquot). The house holds a lot of history, including its role during the world wars where people lived in the cellars as fighting happened above ground. Symbols from the war can still be seen on the rock walls in the form of painted red crosses (symbol for where the hospital could be located), and craved markings. Aside from the history, the tour walks you through the production of the infamous champagne produced at the house. All bottles are carefully categorized as not to lose sight of them, and to ensure the various vintages are kept together for organization.
The tour ends back above ground for a tasting – clearly, the best part! Our tour ended with a tasting for the yellow label, the most common bottle they have. Our guide shows us how to open Champagne correctly (after 6 twists of the wire, and a controlled cork removal) so to not cause premature de-carbonation. After a quick cheers, we enjoy our glass and plan our next house visit – Pommery.
Pommery house is just around the round-about, and a quick walk from Veuve Clicquot. While we didn’t book a tour here, it was very easy to get to. Entrance is a bit steep without a tour, but you get access to a tasting and their large tasting room where you’ll find an assortment of large art exhibits and information on the Pommery house. You can also sit in on a video that talks about the history of the house. Before this visit, I had never tried Pommery Champagne and I was pleasantly surprised. The staff poured us a glass of their Brut Royal which exceeded my expectations. After looking around at some art, and finishing our glass of Brut, we continued on our merry way.
As we made our way back to the city centre, we stopped at Tattinger. We didn’t end up doing a tasting, they don’t actually do that, and their final tour had already started, so we continued on. Back in town, we sat down for some cheese and another glass of wine before heading back to Paris.
While it was just for a day, Reims was jammed packed with activity. For such a compact city, it offers a lot of activity and even more history. If you’re looking for a little adventure that’s an easy escape from Paris, put Reims on your list – you won’t be disappointed.