By Cacinda Maloney
“Paris is Paris.” – Cacinda Maloney
“Paris is always a good idea.” – Audrey Hepburn
“When good Americans die, they go to Paris.” – Oscar Wilde
But sometimes, you need to get out of Paris, France and I have just the place for you to visit:
Explore the Champagne Houses in Reims and enjoy the good life
The Champagne region of France is like no other wine region in the world. The nearest vineyards are only an hour from Paris’ CDG on the fast TGV train to Reims. Reims is a perfect justification for a tour of the Champagne Houses in the region, but don’t forget to walk around and enjoy the city and its purely Gothic Cathedral, deemed a UNESCO site. While there, I also had a chance to go to a grand ball at the Reims City Hall and I must say it was spectacular as well.
If you only see one French Cathedral on your visit to the Northern countryside of France, it should be Cathedrale de Notre-Dame of Reims. The grand façade is quite stunning and unique. Staring up at the hundreds of statues on the cathedral’s West front, I can see the city’s emblem, a 13th-century figure known as L’Ange au Sourire. She stands there tall and smiles down at me.
The sheer volume of statues that line the basilica takes my breath away and I want to slow down and take it all in, but I am on a tour, so I have to hurry as I am the last one to arrive. With her stunning stain glass windows from the 13th century to her latest 880th birthday gift of Chagall’s stain glass windows from the 20th century, she dazzles me. I walk through the cavernous Gothic nave the size of a football field in awe.
World War 1 History:
A quick history lesson tells me that Reims was flatted during World War I, where a majority of the statues on the façade were practically destroyed.
“The original pieces,” I am told, “are stored in the museum beside the cathedral and the newly installed pieces are replicas of the original.” Notre-Dame Guide
My guide is quite informative about the history of this old church. Apparently, the front lines of the war were very near to this area and bombs took the cathedral that had been standing here since 1211 AD right out. Apparently there has been a church on this very premises since 496 AD. The Cathedral itself has been rebuilt in an assortment of different architecture styles. If you go out the back doors you will see the street directly behind the cathedral is named “Rue de Rockefeller”.
“It was the least we could do.” says my native French guide, in paying back Mr. Rockefeller for his generous fund raising abilities and gifting to the people of Reims for reconstruction of its masterpiece. Another thing that makes Reims and this Cathedral special is the fact that there were 33 kings crowned right here in Reims with Charles VII being the most famous, crowned king in 1825.
World War II History
I was also fascinated to find out that Germany signed the surrender documents that ended World War II in Europe in a school in Reims. It was the HQ of General Eisenhower and the Allied Forces. The room is now in the Museum of the Surrender and is a modest setting for such a momentous event in history.
More things to do:
Of course, while you are there, there is plenty of shopping to do, which includes everything from fine dark chocolates to the pink Roses de Reims Biscuits that can be found in many of the shops. I stocked up on them, as well as a few bottles of the classic champagne and wine found in this region.
While in town, you can also visit the world famous Veuve Clicquot and hear the stories of the woman who developed the famous champagne brand. She took over the city’s main champagne houses in the 1820’s when men dominated the business and turned its history upside down!
After visiting her world class cellar, I made my way to a champagne/hor’deuvre party and celebrated in style. Naturally I ended my visit there with a few glasses of fine Grand Dame. I won’t say whether or not I ended up in the famous Veuve Clicquot bathtub though.
Reims has Unesco World Heritage status and they have a new nomination for a fifth UNESCO status for the region– for nothing less than Champagne! So you can see that a quick visit to Reims is in order. Although it is the ultimate in bottled glamour and bubbly, it is doubtful if even most Parisians have taken the time to visit Reims.
Disclosure: My visit to Reims and Vueve Clicquot was courtesy of the iWinetc (International Wine Tourism Conference), Champagne-Marne Tourist Office and Aube en Champagne Tourisme et Congrès, but the great time I had exploring Reims was all mine own.
For more journeys through France: