Reims is the capital of the Champagne wine region, and is a nice place to spend a day. There is more to see and do than just sip some bubbly (although that is a must, too). The center of Reims is small enough that you can enjoy walking to the major sites (the following loop is about 4 miles in total).
The town of Reims has played a major part in French history, intimately linked to the kings of France. Clovis was baptized there, Louis the Pious was crowned there in 816, and beginning in the 11th century, 26 kings of France were crowned within the walls of the Cathedral.
The Cathedral of Notre-Dame
The current cathedral is a gothic masterpiece, dating from the 13th century, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1991. Before the construction of the actual cathedral, it was the site of numerous religious edifications: Saints Apotres Church (3rd century), Saint Nicaise Cathedral (4th century until 1210 when it was destroyed by a fire), and finally in the 13th century, the gothic cathedral we see today.
It was the Saint Nicaise Cathedral that, in 1027, was recognized at the coronation site for the French monarchy. All the kings of France since that time have been crowned in Reims, excepting Louis VI and Henri IV who were crowned in Orleans. It was here that Joan of Arc succeeded in getting Charles VII crowned in 1429 – a very significant act considering that France had been more or less wiped off the map at that time by the English and their allies.
Unfortunately, the cathedral was seriously damaged by shelling during World War I. Multiple restorations have brought the cathedral back to its original beauty, with additions of some stained-glass panels by Marc Chagall, and the famous smiling angel in the north portal of the west facade.
Just next door is the Palais du Tau (“T” in Greek and reference to the form of the building), the former residence of the archbishop of Reims. Used to host post-coronation banquets, the Palais now hosts a museum containing relics from the cathedral, as well as some statues and tapestries.
Photo: The Smiling Angel, Pixabay
The Taittinger family has managed the house for over a century. They offer several different tours that teach you about the process of making champagne, a visit to the cellars which belonged to the Saint Nicaise Abbey’s Benedictine monks, and end with a tasting. Reserve your tour in advance via their website.
Photo: "Santé!" to your day in Reims, MaxPixel
For Art Nouveau and Art Deco aficionados, push on a little further to the Villa Demoiselle. The house has recently been impressively restored and you are free to stroll amongst its beautiful rooms and the garden. The visit is topped off with a glass of champagne.
Musée de la Reddition (Museum of the Surrender)
It was here that on May 7th, 1945 at 2:41am that World War II ended, when the Germans signed the declaration of unconditional surrender. The building, now a high school, was the HQ of General Eisenhower and you can visit the map room where the signature took place. Other rooms hold exhibits of uniforms, war souvenirs, press reports and artifacts from this time.
Photo: The signature of surrender ending WWII, OT Reims
Place Drouet d’Erlon
This is the main square in Reims, and for pedestrians only. Cafés, restaurants and shops line the square, and you can pop into the medieval Saint Jacques Church for a quick visit.
Very nearby, you may want to stop at :
- Maison Fossier
Located at 25 cours Jean-Baptiste Langlet, the Maison Fossier has been making les "biscuits roses" since 1691. Pick up some as a tasty souvenir of Reims, and as the feature ingredient for our Truffles recipe.
- Café du Palais
This eclectic café has existed since 1930 and has been in the same family since its beginnings, and their art collection decorates the walls. The ambiance is great, and you can enjoy a glass of champagne on the terrace while enjoying your biscuits roses, watching the world go by in great fashion.
- Laura Crotet, France Just For You
If this article has your dreaming on visiting the Champagne area, or other wine regions of France, here's some more ideas.