Reims, The Champagne Portal-City
The true gateway to Champagne and its many cultural and gastronomic riches, Reims is the natural starting point for a one-day (or more extensive) tour of the region. Situated only about an hour from Paris, the city makes a convenient and fascinating hub, or a place to enjoy a full, luxurious day of tastings, gastronomic experiences, and culture, followed by an indulgent overnight stay.
Tastings and cellar visits
You are spoiled for choice in Reims, since most of the ultra-prestigious grandes maisons de champagnes (grand champagne houses) count breathtaking family domains complete with tasting rooms and extensive cellars in the old city. From Taittinger to Krug, Roederer to Veuve-Cliquot, Pommery and Bollinger (of James Bond fame), all of the champagnes from these hallowed makers are excellent to truly outstanding. There are generally opportunities to taste some of their more unusual or prized varieties onsite, including vintages from the aforementioned houses and a Pinot Noir champagne from Lanson, a royal libation of choice since the nineteenth century.
Choosing where to focus your time and taste buds will depend largely on your available time and personal tastes. We especially recommend a visit to the cellars and tasting room at Taittinger, one of France’s oldest champagne producers whose family history stretches back to the 17th century. Originally from Austria, the family was initially composed of weavers in the Lorraine region before moving to Champagne, where they began making the luxurious sparkling wine in the early 20th century. Taittinger is one of the only “grandes maisons” in Champagne to have retained its independence, as it is still family-owned and run. Boasting 288 hectares of vineyards in the region, the quality of their champagnes remains exceptional. They have also been recognised for their environmentally friendly production practices.
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Also not to miss are the exceptional crayeres, or chalk quarry networks, that run for kilometres beneath the city of Reims, and supply ample storage and vinification space for many of the most acclaimed champagne houses. They provide the ideal temperature and humidity levels for the coveted sparkling white. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, these crayeres can notably be accessed from the site known as the “Saint-Nicaise hill”, around which many champagne houses have their properties and cellars. You can access them from several producers’ cellars, including Vrankem Pommery, Charles Heidsieck, and G.H. Martel; the longest chalk quarries belong to the Veuve-Cliquot domain, while the tallest (at 50 ft high) can be found in the cellars of Ruinart.
Cultural Highlights & Medieval Wonders
A visit to Reims would not be complete without taking in the splendour and awesome beauty of the Notre-Dame Cathedral, a gothic marvel rivalling the cathedral of the same name in Paris. The medieval construction is complemented by modern, and sublime, stained glass windows from French painter Marc Chagall— details that will stun and please anyone interested in modern art and architecture.
Other highlights in the city include the ancient Gallo-Roman “Mars Gate”, built in the 3rd century AD.
Gastronomic Discoveries & Luxurious Stays
One can’t survive on champagne alone, unfortunately, but luckily Reims is home to some of France’s finest tables. We especially recommend taking a short drive outside the city to Tinqueux, and Arnaud Lallement’s 3-Michelin star restaurant, L’Assiette Champenoise. Here, extraordinary and inventive French seasonal menus are paired with fine wines, including some exceptional champagnes. You can also stay overnight at the charming onsite hotel, boasting luxurious suites and a heated pool.
For a truly exclusive stay in Reims, the Domaine Les Crayeres is a 5-star hotel built in a former chateau, whose ultra-prestigious suites and gastronomic restaurant featuring some 600 different champagne labels offer countless ways to enjoy the riches and history of the region.