The Toast of France, Bubbling Over with History
Paris is filled with incomparable art, bistros and bouchons and world-renowned sights. After a few days in the City of Light, it would seem right to toast to your travels. So why not head to the Paris Est Station and hop on the high speed TGV for a 45-minute ride to the capital of Champagne?
Reims has a wealth of wonderful things to see. The train station is located on the northwest edge of downtown, but a short walk will bring you right to the middle of the action. Of course, champagne is everywhere. All of the famed brands (Veuve Cliquot, Tattinger) have a commercial outlet for wine tasting, and you may even visit their legendary vaulted cellars where you’ll learn everything about the making of the wine of kings.
Visiting a Champagne house is particularly different than wine tasting. With caves dug as far back as the Roman Empire, there’s an air of antiquity in these dark, chilly crayères – temperature-controlled cellars crafted of limestone and chalk pits. Come for a taste at Pommery, founded in 1858. You'll see a gigantic 75,000-liter cask carved by the Art Nouveau master Gallé, as well as underground galleries adorned with statues. Equally spectacular are the Ruinart cellars. Descend an impressive staircase of nearly 100 feet to where the champagnes are aged. Since 1729, these immense, subterreanean cathedrals have been dimly lit, quiet. Welcoming quiet contemplation as the bubbly rises to the occasion.
There are plenty of other sights to see. The piece de resistance is the Cathedral, Notre-Dame de Reims, a gothic masterpiece that has seen the coronation of every French king and was almost destroyed during WWI. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the façade showcases one of the most beautiful statue collections from this period. One, a smiling angel, has amazed onlookers for centuries with its pure, radiant expression. Many think the artist had a glass of champagne before producing this unique masterpiece.
About a mile away from the cathedral, wander over to the nearby Saint Rémi Basilica, the largest Romanesque pilgrimage church in northern France. The Palace of Tau, built in 1690, houses the cathedral's museum with tapestries, sculptures and artifacts from the kings' coronations.
This is just the beginning of your champagne journey along the Route du Champagne. Hop back on the train, with your France Rail Pass, for the 20-minute ride to Épernay, where you can tour Moët & Chandon famed cellars.
Travel is a celebration. Come to France and pop the cork in Reims. And toast to the good life.
To learn more about preparing your trip to France, visit Atout France by clicking here if you’re a US resident or here if you’re a Canadian resident
Contributed by: Frederick, a manager at Rail Europe, born and raised in Europe and has traveled extensively on the continent.