Looking for an easy day trip from your Paris vacation? Why not visit Reims (oddly pronounced with a nasal “Ranse”), the coronation site of French kings and the epicenter of the Champagne region. Here we’ll explain how to get there and some suggested sights while you’re there–and where to get a great lunch for Cheapo prices!
Getting to Reims from Paris
From Paris’ Gare de l’Est, Reims is just 45 minutes on the TGV. The SNCF website is currently offering special fares of €34 roundtrip, but the journey normally runs €40-€50. For the return trip, beware of trains departing from “Champagne-Ardenne,” which is actually in Bezannes, about 3 miles away from Reims.
Reims’ Notre Dame Cathedral, on the Place Cardinal Luçon, dates from the 13th Century. Thirty-two French kings were crowned at this cathedral, today a UNESCO World Heritage site. The church is open every day from 7:30 AM to 7:30 PM.
Next door, the Palais du Tau houses such artifacts as Charlemagne’s talisman and the chalice of Saint Remi, whose baptism of Clovis in 496 led to the conversion of the entire Frankish kingdom. From May 6 to September 8, the museum is open from 9:30 AM to 6:30 PM; from September 9 to May 5, opening hours are 9:30 AM to 12:30 PM and 2 PM to 5:30 PM. The palace is closed on Monday. Tickets are €7.
Speaking of Saint Remi, swing by the basilica that bears his name (Place Chanoine Ladame) to catch a glimpse of the saint’s tomb and the 12th-century stained glass windows. The basilica is open from 8 AM to 7 PM.
The Champagne Houses
Several of the biggest names in Champagne production–like Mumm, Veuve-Cliquot, and Taittinger–have cellars in Reims that tourists can visit to find out how bubbly is made.
A tour of the Pommery Estate is definitely worth the trip. Located at 5 Place Général Gouraud, it’s about a 30-minute walk from the cathedral. Several English-language tours are available throughout the day. The visit includes a trip down into 11 miles of labyrinthine cellar tunnels (originally Gallo-Roman chalk pits), and of course a glass of the good stuff at the end.
Tickets for the Pommery tour start at €10, depending on the quality of Champagne you’d like to sample and whether or not there is a special exhibit going on. While Pommery is one of the few cellars where advance bookings are not required, it can’t hurt to reserve your ticket before you go. From April through mid-November, the estate is open every day from 9:30 AM to 7 PM; from mid-November through March (excluding Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day) opening hours are 10 AM to 6 PM.
Where to Eat
There are plenty of restaurants in the center near Reims’ cathedral, but to get away from the touristy venues head to Les Charmes (11 Rue Brûlart) on the walk to the Pommery Estate. The three-course prix fixe lunch can’t be beat at €12.80. The menu varies, but you’ll find French-Asian fusion dishes like shrimp and quinoa salad and soy chicken with a potato pancake and tomatoes.