Reims is the capital of the Champagne region of France and a place rich in history. Located less than 100 miles east of Paris, and easily accessible by car or train, Reims offers plenty of chances to check out champagne caves, visit cathedrals, hit the monthly flea market, snack on pain au chocolat and even pick up some gifts at the Christmas Market should you visit in December.
Reims boasts four UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Notre Dame Cathedral. This 13th century Gothic masterpiece was where kings of France had coronation ceremonies. It also has a circular stained glass window, called a rose window, and a set of stained glass windows by Marc Chagall.
Saint-Remi, a former royal abbey that was once the Guardian of the Holy Ampula used to anoint the kings of France, is now the Reims Museum of History and Archeology. The Tau Palace is the former archiepiscopal palace where mementos from former French coronations are now kept.
The final UNESCO site is the Saint Remi abbey church, which was built in the Roman period and then reshaped in the Gothic era. Its “chevet” (the term employed in French architecture to distinguish the apsidal end of a church, in which the apses or chapels radiate round the choir aisle) has beautiful stained-glass windows that were restored in the 12th century. Saint-Rémi, a Bishop of Reims who converted Clovis, King of the Franks, to Christianity on Christmas in AD 496, is buried there. The church became an important place of pilgrimage in French history.
Reims is also steeped in modern military history. At 2:41 a.m. on May 7, 1945, in a room of the Modern Technical School of Reims where the headquarters of the supreme commander General Eisenhower had been set up, the Allied Forces brought an end to a war that had lasted for more than five years by obtaining the unconditional surrender of the Army, Air Force and the Navy of the Third Reich. The news was then announced simultaneously at 3 p.m. May 8, 1945, in all the Allied capital cities. The room where the declaration was signed has since been classified a historic monument.
Many of Reims’ champagne houses offer visits, usually with a glass of champagne thrown in. Some are free and some charge admission. Some houses require you to make an appointment. When you arrange your appointment, arrange a tasting as well. You are not obligated to buy champagne, especially if you have paid for entrance but it is nice to get a bottle or two after you have watched the manufacturing process and found one you like.
There are 11 champagne houses in Reims that you may visit. These include Maxims, Mumm, Piper-Heidsieck, Tattinger, Pommery, Ruinart and Veuve Cliquot-Ponsardin. You will not see the grapes being pressed unless you go in September or October and many house presses are out in the countryside. Also note, this is a very busy time during the grape harvest and some houses might not offer tours.
Reims has a monthly flea market the first Sunday of every month from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. During the spring, summer and early fall months it is held outdoors just off the city center. Ask anyone for the “marché aux puces” and they will point you in the right direction, which is usually to the Place de République near the Boulingrin. In the winter months it is held indoors in the Parc des Expositions.
Good to know
For more information, visit the following Web sites:
or contact the Reims tourist office located 2, rue Guillaume de Machault (next to the cathedral); phone: 0033 (0)326 774525; fax: 0033 (0)326 774527.
There is also a small airport in Reims that has rail access.
Reims Museum of History and Archaeology opening hours: 2 to 6:30 p.m. Monday to Friday and 2 to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; free admission first Sunday of each month
Museum of the Surrender opening hours: 10 a.m. to noon and 2 to 6 p.m.; closed Tuesdays, Jan. 1, May 1, July 14, Nov. 1 and 11, and Dec. 25; call 0033 (0)326 478419