The medieval city of Reims, the capital of the Champagne region, is just 45 minutes by high-speed rail from Paris. Spend a day exploring the lovely village and sampling some of the best sparkling wine in the world.
Anyone who knows anything about French wine will tell you that the bubbly drink you enjoy on festive occasions is often not actual champagne, but, instead, prosecco (Italian), cava (Spanish) or sparkling wine. Though these options are delicious (and appropriately effervescent), real champagne is an exclusive product of the Champagne region of France.
Reims, the region’s capital, is just a quick train ride from Paris, and an easy day trip to include on a vacation to the City of Lights. The 45-minute train journey will take you through scenic northern countryside and deposit you at the Reims station, just outside the main downtown area. The town offers lots to see and do — not to mention plenty of wineries to visit — all within walking distance of the train station.
Once you arrive, the champagne houses are located mainly across the river. But I recommend taking a stroll through the town’s riverside parks and scenic main squares before crossing one of the decidedly less-scenic bridges for the main event: champagne tasting.
During my recent trip to Champagne, I visited Lanson Cellars. Operating in Champagne since 1760, the winery offers hour-long tours highlighting the history of the house, as well as backstory on the region, viticulture and French laws and standards around champagne making. I suggest springing for the 30-euro package (10 euros more than the base price), which includes three glasses of champagne: Champagne Lanson Black Label Brut, Rose Label Brut and Vintage (a rare taste).
A number of other famous champagne houses sit within a short walk from the city center, among them Taittinger, Mumm and Pommery. You can’t sample the champagnes at these options without taking a full tour, but all three offer English-language tours that you can book online.
If you’re toured out but still eager to sample bubbly, stop at Champagne Charles de Cazanove down the block from the train station. This modest little tasting room offers 4-euro glasses until 7 p.m. I had the entire place to myself and enjoyed trying all the label’s champagnes with no fuss.
Be sure to email wineries in advance to confirm hours. Many close for lunch daily and are open for shorter hours during the winter. Most require reservations.
Grab a bite to eat.
In between sips of champagne, head to town for lunch. If you’re in the mood for fine dining, Reims has plenty of choices, including Michelin-starred Le Millénaire and Le Foch. For a more casual meal, À L’Ére du Temps is a charming creperie specializing in sweet and savory crepes, and Anna S serves reasonably priced bistro fare.
See the sights.
The central church in Reims, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims, was the site of French coronations during the 11th century — and it’s easy to see why. The stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site features vivid Chagall stained glass, a 15th-century wooden astronomical clock and a statue of Joan of Arc posed in full body armor. Pick up an audio tour for 6 euros to learn more about the rich history of the structure, including how it suffered significant damage during World War I and was rebuilt.
Behind the cathedral lies another UNESCO-recognized site, the Palais de Tau. The former archbishop’s residence turned museum features religious reliquaries, statues and tapestries from the cathedral, plus artifacts that belonged to the various kings that stayed there.
Downtown Reims is also lined with charming shopping streets and squares. I visited in December and spent a good amount of time exploring the city’s extensive holiday market and admiring the decorations on Place Drouet-d’Erlon. When it’s time to return to Paris, a short walk through the delightful squares will drop you back at the Porte de Mars, the remains of the Roman triumphal arch, and the charming park you’ll pass through to catch your train back to Paris. Don’t be surprised if you dream of champagne on the way — a Reims experience is hard to forget.
You’ll find the schedule for the high-speed TGV train on the RailEurope website. Tickets are available approximately three months in advance and priced on a sliding scale: the earlier you book, the cheaper your ticket. Save even more money by booking your train journey during non-peak times.
Where to Stay: