Only in Reims, France can you take a wrong turn and end up in a field of champagne vineyards…
Thanks to our quirky GPS, we had arrived in the north of France from Belgium for a 3 day visit to the bona fide champagne region of the world. We had judged that this quick detour would be worth it – not only did Reims boast a long tradition of champagne-making (which we were eager to experience first-hand of course), but the region also has great historical significance.
Being located so close to the border of Germany, Reims and its century-old vineyards have also suffered greatly during the world wars, often being among the first to be bombed and invaded. Perhaps one of the reasons champagne has become a world-wide symbol of celebration has something to do with all of the hardships this region has had to overcome!
First, we decided to visit Taittinger to get the full Reims experience. The Taittinger caves were created within the Abbey of Saint-Nicaise of the 13th century, and during a 1.5 hour tour you can learn more about the connection between Taittinger and WWI (the chateau had at once been used as a command post), its connection to the Abbey, and how the champagne is made over 5 to 10 years. Whether or not it’s in your budget to try their blanc de blanc, the visit to Taittinger is worth it just to see the caves!!
Taittinger’s champagne caves
Hautvillers is a short 30 min drive from Reims, and is the picturesque center of many smaller and intimate champagne wineries. Here, you’ll find iconic scenes of vast vineyards and churches. You’ll also have full reign here to taste a variety of champagnes in a peaceful, laid-back environment without the price tag of the bigger wineries!
Located in Reims’ midst is the grand gothic cathedral, which has been used for centuries in France to conduct coronations for almost all of its Kings. Magnificent, yet darkly gothic, we visited the cathedral twice; once during the day to visit the inside, and at night to watch the impressive light show that happens at the cathedral every day at 11 PM. These are not just simple fireworks, or spot lights but an engineering marvel! It is definitely worth seeing this show to appreciate how the city has given the cathedral a modern and contemporary edge.
All in all, I left Reims with the impression that although champagne is the heart of life here, there is a much larger, historical context here. While the history, religion and wars may not be immediately obvious when looking at the pristine champagne bottles that this region produces, one would probably be amiss to overlook it.