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louis Reims - A travel report by Rafal
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Reims,  France - flag France -  Champagne-Ardenne
10957 readers

louis's travel reports

Sparkling gold!

  4 votes
The region of Champagne is more famous for its bottles than for its landmarks or monuments. Here, it is all about the bubbles. They bring fortune and fame (sometimes disasters as well) and thanks to them, the region is well known in the entire world.

Everything here turns around the sparkling gold - Champagne! This divine beverage shares the name with the region, is the main source of local income and brings a steady flow of (mostly rich) tourists. The harvest period of the grapes is the most important moment during the year, as an indicator of next year’s fortune. Insolation, humidity, number of rainy days - all of these factors are much more important here than in other parts of the world. They have a huge impact on the sweetness of the fruits, which on its turn define the quality of the champagne. When the harvest ends, hundreds of wine experts begin their work, mixing different types of grapes and releasing information about the uniqueness of that wine year. In this northeast part of France, where the weather is the least pleasant in the entire country, a monk Dom Perignon in XVII century modernized the wine production process. This allowed the elimination of some of the wine defects and improved its taste. From that moment on, a world career slowly begun and the first barrels were sent to England. Champagne became so famous that, in 1928, the name "Champagne" was reserved only for the beverages produced in the Champagne Region! Until recently, most of the wineries were kept in private hands, for centuries in the same families. Unfortunately, even here, globalization appeared and LVHM is constantly buying smaller wineries. Even if they keep the brand, numbers and income are more important than tradition or quality. Most of the producers open its cellars for sightseeing, as many of them have dozens of kilometres dug in clay soil corridors; however, only a small part is available.

Épernay is the centre of the champagne business, Chalons en Champagne is the region's capital, Reims is the biggest city and Troyes is the nicest and prettiest town. Vatry Airport (located in Chalons) is the only airport (served by Ryanair). Due to the proximity to Paris and a good railway network, it is easy to travel aroun

Favourite spots:
Reims Cathedral
Reims Cathedral
Reims’ Cathedral of Our Lady was only completely repaired from WWI destruction in 1996. Marc Chagall was asked to reconstruct its famous stained glass windows. He focused on local traditions and, as a result, the Cathedral is probably unique in the world with the champagne motifs on its windows. Reims Cathedral, for many ages, was the place where Royal Coronation was held (the last one took place in 29 May 1825 and the most famous was when Joanna D'Arc brought here Charles VII). Construction started on XII century and the Cathedral is considered as the finest example of Gothic art in the entire France (people also call it The Cathedral of the Angels). On its façade, there are 2,303 statues and it is possible to see 56 stone statues of French Kings. The Cathedral, together with the adjacent Palace of Thau (which now houses a famous museum) and the Basilica of Saint Remi, is on the UNESCO List. The Basilica of Saint Remi is older (dates back to XI century) and quieter than the Cathedral.

What's really great:
Moet & Chandon in Epernay
Moet & Chandon in Epernay
Épernay is probably the only town in the world with an Avenue de Champagne. This few kilometres long, recently renovated street is home for the world leading champagne producers. The most exclusive brands, like Moet & Chandon, Lafond, Pol-Roger, Mercier, Perrier, De Castellane and De Venoge have their wineries there (mostly in fancy mansions). Most of them provide guided tours through their caves. It is not cheap (10 euro) but, during the tours, it is possible to find out more about the production, storage, types and history of this exclusive drink and, finally, taste it. In a dozen of kilometres of clay cellars, beneath the street, millions of bottles are stored.

The streets in the older part of town are narrow and irregular. Le Portail de Saint Martin is the most interesting structure. It was built in 1540 as part of an old Abbey and it is the only survivor of the French Revolution from the entire complex. Three religions are present here: there is a church, a synagogue and a mosque.

Old part of Troyes
Old part of Troyes
Troyes is undoubtedly the prettiest town in the entire region. Being here is like a journey back in time. Long rows of half timbered houses mark the old part of the town. All of them are very colourful, very old (mostly from the XVI century) and extremely charming. Due to a restrictive tax law from the Middle Ages (the level of tax depended on the plot’s surface), most of the houses have very narrow ground floors and wider upper floors. The biggest concentration of these gingerbread-like houses is in the central area, near the "Place Alexandre Israel" (the main square). The most famous church is the "Cathedral de Saint Pierre et Saint Paul". In principle, it should have only the name of the first patron, as the funds for the second tower (the one dedicated to St.Paul) run out and was never completed. Tourists are attracted by rumours that some statues on the bell tower have very provocative shapes. The lack of access to the tower makes it impossible to check them out.

Old house
Old house
France, as one of the most popular destinations in the world, has become very expensive. It is not easy to find a decent and inexpensive accommodation. In Champagne, it is even worse, as the region attracts rich tourists. Obviously, the wisest is to book the place ahead but, if it is a last-minute journey, it will be almost impossible to book ahead. Most of the main international chains have their hotels there. Premiere Classe and Etap are the cheapest (double for around 30-40 euro), but all of them have an automatic reception. This means that, after 7pm, there is no one to help you in case of questions. Often, they are fully booked. More expensive hotels, like Campanille or Ibis, charge around 60 euro for double room without breakfast. As they are quite old, don't expect high standard interiors (for me, the biggest problem were the thin walls). Private- run hotels are another option (prices from 80 euro). This time, we stayed in Campanile, Chalons en Champagne (59 euro per double).

Longsols Church
Longsols Church
The small gems of wooden architecture are spread out through the entire region. Despite some differences, they have many similarities: very old, skew half-timbered walls, covered by roofs that almost touch the ground. Many of them are surrounded by small cemeteries. The trail of wooden churches is something refreshing and a nice change from the Champagne subject.

Saint-Leger-sous-Margerie is one of the oldest, dating back to 1492. Soberly decorated, it seems to be lost in time.

The church in Morembert is hidden at the end of the village. Its current shape is the result of a transformation carried out in 1841. You may also see that its exterior underwent a recent renovation. It has a very modest interior.

The church in Longsols is one of the biggest. It dates back to 1493 and its interior has gorgeous wooden decorations. Its long transept gives the building the shape of a Latin cross. Outside, it has a pyramid shape divided into three floors. It is open for visitors.

Chalons en Champagne
Chalons en Champagne
Probably, if Chalons en Champagne would not be the region’s capital, it would be out of the travel paths. It is much less appealing than its attractive neighbours (Reims, Troyes). In spite of this, the town still maintained some charm. Its centre is quite chaotic, combining many architecture styles - from half-timber houses, XVIII century structures up to modern architecture. It is a very pleasant feeling to discover, between this chaos, small gems, like the XVIII century "Hôtel de Ville" or the "Sainte-Croix Gate" (dedicated to Marie Antoinette). The Roman Catholic Châlons’ Cathedral is the biggest structure in the entire town. It is so big that it is impossible to see it completely. The front of the Cathedral is surrounded by small houses. The church of "Notre-Dame-en-Vaux" (entr 8 euro) is the second town landmark. Built between 1157 and 1217, it luckily survived the French Revolution and, in 1998, was inscribed to the UNESCO list as part of the "roads to St Jacques de Compostela"

Local fish
Local fish
Regional cuisine has a lot to offer. Its backbone are the several types of fish (like pike, trout and salmon), the venison and the pork. Another local specialty is the sausage called "andouilette", made with pork meat, intestines or chitterlings, pepper, wine, onions and seasonings. It has a very strong taste and an even stronger smell (at the beginning I suspected that my dish was not fresh). It can be served cold or as a warm meal. Another known delicacy is the "Bodin Blanc" type of white sausage (the best is from Rethel). The region has its own special cheeses like Brie, Langres (a soft cheese from cow milk) and Chaource (a soft, salty, ripened cheese). Surprisingly (at least for me), champagne is also an ingredient of many local dishes. We can find in menus champagne soup, cabbage with champagne, oysters with champagne and, often, champagne is also an ingredient used in "andouilette". Although in this last case, the mixture of intestines with champagne is rather controversial.

Other recommendations:
Place Ducale in Charleville Mezieres
Place Ducale in Charleville Mezieres
The region is not only famous because of the champagne and battlefields. The small town of Charleville-Mézières is the birthplace of one of the greatest French poets: Arthur Rimbaud. Although he did not like the town that much, today he is its most famous citizen (and source of money, of course). One can find there the house where Rimbaud was born, the house where he grew up and the "Rimbaud Museum". Near the museum, there is an interesting exposition, where his best-known thoughts are carved on metal chairs. Rimbaud should not be the only reason to visit Charleville-Mézières. The town was created in 1966 by the fusion of neighbouring communities. The "Place Ducale" is its central point. It is a quadratic square surrounded by houses, all with the same shape. Other worth seeing places are the "Basilique de Notre Dame", the "Hôtel de Ville" and the "Le Grand Marionnettiste". It is in this last venue that the World Puppet Festival is held, every two years, with more than 150 shows.

Published on Wednesday August 30th, 2017

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Sun, Apr 01 2018 - 03:58 AM rating by krisek

Great report, Rafal. Thank you for sharing.

Thu, Mar 22 2018 - 07:34 AM rating by rangutan

A delicious report, I am thirsty!

Wed, Aug 30 2017 - 06:45 PM rating by pictor

I will say cheers to this one ;-) Excellent writing and pictures.

Wed, Aug 30 2017 - 01:41 PM rating by mistybleu

Hi Rafa,

Loved your report. I was in Rouen last week and found the same issue regarding accommodation. But what a wonderful place to visit. I need to put this part of France on my list for the next break. Thanks for sharing.


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