The Ultimate Guide to Reims, a Day Trip from Paris
On our first first visit to Paris, we did a lot. And by a lot, I mean a lot. (Blog Post to come!) We do have the habit of jumping head first into every new destination — and Paris was no different. We were consumed by the city and did everything we could think of. Including a day trip, which to this day, is one of our favourite travel experiences ever. It was definitely the highlight of the trip.
Being only an hour train ride from Paris, I’m surprised that more people aren’t aware of the historical city of Reims, in the Champagne region of France. As the name suggests, this is the region where champagne is made. While you can get sparkling wine all over the world, no one can do it quite like the Champenoise.
And if you were wondering: “What is the difference between “Champagne” and “Sparkling Wine”? … Well, the short answer is that sparkling wine can only be called Champagne if it comes from the region of Champagne, France. So don’t getting teh two mixed up! #ChampagneSnob
How To Get There:
Grab a coffee and take the 45-minute high-speed TGV train from Paris Gare de l’Est to Reims. We paid around 40 Euros, but if you travel outside of the peak hours, then you could get tickets for 20 Euros. We even got 1st class tickets because they were cheaper than 2nd class. Odd right? But we didn’t complain, we enjoyed the upgrade! And if it’s only a 3 Euro difference, I would do it. Make sure to book the TGV train = the high-speed train. You can book in advance online but we just popped into the closest rail station and booked at the ticket office.
If you’re keen to drive, it’s a 90 minute long journey and we would definitely stay the night. No drinking and driving here!
What To Do:
Touring the Champagne houses is what we would consider the main attraction. In Reims, you will find all the big names, like Veuve Clicquot, Pommery, Mumm and Taittinger. Bear in mind, all of these tours have long staircases into the cellars. If you have any difficulty with walking up and down stairs, this may not be the activity for you. (On that note, apparently Veuve does have the option of an elevator). Also, it’s quite chilly underground so bring a jacket.
Suggested Champagne House Itinerary:
1st Stop: Start at the pastel blue castle on the hill, Pommery.
Here you will tour the Roman caves and art nouveau tasting rooms then enjoy a sampling of their house champagne. You can get there within 10 minutes from the Reims downtown train station and 15 minutes from the TGV Champagne-Ardenne Bezannes train station. Do book ahead on their website here.
2nd Stop: Next, across the way from Pommery is Verve Clicquot.
Here, you have a choice of three cellar tours and champagne tasting, ranging from 25 Euros to 120 Euros and 1,5 to 2,5 hours. I think if you’re champagne-house-hopping, go for the mid-range tour – or the day could end up being a bit pricey. If you’re a real champagne-snob, then go the full shebang, because I personally do not like the standard “Yellow Label” Veuve.
Note that Veuve Clicquot is only open between March/April and November, on Tuesdays to Saturdays, and you must book in advance online. We went on a Monday and they were obviously closed. Monday’s in Reims can suck. The restaurants at Les Crayeres were also closed.
3rd Stop: Lunch.
I’d advise a stomach lining before you next tasting, even just to sober up a bit. We had packed a picnic lunch and sat in the park next to the less frequented Basilique Saint Remi, a quiet and serene church just outside the city center.
4th Stop: Our favourite champagne of them all, Taittinger.
The tour only took an hour, starting with a short video and ending with a tasting, depending on which package you bought. You need not book which is an advantage if you end up on a spontaneous day trip, but the tour groups can be quite large. Tours start at 9:45 AM and then once every hour until 3:45 PM.
While I do love their champagne, and I loved the tour, there is no commentary with the tasting (unlike other tours) and this is quite a common criticism of their tour. I personally love the Comtes Blanc de Blanc and would highly recommend the tasting upgrade to include this one. But if you’re sick of all the champagne, you should definitely buy a bottle for later.
5th Stop: Stop for coffee
… or cocktails, if you’re still on the drinking train, at La Rotonde, the Old English bar at Chateau Les Crayeres. We did both!
After dark activities if you’re staying over:
Head over to Place d’Erlon, a popular hangout featuring plenty of bars, shops and cafes. You can hang like the twenty-something students in the bars or be a little more sophisticated, and sit on a terrace with your final glass of champagne.
Other Activities & Sights:
Besides the Champagne Houses, there are other non-alcoholic sights to see. You could sign up for the 4pm daily tour (in French) of the Notre Dame de Reims Cathedral, for only €7.50. The Reims Cathedral is not only a gothic masterpiece, but also where the kings of France were once crowned. (Note that you’ll need to tackle all 200+ stairs to reach the top of the towers).
Where to eat:
With great champagne also comes great food. Reims is home to several Michelin Star restaurants.
- Racine is the new kid on the block, it was’t around when we visited in 2014, but the reviews look amazing. They serve French cuisine with a Japanese twist. Sadly, they aren’t open on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.
- Le Parc (2-star) and Le Jardin (a brasserie), two restaurants based at the Les Crayeres Chateau were both on my to-do list when we visited, but both were closed on the Monday.
- L’Assiette Champenoise, a modern 5-star hotel, boasts a 3-star Michelin restaurant onsite.
- In addition to the above, L’Alambic, Le Foch, Le Bocal and Le Millenaire are all highly ranked too.
If you wanted to extend your stay:
Most people enjoy Reims as a day trip, but I wouldn’t rule out a longer stay. In fact, Craig and I cannot wait to return to do just that. Across from the Champagne House, Pommery, is the elegant estate of Château Les Crayères. This place is like something out of a fairytale. It’s on our bucket-list.
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