Explore easily accessible out-of-town wonders, all while having both morning-time café crème and a late evening flute of champagne in Paris.
When it comes to things to see and do, Paris really packs a punch. You could come back a dozen times and still leave feeling as though you’d just scratched the surface. Though you might feel like you’re cheating onher by going out of town, Paris won’t mind at all if you venture out beyond the Périphérique – the capital’s multi-lane ring road – to meander further afield for a provincial pause. And the City of Lights will still be there for you to embrace when you return to her that same evening.
Each of the places we’ve selected can certainly be reached by car, if you prefer the freedom of renting a vehicle and getting around on your own. For many of the places on our list, there are shuttle bus options as well. But we’ve made a specific point of identifying spots that are also well connected by France’s excellent and affordable network of trains.
Here we continue our excursion into the heart of the legendary Champagne region and its capital, Reims. All aboard!
In our last entry on day trips from Paris, we talked about the Champagne region’s beautiful bubbly beverage. In today’s jaunt, we’ll be in the center of the city for a walkabout and, of course, lunch!
When most people in the world today hear the word “Champagne”, they think of the celebratory fizzy drink rather than the French region that gave birth to it. Though the region has a long rich history and plenty to keep people interested and coming back again and again, even today it’s difficult to imagine the place without the wine. With limited time, though, visitors often miss out on the wonders that are here to behold, opting instead of taking bus trips from Paris or arriving by train and hopping into a cab, taking them directly to the wineries. Then they will typically stop in at several producers at the edge of the city: Veuve Clicqot, Martel, Mumm, Ruinart, Taittinger, Pommery. This can be very rewarding if you’ve got at least two days in the area. For the purposes of a single day trip, though, you will get more out of your little jaunt by visiting one winery (we proposed Pommery), then strolling back into the center. It’s an easy walk, about half a kilometer/quarter mile, part of which is through a lush wooded city park.
By the time you’ve finished at the winery and made your way into the center, you’ll be thinking about lunch. So let’s start with that. So many options! As always, we suggest sampling some of the local specialties, things that you won’t find so easily elsewhere. A number of the dishes that are most particular to Reims have their origins in the Ardennes forest, and andouille de Revin is a perfect example. A nice bit of ham, rolled up with chitterlings (or chitlins), then wrapped in a natural casing, boiled with aromatic herbs and spices, andouille is served cold in thin slices like a salami. If you’re visiting during the cooler months, try the potée champenoise, a flavorful soup with winter vegetables like potatoes, turnips, cabbage, carrots, with smoked ham, savory sausage, and – for good measure – a bit of carefully cured luscious lard! For the more adventurous among you, opt for the pied de porc panéà la Sainte-Menehould. Already present in every work on culinary delights in the 18th century, this succulent pig’s trotter is first boiled in a bountiful broth for 10 to 12 hours, then rolled in egg and breadcrumbs and grilled. This makes it pleasantly crunchy on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth on the inside… including the miraculously softened bones!
In Reims, you won’t want to skip the cheese and dessert courses either. From the soft, fruity Blochon to the more decisive Langres, you’ll find regional cheeses to please every palate. For those with a sweet tooth, typical of Reims is the biscuit rose. A delicate blend of eggs, sugar and flour, the mixture is flavored with natural vanilla and lightly tinted with carmine. The slightly cakey cookie is covered with a sugar glaze before going into the oven. The recipe has been delighting diners for more than 300 years, and its particular preparation keeps it together when daintily dipped into a glass of red whine or a flute of champagne. Délicieux!
The slightly cakey cookie is covered with a sugar glaze before going into the oven. The recipe has been delighting diners for more than 300 years, and its particular preparation keeps it together when daintily dipped into a glass of red wine or a flute of champagne. Délicieux!
With bellies sinfully satisfied, your next priority is the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims. An astonishing 150 meters long, 48 meters wide, and 83 meters high, this jewel of medieval know-how is THE monument to see in the city. Begun in 1211, the cathedral is host to 2303 statues, including the Gallery of the Kings: 56 sculptures, each four and a half meters high, on the western or front façade of the church. Although these figures have not been identified with any certainty, we can assume that among the monarchs represented art the kings of France (at least into the 14th century when they were positioned here), as well as the ancestors of Christ. In the center is a depiction of the Christmas Day, 508 AD, baptism of Clovis by Saint Rémy, Reims’ patron saint. This event marks the union made between the French kings and the Roman Catholic Church, a union that endured for nearly a millennium and a half.
For those of hardy soul (and body), climb the 249 steps of the north tower for a spectacular view over the city. This is only possible as part of a guided visit (9€ per person at time of writing), but we warmly recommend the tour in any case.
Adjacent to the cathedral is Tau Palace, the onetime residence of the archbishop of Reims, now serving as a museum. The medieval structure was transformed during the late 17th century into a marvelous model of French Classicism and is certainly worth a visit. The palace houses the cathedral treasury, including several articles the historical importance of which simply cannot be exaggerated. Here you will find the Sainte Ampoule, the ornate bottle that contained the oil that, according to legend, was used to anoint Clovis himself, then every king of France since the mid-9th century and for the next 1000 years. Also from the 9th century is the Talisman of Charlemagne, purported to contain a sliver of the True Cross. It is the only extant example of goldwork that can with some credibility be linked to the person of Charlemagne himself.
For many, a long, lingering lunch is just what’s called for after the hectic pace of the City of Lights. A deeply engaging visit of the cathedral and a stroll down the boulevards of the city center, lined by elegant examples of 19th-century architecture, is just enough to fill the afternoon. For more ambitious travelers who prefer to fit in a little more, between the wineries at the south edge of town and the historic center there a few interesting options. Here are two places you might visit on your way to lunch in the center from the wine houses. The Basilica of Saint Remi is a mouthwatering appetizer before the main meal of the cathedral. Smaller in size but no less impressive in richness of décor, the structure was begun in about the year 1000, nearly a century before what came to be known as Gothic architecture was fully developed. On a more modern note, the Reims-Champagne Automobile Museum has 250 vehicles on display, dating back to 1903, as well as a whopping 7000 miniatures, crafted with exacting detail.
As the time to return approaches, stop in at Boulangerie Frédéric et Isabelle Hardy (30, rue de Tambour). A gawk at their pastry case will leave you with no question as to why this one of the most popular pitstops among the residents of Reims! Have something succulent boxed up to take away.
Then stroll past Reim’s breathtaking City Hall to rue Thiers. This will bring you to the long open park, Les Hautes Promenades, with its playful fountains. Find a shady spot on a bench under one of the many trees that line the promenade and enjoy your tasty treat while you watch the kids running in and out of the fountain spray. The train station is just a short walk from there, and you’ll be back in Paris in no time, with a bottle of champagne in hand, no doubt! How better to toast the end of relaxing day trip to Reims!
* The Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims is open every day from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
* The Palais du Tau closed in January of 2023 for remodeling. It is expected to reopen in January 2025.
* The Basilica of Saint Remi is open every day from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Closes at dusk during the winter.
* The Automobile Museum is open from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon and from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Closed on Tuesdays.