How would you pronounce the word Reims? Like anyone else who reads Latin character, I would think it’s something along the lines of ReeMs, no? Well, little to my knowledge, but this town in Northeast France, at the heart of the champagne country, is actually pronounced more like Raynnce. Now how you get from M to N, is beyond me, but apparently that is the proper way to pronounce it, as I was told over and over again when we got there.
In addition to being the Champagne capital of the world, Reims is also home to one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have seen in Europe, and believe me, I have seen a lot. And perhaps the most intriguing fact I learned during my visit was that this was church that all the Kings of France were coroneted in. Must have had some good bubbly at those ceremonies 😉
The outside of the building is covered in hundred of statues of varying sizes, depicting different characters from biblical stories. The Rockfellers actually contributed to the restoration of the cathedral after parts of it were destroyed in World War I. The organ inside is a little small, but that is made up for in the beautiful stained glass throughout the building. There is the traditional stained glass that you see in almost any cathedral you walk by, but here in Reims, they have stained glass by the famed artist Marc Chagall. I was very surprised to learn that he would have created artwork for a cathedral, but apparently he made stained glass pieces for a handful of churches throughout Europe. They were absolutely stunning and added a jolt of excitement to the trip!
Our next stop of the day was the G.H. Martel Champagne cellar. I have never done a wine tour before, but I think all vacations should include them now. Who can say no to free wine tastings? After watching a brief video about how champagne is made – you need certain grapes, they are processed a certain way and only wine from this region of France can authentically be called champagne – we headed into the bowels of the grounds to see how champagne used to be made before technology took over.
Today, almost all champagne is made in machines but it was still pretty cool to see how it used to be made all by hand just 30 years ago. These cellars in Northeast France are known for being incredibly cold, which is why champagne can ferment so perfectly in them. It would have been awesome to see them hard at work in these caves still making the champagne today, but alas, most production has been moved out of town to bigger facilities where they can shoot off thousands of bottles at a time.
I don’t recall all the details of how the champagne was made before it was mechanized but I do remember the guide saying that all the labels were individually painted and glued onto the bottles and that every bottle had to be rotated by hand over the course of a few months. Talk about some carpel-tunnel! Of course, after the tour was over, we got to try some champagne! My favorite by far was the rosé. You can certainly tell a difference in the bubbles and intensity of different grapes after trying three in a row. Most champagnes have different varieties of grapes in them to create the perfect taste. A vintage champagne is one that has grapes from only one harvest, which is incredibly rare. No wonder they’re so expensive!
Tasting time: After our tour was over, we had lunch and ventured around town some more. Reims is a fairly large city that has a bustling downtown and the crowds were out on mass on a Saturday afternoon. I sometimes feel that everything outside of Paris must be small town French country side, even though I know this is obviously not true having been to my fair share of French towns and cities now. In fact, the public transportation in a town the size of Reims basically puts all America to shame. They had so many buses and trams all with easily marked maps and directions that we had no problem hopping onto a bus without even having to ask for directions. Reims is absolutely worth a trip, especially on the TGV, which whips you up their in all of 45 minutes. I love the TGV! I wish all trains were that fast 🙂