Champagne Weekend in Reims, France
By now you’re savvy enough to know: true Champagne can only come from the Champagne region of France. Hence the uppercase.
If the word "champagne" is in lower case or accompanied by the words "méthode traditionnelle," then you’re looking at sparking wine that utilizes the "French method" - but, as they say in France, "Ceci n’est pas Champagne."
And, as you also probably know, only grapes from the Champagne region can be used to produce Champagne wines.
And also - all harvesting in the Champagne region must be done by hand, in order to prevent the white juice of the grapes from coming into contact with the skins of the pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes, which are two of the three grapes used to make Champagne - and which happen to be black grapes.
These are just a few of the tidbits you’ll recall after your Champagne weekend in Reims. The next time you’re thinking of a week in Paris, think about spending a weekend in nearby Reims, the center of the Champagne region and home to one of the three most beautiful Gothic cathedrals in the world (the other two being Chartres and Amiens).
Since 2007, Reims has been linked to Paris by a TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse - or high speed train) rail link, which makes the journey from Gare de l’Est in Paris to Reims Station in approximately 45 minutes.
A town of approximately 200,000 "Rémois," as the city’s citizens are called, Reims was allegedly named for Remus, brother of Romulus, the founder of Rome. The 2,000-year-old city has a remarkable history for such a relatively small town. It was here in 498 that Clovis, the King of the Franks, was converted to Christianity by Bishop Remi, a conversion which marked the birth of France. Thereafter, the cathedral of Reims hosted the coronations of no less than 29 French kings, making Notre-Dame of Reims the equivalent of Britain’s Westminster Abbey.
Every student of military and European history knows that Reims was a city martyred by World War I, shelled repeatedly by the Germans for more than three years, which resulted in the destruction of more than 80% of the city.
American soldiers (known as "Sammies" by the French, in reference to Uncle Sam) fought in the Champagne region during both World Wars - and it was an American infusion of philanthropy and altruism by magnates such as John D. Rockefeller, Jr. that enabled Reims to rebuild after the desecration of World War I.
From the ashes rose a city notable for its Art Deco architecture. The master plan for the rebuilding of Reims was submitted by urban planner and New York architect, George B. Ford, Jr., who was assisted by more than 300 architects and their practices. It was Rockefeller who rebuilt the cathedral’s roof, while the Carnegie Foundation donated funds for the municipal library, one of the many Art Deco architectural treasures in Reims, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1991.
The next time you’re feeling a little queasy about American foreign policy, you might think about its exemplary record in Reims.
Oh, but let’s face it: the primary reason you’re in Reims (which is pronounced "Rahnz" by the locals and "Reams" by the British and most Americans) is for the bubbles. Speaking of bubbles, did you know that there are between 45 - 50,000 bubbles per bottle of Champagne?
Reims is a town where every third person is involved in the Champagne industry. And no matter how you feel about religion, if you appreciate the joys of Champagne, you’re going to have to nod to the monasteries. The monk Dom Perignon is considered the father of Champagne, after his discovery of the virtues of blending grapes from various villages. The resultant sparkling wine became a favorite of the royal courts - and a symbol of "l’art de vivre" in France.
Reims was also, in the Middle Ages, the gingerbread capital of Europe, a culinary prowess that may have contributed to the creation of the celebrated "biscuit rose de Reims," the rose-colored confection invented in the late 17th century and favored by the royal courts. Today, the rose biscuits are still manufactured in Reims by Maison Fossier, using an original recipe dating from 1756.
Pink biscuits and Champagne: what more do you need for a romance-filled weekend? How about some of the best oysters in France, thanks to the ice-filled trucks that arrive daily from Bretagne? Toss in a plethora of Art Deco buildings and a world-famous cathedral built atop the ruins of the Roman baths and you’ve got yourself an aphrodisiacal idyll.
(Feature continues on next pages: Where to Eat, What to Do, Where to Stay, Getting There...)