PREMIUM

An insider’s guide to Reims

The effervescent attractions of France’s Champagne region require little introduction, and the city of Reims provides the perfect base, offering history, culture – and a very smart food scene.

Next time you plan a wine trip to Champagne – stocking up for the festive season, perhaps? – make Reims your destination. Culturally jewelled and easy to reach, it just pips Epernay, Champagne’s other wine town, which has a rather straitlaced vibe in comparison.

The city has long ago outgrown its days as a one-night stopover by car en route to Burgundy or southern French sun. It’s now a destination in its own right for Champagne fans on long weekend breaks. The major Champagne houses are based here, and it has a very smart food scene. Its restaurants total eight Michelin stars – nine if you include Royal Champagne (see below).

Long-running city-centre building works have resulted in a smart new tram system, and its cathedral, the basilica and former abbey of St-Remi (now home to a museum), and the surrounding area’s vineyards are already UNESCO Heritage Sites. This compact modern city, full of young professionals and with an international student cohort, sprouts new architecture alongside the old and new businesses by the day and has a cool, hip buzz. Its bid to be a European Capital of Culture 2028 is just one demonstration of that. The atmosphere is almost Parisian, but with more Champagne.

First-time visitors to Reims, why not join one or two Champagne houses’ paid tours? Mumm, Pommery and Veuve Clicquot are slickly informative, but Charles Heidsieck, Ruinart and Taittinger are my tip, with their jaw-dropping, soaring chalk cellars. For a more personal experience, visit small family domaines just 30 minutes from Reims centre by car or taxi. The village of Ecueil is a hotbed of creativity, home to elite grower Champagnes Lacourte-Godbillon, Nicolas Maillart and Savart, and Emmanuel Brochet in nearby Villers-aux-Noeuds. Or you could try your luck at getting a visit to the superb Champagne Bérêche in Le Craon de Ludes.

For guided tours at the major Champagne houses, you’ll need to book ahead in the spring and summer (when most people visit). If you want to visit small growers, remember they won’t have a dedicated visitor team; they tend the vines and make the wine so you must email or phone well ahead and be there on time. For all that, the welcome will be warm and you will learn a lot.


Credit: Maggie Nelson

How to get there

If you’re travelling from the UK, Reims is one of few French wine cities reachable before lunch. It’s only 47 minutes by fast train from Paris Gare de l’Est, which is a short walk from the Eurostar Tours terminal, if you started in London. By car, Reims is approximately six hours from London.

If you’re flying in from further afield, and clear arrivals quickly at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, you can be sipping Champagne at your hotel bar in Reims just 90 minutes after landing, via train or car. If carbon guilt and expense is no issue, fly privately into Reims-Prunay airport, just to the southeast of the city.

For getting around once you’ve arrived, use private chauffeur firm HM Prestige VTC, which also operates airport shuttles.


Your Reims address book

Royal Champagne, Champillon

Accommodation

Hôtel de la Paix
Popular, central, well-run, and a cut above most Best Westerns. 9 Rue Buirette +33 (0)3 26 40 04 08

La Caserne Chanzy
New hotel with some heavenly rooms offering a view of the cathedral. 18 Rue Tronsson Ducoudray

Novotel Suites Reims Centre
I often stay here as it’s convenient for the train station and near the smart Boulingrin quarter, whose glory is the refurbished Halles Boulingrin food market. Big rooms and great as a workspace, with famous Novotel attentiveness and easy parking. 1 Rue Edouard Mignot all.

Résidence Eisenhower
For somewhere more luxurious, this sumptuous mini-palace is Reims’ newest eyrie. 17 Bd Lundy

And, of course, there’s always Airbnb.

Restaurants & cafés

Au Bon Manger
Reims’ coolest hangout for organic and biodynamic Champagne, and a chance to rub shoulders with some of the region’s rockstar growers. The mainly cold-plate food is from top suppliers.

Au Cul de Poule
Hearty food but the cooking is of real skill and there’s a joyous, unpressured ambience. I love the steak tartare, prepared any of seven ways. A great Champagne list, with big houses and growers alike.

Domaine Les Crayères
A superlative hotel and two-star Michelin restaurant with tranquillity, special service and Champagne in depth. Sip on the terrace, overlooking Champagne’s largest lawn.

L’Assiette Champenoise
Simply the best. Unremittingly high-end it is, with its three Michelin stars, but it’s not stiff. And there’s stylish accommodation to be enjoyed, too.

La Brasserie Le Boulingrin
Over the years I’ve probably eaten more oysters and downed more steak frites and cod mornay here than anywhere else.

Le Bocal
Strictly for fish fanatics, and in the lively and fashionable Boulingrin district. Select a live lobster from the tank or enjoy oysters with their greatest accompaniment – Champagne!

Le Coq Rouge
Popular bar à vins where you’re likely to find Reims’ professional jeunesse dorée rubbing shoulders with Champagne makers, enjoying great bistro food and an extensive Champagne list. If nothing else, order the gambas en tempura – big prawns with a light batter and spicy dip. Fabulous with Champagne Diebolt- Vallois, Fleur de Passion 2012. The sister and brother places, Le P’tit Coq and La Braise, are good too. Champagnes at prices close to UK retail. facebook.com/lecoqrouge.reims

Le Wine Bar by Le Vintage
Maybe the best Champagne list anywhere – small-plate food, but the action is in that list. Get there early in spring and summer. Perfect for group taste-athons.

Racine
Reims’ smash-hit Japanese-French fusion restaurant holds two Michelin stars and is run by chef Kazuyuki Tanaka. The city’s hottest restaurant ticket right now: book well ahead.

Royal Champagne
Recently refurbished, this is now Champagne’s smartest hotel. Its main restaurant quickly grabbed a Michelin star and the bistro Le Bellevue makes delicious food, too – and if the sun allows, you will have the best terrace meal and view in all Champagne. It’s in Champillon, which is more than halfway to Epernay, so it’s a taxi ride out.

The Glue Pot
It’s best to avoid the often- heaving Place Drouet d’Erlon, a tourist haven of hotels and bars, but make an exception for The Glue Pot, which serves excellent grower Champagnes in Zalto glasses. The food is so-so (although a friend loves the steak tartare here!), but there’s a fun vibe. Good for leisurely tasting outside mealtimes with a group.

Shopping

La Cave des Sacres
Right next to the cathedral, my city-centre go-to if I need a bottle for the hotel room. Most wine region city shops’ prices are uppish, but here is good value.

Trésors de Champagne
Stocking the whole range of the prestigious Special Club Champagne producers, but much more than a shop. Great for tasting Champagne flights with friends. And do look up at what’s hanging from the ceiling.


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