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Dover to Reims: a short break in the heart of the Champagne region
Approaching Reims via the Avenue de Laon is an act of time travel. The road takes you first past the modern Champagne bubble fountain, the domed body of water a modern symbol of the city’s champagne drenched heritage. As the road continues you are confronted by the historic Roman Porte de Mars arch, traversing two thousand years in a matter of minutes. This is Reims, a city steeped in history and Champagne houses, located just two and a half hours away from Calais by car and easily accessible via the affordable Dover to Calais ferry route. Having a car is essential if you want to make the most of your trip and explore the surrounding smaller villages and less accessible vineyards.
It is a city with a complex and remarkable history. Founded by the Gauls, the city went on to thrive within the Roman Empire. The Porte de Mars arch is the most visible mark of the city’s Roman legacy. It was the widest arch in the Roman world, and dates back to the third century AD. As one of the last remanences of the city’s ancient heritage, it is definitely worth a visit if only to grasp the extent of Reims’ past.
The city has been instrumental to French culture since the very inception of France in its modern form. It was the place in which Clovis, King of the Franks, converted to Christianity, resulting in the birth of France as a nation. It is thanks to this that the Notre-Dame de Reims Cathedral hosted the coronation of thirty three French kings. It is only when you’re looking up from beneath the imposing façade, under the gaze of hundreds of sculpted figures, that you feel the full effect of the Cathedral’s monumental size.
The city is home to four UNESCO world heritage sites in total, with Notre Dame de Reims being one of them. The Palace of Tau, Saint-Remi Museum, and the Saint-Remi Basilica abbey fill the rest of the historic roster, offering a chance to see artefacts dating back to the 15th century, as well as relics of Saint-Remi who baptized Clovis in 498.
Although visiting all these sites may be unrealistic for a short break, it is worth selecting a few that interest you and fitting them into your itinerary, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your Champagne sampling, of course.
Champagne Houses and Cellar Tours
The Champagne houses of Reims are famed for their chalk pit cellars. The Gallo-Roman crayères were hollowed to provide materials for the construction of the city but, as luck would have it, their consistent low temperatures and high humidity make them the ideal storage space for Champagne. Premium bottles of bubbly from some of the oldest houses in Reims such as Ruinart, Taittinger, Pommery and Veuve Clicquot are housed in these cavernous spaces, some being as deep as 30m underground. In order to make the most of your time it can be helpful to take a quick look at a map to discover which houses are located next to each other, for example, Veuve Clicquot and Pommery are so close that they once shared tunnels in the cellars when both were owned by Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton.
Having wandered through the chalk caverns beneath the city, you can also depart to the surrounding villages to sample the Champagne produced by smaller vineyards. This is where you can stock up on some produce truly unique to the Champagne region before heading back to Calais to catch the ferry home, car fully stocked.