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Weekend in Reims

Reims Rooftops

Earlier this month I spent two days in Reims updating part of the Fodor’s France Guide. But being a guide to the whole country, you can imagine how small the chapter for Reims must be! There’s never enough space to include everything interesting and worth seeing. Luckily here I can share it all with you in this photo essay.

Reims: More than just Champagne

Reims is only 45 minutes from Paris by TGV, has a nice selection of hotels across the price range, and is currently constructing a tramway to make it even easier to get around town. There are more than enough good restaurants, pastry and chocolate shops, wine boutiques, and locally-made specialties to keep all of the foodies happy. Of course there is the famous cathedral where the kings of France were crowned, as well as noteworthy museums, and many sites commemorating World War I and World War II.

And yes, there are Champagne houses galore! Big ones, small ones, pretty ones…best to bring a designated driver with you!

Pommery Champagne
Pommery Champagne

One of the well-know Champagne houses in Reims, the Pommery “château” is so cute it looks like a Disney set.

The Widow Pommery
The Widow Pommery

So many of the famous Champagne houses were run (and run well, I might add) by widows. Makes one wonder if there was something sinister going on amongst the wives at the afternoon tea parties. 😉

Strange Brew
Strange Brew

My Paris apartment could probably fit inside this wine barrel (set up for an exposition in the Pommery Domaine).

Reims Hôtel de Ville
Reims Hôtel de Ville

Like many buildings that date back to the Second World War (not forgetting that much of Reims was flattened in WWI), the City Hall is still pock-marked with bullet holes. “Trou de balle,” I say, and my French guide giggles. Seriously.

Hôtel des Comtes de Champagne
Hôtel des Comtes de Champagne

A Gothic house once home to the Counts of Champagne, now owned by Taittinger and used for private functions.

Musée-Hôtel Le Vergeur
Musée-Hôtel Le Vergeur

The Hôtel Le Vergeur is in the center of what was once the Medieval market. It was restored after the bombings in WWII and is now a museum of local history. It also happens to have two complete series of Albrecht Dührer engravings from the Apocalypse and Grande Passion.

Musée-Hôtel Le Vergeur
Musée-Hôtel Le Vergeur
The Renaissance facade in the gardens.
Musée-Hôtel Le Vergeur
Musée-Hôtel Le Vergeur

One of the garden structures, used as a repository for sculptures and architectural details. Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI stayed here before getting married.

Musée-Hôtel Le Vergeur
Musée-Hôtel Le Vergeur
Another view…my camera doesn’t really do the setting justice.
Place du Forum
Place du Forum

Just outside the Vergeur Museum are the remains of the Roman Forum found during excavations. There are several Roman monuments still standing in Reims, a miracle considering 80% of the city was destroyed in WWI.

Carnegie Library
Carnegie Library

Much of Reims was rebuilt with American money, including the Carnegie Library. The American flag emblem can be seen on the left.

Carnegie Library
Library and Cathedral in Reims

Most of the major sites in Reims can be seen on foot, all within easy walking distance of each other.

Shopping Passage in Reims
Shopping Passage in Reims

A covered shopping passage. They’ve got nothing on Paris, but it’s not that bad for les provinces. 😉

Musée de la Reddition - Surrender Museum
Musée de la Reddition – Surrender Museum

General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s headquarters, also known as the Little Red School House in Reims, is now home to the Musée de la Reddition, or Surrender Museum. This is where, on Monday May 7, 1945, the Germans surrendered unconditionally to the Allied Forces. It’s still a high school (the entrance on the far end), and it’s actually not “little” at all.

Musée de la Reddition - Surrender Museum
Musée de la Reddition – Surrender Museum

The words above the door to the entrance for the museum say “It’s here that on May 7, 1945, the agreement was signed that ended the Second World War in Europe.”

Musée de la Reddition - Surrender Museum
Musée de la Reddition – Surrender Museum
The entrance to the museum pays homage to General Eisenhower.
Musée de la Reddition - Surrender Museum
Musée de la Reddition – Surrender Museum

The map room where the surrender was signed is exactly the way it was on May 7 1945, with name plaques added to the seats (a photo shows where each of the participants sat).

Musée de la Reddition - Surrender Museum
Musée de la Reddition – Surrender Museum
Another wall of the map room, with tallies of the casualties and troop movements.
Musée de la Reddition - Surrender Museum
Musée de la Reddition – Surrender Museum

The museum includes a lot of memorabilia from the end of the war, and press clippings from around the world.

Musée de la Reddition - Surrender Museum
Musée de la Reddition – Surrender Museum

Strangely enough, one of the news clippings from a British newspaper on May 8, 1945 not only mentions the end of the war, but also has — on the front page — new uses for dried eggs. I guess you have to sell newspapers any way you can, even back then!

Reims Architecture
Reims Architecture

The architecture throughout Reims is a strange mix of old and new. At least it’s not boring.

War Monument Reims
War Monument Reims

Most people think of Champagne when they think of Reims, but the destruction and massive casualties suffered in this region during both World Wars has left its mark. Here is just one of the many monuments to the soldiers found throughout the city of Reims.

Le Bocal
Le Bocal

This tiny poissonnerie, also across from Les Halles Boulingrin at 27 rue de Mars, has an even smaller fish restaurant hidden in the back.

Le Bocal
Le Bocal
The cheery dining room with the seaside theme holds about 12 diners.
Le Bocal
Le Bocal
First you pick the fattest fish in the bowl…(kidding!)
Le Bocal
Le Bocal

It’s the little details like the fish cookie with my coffee (don’t worry, it’s a sugar cookie, no fishy flavor) and the friendly welcome that make this restaurant so enjoyable. And don’t miss the warm oysters!

Hall Place
Hall Place

Across from Les Halles Boulingrin, the old marketplace, is this contemporary wine bar.

Hall Place
Hall Place

Platters of charcuterie and cheese accompany local and regional wines. There are also more hearty plats du jour, but je ne peux plus.

Terroir des Rois
Terroir des Rois

Just next to the Cathedral, this boutique sells Champagne, wines, liqueurs, gourmet food items…basically everything you need in terms of food and drink from the region.

Terroir des Rois
Terroir des Rois

Did you know the locals in Champagne region aren’t just content with having the finest sparkling wine, they also try their hand at Whisky. You can even visit the Guillon distillery.

Terroir des Rois
Terroir des Rois
Marc de Champagne and other local liqueurs to keep you warm and happy.
Guide at Terroir des Rois
Terroir des Rois

“You have to try this…” My local guide Denis won’t let me escape before trying one glass of, well, everything! Here he’s handing me a cup of Ratafia, a local sweet aperitif. Apparently those rose biscuits from Fossier are very good dipped into this. It will be, I swear, my last drink of the day, if not the year.

Snail Caviar
Snail Caviar?

Technically they can’t call it caviar, but the little snail eggs certainly do resemble that gourmet snack. You can find these local delicacies at the Hédiard boutique in Reims (18 rue Colbert).

Chocolaterie des Sacres
Chocolaterie des Sacres

One of my favorite chocolate and pastry shops in Reims, the Chocolaterie des Sacres, famous for the chocolate-covered Maca’rose (macaron made with Fossier rose biscuits). My sugar high peaked dangerously as the owners Marie-Claire and Gérard Guillotin handed me one thing after another…the Pavés de Reims (small dark chocolates with Champagne-flavored ganche), their caramel macaron, their rose-flavored white chocolate bar, the bouchon chocolate…bliss! They are partnered with the famed Chocolatier Vincent Dallet in Epernay (where you can take culinary courses, call for info).

Chocolaterie des Sacres
Chocolaterie des Sacres

From the windows of the Chocolaterie des Sacres you can see the construction work for the new tram going through Reims. A huge mess, but it will be super nice when it’s done…in 2012.

Bouchons de Reims
Bouchons de Reims

Everywhere you go in Reims are reminders of the Champagne heritage. Here are some cork-shaped chocolates.

Chocolat Deléans
Chocolat Deléans

Our next stop was at the mint-green Chocolaterie Deléans. It is quite an old chocolate shop in Reims, originally opened in 1874, but now run by the young and dynamic chocolatier Vincent Frodefond.

Chocolat Deléans
Chocolat Deléans

Vincent does a lot of things differently than other chocolate makers…like chocolate dinosaurs instead of eggs and chickens and bunnies at Easter. There are also little white and dark chocolate balls with pop-rocks inside, like Champagne bubbles…

Chocolat Deléans
Chocolat Deléans

This is one of the few chocolate boutiques where tours are given behind the scenes. Here a young apprentice is spreading out the chocolate ganache, which will harden and then be chopped into squares…

Waïda & Fils Patisserie
Waïda & Fils Patisserie

This pastry shop and tea room on the Place Drouet has a lovely Art Deco interior. Denis tells me he’s been coming here since he was a child.

La Petite Friande
La Petite Friande

Since 1832, but with a snazzy contemporary boutique, La Petie Friande is one of the fine chocolate shops in Reims.

La Petite Friande
La Petite Friande

Chocolates made with Calvados, Cointreau, or Nectar of Grand Marnier. It’s not quite noon yet, but I’m not driving…

La Petite Friande
La Petite Friande

Chocolates in the form of bouchons (Champagne corks), filled with different liqueurs and Champagne. How many of these can one eat and still drive responsibly? Depends if you’re eating them on an empty stomach!

Fossier Rose Biscuits
Fossier Rose Biscuits

You’ll find Fossier’s famous rose cookies in stores all over France. You can take a tour of the factory on the outskirts of town.

Fossier Rose Biscuits
Fossier Rose Biscuits

Everything in the boutique is pink, of course. This very charming lady let me try one of everything. This is where I realized I’d be skipping dinner…and probably breakfast, too.

Le Jardin des Crayères
Le Jardin des Crayères

Les Crayères is one of the most illustrious hotel properties in Reims, with a haute-cuisine restaurant, Le Parc. For those who like gourmet French cuisine without the formal setting (and prices), there is now their new brasserie, Le Jardin. Ther outdoor terrace seating (closed now that it’s a bit chilly out) faces the manicured grounds of the Chateau de Pommery.

Le Jardin des Crayères
Le Jardin des Crayères

The interior has large picture windows that make it feel like you’re sitting outside. I had cooked foie gras on a bed of lentils and magret de canard with puréed potatoes served in a jar. Their wine list is particularly impressive, and you can sit at the bar seating for a more casual atmosphere.

Le Jardin des Crayères
Le Jardin des Crayères
The kitchen has glass walls, too, so you can watch the chefs at work.
Villa Demoiselle
Villa Demoiselle=

Across the street from Pommery is the gorgeous Art Nouveau “Villa Demoiselle” owned by the Vranken Monopole Champagne Group (now joined with Pommery). They don’t actually use the caves here, they’re just for decoration. But it’s a lovely place to visit and taste (and buy) Champagne.

Villa Demoiselle
Villa Demoiselle
Villa Demoiselle
Villa Demoiselle
Villa Demoiselle
Villa Demoiselle
Villa Demoiselle
Villa Demoiselle

Everything but the floors were destroyed from the original house. Everything had to be restored. The stained glass was done by the descendants of the original glass-maker in Reims.

Villa Demoiselle
Villa Demoiselle
The cascading glass light fixtures at the center of the staircase weigh 350 kilos.
Villa Demoiselle
Villa Demoiselle

These matching seating/shelving units originally flanked the first fireplace. They had to be cut because of space and now flank the doorway. All of the furnishings were originally made for other properties, but they generally fit in very well.

Villa Demoiselle
Villa Demoiselle
Villa Demoiselle
Villa Demoiselle
I absolutely adore Art Nouveau. They don’t sell beds like this at Ikea.
Villa Demoiselle
Villa Demoiselle
Villa Demoiselle
Villa Demoiselle

Our friendly guide Guy offers a glass of the Demoiselle Champagne after the tour. Okay, maybe just one for the road.

Update from a friend of mine who visited Reims in March 2010

We went on a Sunday, and it was absolutely dead.  It was incredible how dead the place was.  A freakin’ ghost town.  Impossible to get a taxi, so unfortunately we did a whole lot of walking!  And thank god we brought some sandwiches with us; it would have been tough to find any kind of decent food (apart from the fare you get at train stations).
 
Since it was just a day-trip, it wasn’t like we needed the city to be alive — we were just visiting a couple of cellars (that are open on Sundays) and the Cathedral.  And that pretty much filled up our time (along with all the walking in between!).  We went to Martel and Mumm.  The Martel tour was outstanding — the guy was terrific and since there were only a few of us, we got to spend about twice the usual time for a tour there.  Terrific tasting too.  I really feel like a learned a lot about champagne on this trip.  And Mumm was good too, though a bit more “corporate”.  And of course, I came home with some “souvenirs!”  Hey, they were selling some bubbly that is tough to find, even in Paris!
 
The cathedral was very impressive too, as I’m sure you know.

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