europe · travel

Breaking Out the Bubbly in Champagne

I’m not quite sure how the universe has conspired to get me here, but I am here. In Champagne! Champagne, the land of the one spirit to rule them all, the spirit best known for opulence, indulgence, and most of all, exclusivity. You can imagine how bewildering this is for a backpacking, bordering hippie like myself. But, as I’ve said, I finally found myself here. Let’s drink to that!

And boy, did we indulge. Admittedly, it was the sparkling that drew us here, but there is actually much more to Champagne, sights that would appeal even to the soberest visitor.

Joan of Arc charges into the Cathedral of Reims
Joan of Arc charges into the Cathedral of Reims

Reims, a small city around 1 hour away by train from Paris, is quite a charmer, for one. Reims is not such a busy town, although it has an abundant sprawl of restaurants, shops and cafes, wherein one can simply hop from one to another by foot. Aside from the occasional tram, traffic is mostly pedestrian in the town center. Streets are lined with heritage buildings — some simple, some grand with their walls in a bright gradient of amber, topped off with an adornment of gargoyles and insignias carved into the roof. Wander off a few blocks, and the occasional garden and fountain will delight you.

One of the many scenes in the facade of the Cathedral of Reims
One of the many scenes in the facade of the Cathedral of Reims

Reims, however small, holds a prominent place in history — the stunning Cathedral of Reims has overseen plenty of royal coronations, as the traditional site for the crowning of the monarchs of France. The intricate carvings, giant statues and plenitude of stories told by the facade of the imposing cathedral, all compete to steal your attention.

Stained Glass Artwork in the Cathedral of Reims
Stained Glass Artwork in the Cathedral of Reims

The inside of the cathedral is also as impressive — the high vaulted ceiling is enough to make you woozy, and the stained glass windows behind the altar, by the small chapels are simply stunning. As I roam around the church to admire the artwork, it is not lost on me that kings have literally walked the same steps as I have.

Cathedral of Reims Light Show
Cathedral of Reims Light Show

The cathedral is also worth a visit at night. On the warm nights of the year, the cathedral holds a light show named Rêve de Couleurs (Dreams of Colors), which paints the facade in bright and colorful splashes, depicting the church and town’s rich history.

Meandering in Reims

You don’t even have to wander far to get to the wine cellars — a lot of them have set up shop in the town itself, so all you need are your own two feet. Of course, you can also take coach and bike tours to venture off to the famous cellars (even up to Epernay) and indulge in as much Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, and G.H. Martel that your pockets will allow.

champagne festival
Overflowing bubbly? Yes please!

We opted to just stay in Reims and skipped the chance to roam the cellars of the champagne giants — which may sound insane, but it was for good reason. It turned out that we were fortuitously in Reims on the same weekend as La Champenoise, a champagne festival right in the heart of town! Champagne + Festival: were there ever two words that sounded oh-so-right together? The fete put into the spotlight more produce from small family businesses, which made the experience all the more unique for me. Held under the town’s heritage market hall, there were also small mom & pop stalls that served deli, cheese and even oysters to complement your bubbly. After a long day of roaming around on foot, we put on our fancy clothes (well, the fanciest you could expect from a backpacker’s stash =P) and rewarded ourselves with a posher-than-usual wine-tasting and even a whole bottle for ourselves.

Like how wine gets better with age, this I-can’t-believe-I’m-here feeling hits the spot each and every single time. May this never get old.

The Rundown:

  • Bus from Zurich to Reims via Flixbus – EUR 25
  • Double room at Residhomes Reims Centre – EUR 71 per night
  • Train from Reims to Paris – EUR 30

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