Set among the vineyard-lined hills of France’s Champagne region, the city of Reims has multiple Michelin-starred restaurants, numerous les grandes marques Champagne houses, and a handful of hidden-gem bars and boutiques that are lifting the dust off this once sleepy city and giving locals and visitors new places to toast and shop. Historically, Reims has been the site for the coronation of more than two dozen kings and was pivotal during the 1940s as the site of surrender during WWII.
Arrive and check in to La Demeure des Sacres, a stylish boutique hotel housed in a renovated 1900s mansion in the city center. Head out for a bite to eat at L’Atelier d’Eric, a petite bakery run by celebrated pastry chef Eric Sontag, who serves gourmet sandwiches, artisan breads, and an array of gorgeous cakes and jeweled pastries. Don’t leave without sampling his sweet and spicy version of Reims gingerbread, a regional specialty since the Middle Ages.
After lunch, make your way across town to Champagne Taittinger, one of the last great Champagne houses to remain independently owned. Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne is highly regarded as one of the finest wines in the region, but all of the brand’s sparkling wines are renowned for their elegant structure and delicate bubbles. During operating hours, the house offers tastings and guided tours in English (the last tour leaves at 4:15 pm) that take guests 18 meters below ground into the 4th-century chalk mines. The cellars have recently been registered on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites and contain remnants from a 13th-century abbey with carvings dating back to the time when Benedictine monks wandered the cavernous crypts. Reservations are not required, but are recommended during peak season.
After sipping a few of the house’s cuvées, the short 400-meter walk to Saint-Remi Basilica will be a breeze. The basilica is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains the remains of Saint Remi himself, the former Bishop of Reims who died in 553 AD. It is the largest Romanesque pilgrimage church in northern France, and, although the building was heavily looted during the French Revolution, the original 12th-century stained-glass windows were not harmed and are still on display today.
Make your way back to your hotel to freshen up and get ready for a lavish dinner at Le Parc inside Domaine Les Crayères. Two-Michelin-starred chef Philippe Mille creates artful à la carte dishes and fixed tasting menus to pair beautifully with an astounding wine list that features more than 600 bottles of Champagne. Save room for the impressive cheese cart before dessert to get the full gastronomic experience.
Opt for a light breakfast at the hotel to save room for fresh samples during your visit to the Halles du Boulingrin. This covered market was restored to its former Art Deco glory in 2012 and has become the main market for locals to purchase perfectly ripe fruit, fresh seafood, and locally made artisanal products.
If you haven’t already had the chance to taste the famous biscuits roses de Reims (pink biscuits dusted in powdered sugar that are best savored the local way: dipped in a glass of Champagne), stop in at Maison Fossier on your way to the city center for a sample of this local delicacy or to stock up on souvenirs. The storefront is just steps from the Notre Dame Cathedral, where more than 2,300 statues adorn the cathedral’s stunning façade that dates back to the 13th century. The cathedral is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been the site of 25 coronations. Make sure to keep an eye out for the angels on the walls, as this is the only cathedral in the world to display angels with open wings, including the famous smiling angel on the western wall of the north portal.
Stop in next door to the cathedral at the Palace of Tau (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site) to brush up on your French history and see where the kings of France stayed while they were in town for their coronations. Get lunch at the Café du Palais, an Art Deco restaurant opened in 1930 and one of the only cafés in Europe where you can order wines by the glass and dine bistro style beneath a stained-glass ceiling (opens at 3 pm). For healthier fare, check out the brand new Vapeurs et Gourmandises, where chefs cook lunches with fresh ingredients seasoned with local spices and herbs. Spend the rest of the day shopping the boutiques and department stores at Les Galeries Lafayette, before popping in at the massive Cave de Sacres to select a few bottles for your home cellar from the more than 700 brands of Champagne in stock.
Go with an under-the-radar restaurant for dinner that is favored by locals. Don’t be deceived by L'Epicerie Au Bon Manger’s exterior; although it looks like a small butcher shop from the outside, inside you’ll find sharable plates of locally made charcuterie and cheese, farm-fresh salads, and sustainably sourced seafood to pair with the restaurant’s selection of biodynamic wines.
After dinner, soak in the nightlife scene of Reims at Le Clos, an atypical wine bar with a young vibe and a casually cool atmosphere. The bar is decorated with vintage chic panache (think phonographs, velvet sofas, and fringed Veuve Clicquot pillows), while the string-light lined courtyard features a large stage for live music. The courtyard attracts winemakers and locals with live music, lawn games, a food truck serving burgers, and a tiki bar serving charcuterie plates and chilled glasses of Champagne.
Before leaving town, make sure to make it out to the Musée de la Reddition (the Museum of Surrender). The museum shares an address with the Franklin-Roosevelt High School in Reims, so weekends are actually the best time to visit to avoid drop-offs and lunch bells. During the war, the building acted as the headquarters for President Eisenhower and was the site where the German Third Reich surrendered to the Allied forces in World War II. The actual room where the document of surrender was signed was left untouched, allowing visitors the chance to see the maps, plans, and even pencils left just as they were in May 1945.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Reims Guide