Recently restored for its 800th birthday, this magnificent Gothic cathedral provided the setting for the coronations of French kings. The great historical saga began with Clovis, king of the Franks, who was baptized in an early structure on this site at the end of the 5th century; Joan of Arc led her recalcitrant Dauphin here to be crowned King Charles VII; Charles X's coronation, in 1825, was the last. The east-end windows have stained glass by Marc Chagall and Imi Knoebel. Admire the vista toward the west end, with an interplay of narrow pointed arches. The glory of Reims's cathedral is its facade: it's so skillfully proportioned that initially you have little idea of its monumental size. Above the north (left) door hovers the Laughing Angel, a delightful statue whose famous smile threatens to melt into an acid-rain scowl now that pollution has succeeded war as the ravager of the building's fabric. With the exception of the 15th-century towers, most of the original building
went up in the 100 years after 1211. You can climb to the top of the towers and peek inside the breathtaking timber-and-concrete roof (reconstructed in the 1920s with Rockefeller money) for €7.50. A stroll around the outside reinforces the impression of harmony, discipline, and decorative richness. The east end presents an idyllic sight across well-tended lawns.