Art. History. Champagne. Reims

I believe that life is a journey which will be enriched by small adventures exploring the world full of color and diversity. This series of my blog posts are observations, stories and learnings that I have encountered through each adventure, with the desire for recording impressions, experiences and memories. This time, it’s about Reims through my lens…

Situated at the heart of Champagne region of France, Reims is a charming city famous for art, royal coronation and champagne houses. The city is not big at all; but its ancient architect along with art deco facades, beautiful boulevards and past stories together make this city an interesting destination to discover and enjoy the peacefulness at the same time. Thanks to its cute small size, the discovery of this city can be made by foot or sometimes by bus and tram to enjoy the city view on the move. Spending 3 days there, I fell in love with this city and enjoyed every step  exploring it.

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HISTORY

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Notre Dame – the main facade

The historic Notre Dame Cathedral which hosted 25 coronations of 25 sovereigns, thus played a significant role in the history of France. The Cathedral is the iconic symbol of Reims; therefore this is my very first place to visit. And of course I was ‘WOWed’ by this masterpiece. The Cathedral is a remarkable piece of Gothic art dates from 13th century with its height of 150m including 80m-high towers.  Walking around the place where the church sits gave me different angles view to this amazing construction work. Some parts are still preserved original and the signs of time can be seen clearly on those stones and statues.

 

Inside the Cathedral, exceptional stained-glass windows with mixed styles and arts from the Middle Ages until the 20th century impressed me the most. For me, it is those unique windows that make the Cathedral different and totally stand out from other Notre Dame  in other cities.

Established right next to Notre Dame is the Palace of Tau (Palais du Tau) – the former archbishops’ palace and the residence of the Kings of France during their coronation.  Kings set out from here for their coronations in the Cathedral and afterwards returned for lavish banquets in the huge Banquet Hall. ‘Tau’ – the name of the Palace means the letter ‘T’ in Greek alphabet, which stemmed from the original T-shape of the palace.

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Palais du Tau & Notre Dame (photo on Palais du Tau ticket)

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View to Notre Dame Cathedral from Palais du Tau

The palace offers a close view to the real life of French Royal through integrally reserved areas like  the Banquet Hall, the King of Juda room, the alteroom and especially the national treasury with King’s talisman, chalice, reliquary. etc. More interestingly, Palais du Tau houses quite a few huge original statues from the neighbor Notre Dame during its restoration and an exceptional collection of 17 artistic tapestries from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries telling different series of stories ranging from history of Clovis, episodes in the life of Christ, to the story of the Virgin Mary. Looking out from the windows of Palais du Tau, you can enjoy new perspectives of the Cathedral also.

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The Goliath room holding biggest original statues of the Cathedral (5.4m tall)

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The Coronation of the Virgin room presenting tapestries of Virgin Mary

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Inside Basilique Saint Remi

The oldest church in Reims is not the Notre Dame, but the Saint Remi Basilica (Basilique Saint Remi)  which was built from the 11th century with Gothic vaulted roof added in the 12th century, making it become an exceptional Romanesque-Gothic abbey church. This is also one of the finest early Romanesque churches in northern France and is definitely a can-not-be missed place in Reims. Saint Remi is the bishop who baptized Clovis, the first King of France in Reims. And the Basilica was constructed to keep the Holy Ampulla and the remains of Saint Remi.

Adjoining the Basilica is the Saint-Remi Museum which used to be Benedictine abbey in the 17th and 18th century and offers overall history of the city of Reims.

ART

The Fine Art Museum (Musée des Beaux Art) of Reims features a prestigious art collection with extensive array of antiquities, paintings, drawings, art objects, tapestries and furniture from the 16th to the 21st century. It’s also amazing that at this museum, I can see the works of the Impressionists, like Monet and Renoir. During my visit, it’s interesting to see a group of local pupils discovering the museum and drawing pictures as part of their out-of-school activities. And the museum is free for students!

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If you want to see Reims from another view point – normal life of the local from years ago with unique collections of art, then Le Vergeur Museum – Hotel (Musée Hôtel le Vergeur) is a right choice for you. This private museum is home to Hugues Kraft, an art collector in Reims. Built in the 15th century as a hotel property of a local champagne house, this mansion was acquired by Hugues Kraft in 1910 to protect pieces of artwork in the hotel. Then he restored the mansion after destruction of the war and decorated it with quite a few objects and collections brought back from his trips abroad. The house was preserved and enriched since then and has become a museum introducing the intimacy of old Reims house and lots of pieces of artwork connecting to the history of the city.

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Facade of Le Vergeur Museum – Hotel

I did also enjoy the art in architecture of this pretty city when walking down main streets in the center and scrutinizing various magnificent works ranging from the City Theatre,  City Hotel (Hôtel de Ville), the Drouet d’Erlon Square with famous La Gloire statue to row of houses on two sides of the road.

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City Centre & Tram

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Hôtel de Ville

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Drouet d’Erlon Square

CHAMPAGNE

Reims is also very well-known as the city of Champagne with 9 Champagne houses in town. A Champagne Tour, thus is a must-have activity to discover this important part of the city. I booked a tour with Champagne Taittinger which is conducted in English and also available in many other languages. This 45-minute tour presented me the history of champagne and the champagne house, the art of champagne making through a talk & walk throughout the chalk mines which are 18 meter underground.

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Gothic architecture cellar

Interestingly, there’s a part of the cellar owning the Gothic-architecture roof which turns out to be the oldest part of it. During the 13th century, the cellars were enlagred by monks of the Saint Nicaise Abbey to store Champagne wines that they produced and traded. Unfortunately, that abbey was destroyed during the French Revolution, but the cellars survived and is now part of Taittinger’s cave. And this cellar is told to be connected with the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Basilique Saint Remi as the road to transport champagne to those churches.

The tour ended with Taittinger’s Champagne wine tasting at its boutique. The number of champagne types to be tasted can be registered while you book the tour online. The basic option includes 1 glass of brut wine. And this tour also offers promotion for students.

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Pink Biscuit (Biscuit Rose) 

It is advised that Champagne should be drunk while eating Biscuit Rose in Reims. Reims locals dip the biscuit in  their glass of champagne. Thus, the biscuit should be baked twice in order not to break when being moistened in Champagne. The biscuit-baking tradition has history from end of the 17th century. I did try this biscuit  and it was absolutely a cool experience drinking wine with pink biscuit. A must-try pastry in Reims!

Reims is also famous for its Automobile Museum which I could not visit this time because of its closing in January. But it will be definitely on my list for the next return. Just more than an hour traveling by bus from Paris, Reims is easy to approach city and a great destination for weekend getaway and for culture discovery lovers!


Tips:

  • Visit the Tourism Office of Reims which is located near the Notre Dame to get a free map and instruction. Address: 6 rue Rockefeller, 51100 Reims
  • Download the apps ‘Reims Champagne Tour’ to get to know all information of where to go, what to do in Reims just in few taps.