With the end of the busy school holiday period and the start of the wine harvest, September is a great time to visit the city at the heart of the Champagne region. FRANCE Magazine looks at some of its big attractions PROMOTIONAL FEATURE
If you love the art-deco style, Reims is the place to base your autumn getaway. The city suffered so much destruction during World War I that by 1918 only about 20 per cent of the buildings remained standing. This led to an intensive period of reconstruction in the 1920s in the most modern architecture of the time. The influences of that decade are everywhere, so it pays to look up, above today’s businesses, to find the beautiful mosaics, relief stonework and decorative ironwork.
From the tourist office in Rue Guillaume de Machault you can take an hour’s open-top bus tour (€10, daily) to get your bearings and learn about the city’s history before you strike out on your own. Alternatively, a two-hour bus tour with an expert guide (€29, Fridays and Saturdays only) traces the history of the champagne houses during World War I, when their ancient cellars became an underground world of schools and hospitals, traces of which still remain.
September is the height of the grape harvest season in the 15,000 vineyards around Reims that help to produce the world-renowned bubbly.
Some vineyard owners make champagne under their own label – and a visit to a small producer can be fascinating – while others sell their grapes to the large champagne houses in and around the city. Close to the centre of Reims are household names including Taittinger, G. H. Mumm and Lanson, which offer tours and tastings on most days.
To mix the hedonistic pleasures of good food and wine with a dash of culture, the 13th-century Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims should not be missed. Many French kings were crowned here, and the building has a range of treasures spanning the lifetime of the building, including stained-glass windows designed by the artist Marc Chagall and installed in 1974.
A climb to the top of one of the towers gets you close to the massive medieval statuary and provides a fabulous view of the city. Nearby, the Palais du Tau, the ancestral home of the Archbishops of Reims, holds priceless exhibits including magnificent 16th-century tapestries.
On a slightly smaller scale, the Villa Demoiselle in Boulevard Henry Vasnier, opposite the Champagne Pommery cellars, is a gem of a restored private house that blends art-nouveau and art-deco styles. The boulevard is named after a wine merchant and art collector who commissioned the house as a showpiece in the early 1900s. By 1970 it was derelict, with rumours of a hidden treasure leading to much destruction of the internal walls and floors. The villa was restored to its former glory and opened to the public in 2008 and is a beautiful way to round off your visit to the heart of Champagne country.
For more information on where to stay and what to visit, see www.reims-tourism.com
Eurotunnel Le Shuttle is the quickest way to the continent by car. Book early and get the best fares to explore Reims. Visit www.eurotunnel.com or call 0870 850 8133 to book your crossing.