Explore Reims, the capital of the Champagne region, on a budget
Could the capital of the Champagne region really be anything apart from credit card-scorchingly expensive? The fantastic answer is ‘oui’.
Lots of Reims’s Champagne houses have surprisingly inexpensive tours and tastings and in the most effective local ‘caves a vin’ you’ll be able to pick up outstanding value bottles made by one in all the staggering 19,000 producers.
The town is a demure charmer too, replete with art deco architecture, chic brasseries and spruce gardens. All this joie de vivre is just 4 hours from London via Paris on the Eurostar and SNCF.
Where to remain
With a sun-trap of a courtyard to have your petit dejeuner, this white-washed, discreet hotel is excellent value. Rooms are small but impeccably decorated in soothing shades of blue and turquoise. Quirky touches abound too; look out for the bedside lights produced from teapots.
B&B doubles from £59.50 (hotel-azur-reims.com)
La Closerie des Sacres
Fifteen minutes’ drive from the centre of Reims, these converted stables still have their straw mangers but have been beautifully refitted with open fires, wrought iron chairs and leather sofas. There’s a kitchen to organize your individual picnic and a boules set within the garden.
B&B doubles from £91 (closerie-des-sacres.com)
Appart’City Confort has ‘easy but comfortable’ doubles (above) from £69
It’s not particularly flashy, however the Appart’City Confort has all the things you wish. The placement is convenient too because the hotel is just 500 yards from Notre-Dame de Reims Cathedral and the Automobile Museum is nearby too. Rooms are easy but comfortable with kitchenettes equipped with microwave, stovetop and fridge.
Doubles from £69 (appartcity.com)
Le Clos des Roys
With just two rooms (Clovis I and Charles VII), this former fabric trading home is as intimate as guest houses come. Each are gorgeous, whitewashed retreats however the Charles VII room is superior due to its free-standing bath. Breakfasts are huge with pancakes and waffles offered alongside the baguettes and café au lait.
B&B doubles from £88 (leclosdesroys.fr)
What to see and do
Let’s get fizz-ical
Head to Maison Collet in nearby Ay for a Champagne cellar tour – you’ll be able to try three glasses of their fizz for £24.50. Above is a view of Ay’s vineyards
Mumm, Taittinger, and all the large Champagne hitters have cellar tours and tastings, but higher value could be had by heading to smaller growers. Maison Collet in nearby Ay, is more generous than most; after the tour you’ll be able to try three glasses of their fizz for £24.50 (citeduchampagnecolletcogevi.com).
If you happen to only see one cathedral in France there’s a robust argument that it ought to be the gargantuan Notre-Dame de Reims. 33 kings have been crowned here, a few of the stained glass windows were designed by Marc Chagall and the Gothic nave is the scale of a football pitch (cathedrale-reims.com).
Above is Notre-Dame de Reims Cathedral, which has a Gothic nave the scale of a football pitch
The aromas of cheese and ham draw you robotically on Saturday mornings to Rue de Mars where the stall holders of Les Halles du Boulingrin (marcheduboulingrin.fr) display their produce under an enormous, white concrete arc. Find little known champagnes and wines at excellent prices at Vino Degust and feather-light cakes and pastries at A la Brioche Feuilletee.
The ultimate front
At 2:41am on May 7, 1945, a tiny classroom was where, in front of General Eisenhower, General Alfred Jodl signed the German give up. Now referred to as the Musee de la Reddition, it has been thoroughly preserved. The table on which the documents were signed stays, alongside ashtrays and campaign maps (£4.40, musees-reims.fr).
Where to eat
A L’Ere du Temps
Meaning ‘within the era of time’, the muted tones and blonde wood décor of this stylish little restaurant complements the home specialty of crepes, each savoury and sweet. The Celtique is a superb creation, filled with creamed mushrooms, eggs, emmenthal and ham for just £7.90. (aleredutemps.com)
Brasserie Excelsior, pictured, offers a £17 weekday express lunch option
Wood panelled and with a timeless feel, that is all the things you’d want from a classic Gallic brasserie, but without the high prices if you happen to select the £17 weekday express lunch option. This gets you a predominant course, dessert, coffee, and glass of wine. Expect sautéed veal with mushrooms and bacon while gazing out over the plush greenery of the Les Hautes Promenades. (excelsior-reims.fr)
There’s something reassuring a couple of seafood restaurant with an ever-changing menu. It means a chef who’s pondering on their feet and championing the freshest dishes. That is true of Le Bocal, which bills itself as a fishmonger and seafood bar, pairing all the things with, as you’d expect, the best wines. It’s a straightforward place but often the most effective food comes from humble surroundings. (restaurantlebocal.fr)
Methods to get there