We arrived on a Sat evening, and easily found our way to our AirBnB. This is our first time using the service, and its worked out brilliantly. The apartment is small (even smaller than my SF place) but well-designed, centrally located, and has everything we need (other than maybe an umbrella). Our host even left us a bottle of champagne to welcome us to Reims.
We grabbed a quick dinner at a nearby bistro. The vegetarian food was so-so, but the house champagne was excellent and the The German had a decent meal.
They have an incredible cathedral here, and our host let us know there was some kind of light show there that night. We wandered over after dark and it was unexpectedly great – there were multiple projectors casting imagery onto the cathedral itself. At times the cathedral looked like it was painted in oil paint, then it looked colourized, or sometimes there were scantily clad men pretending to work on it (that part was weird). All with dramatic music. Not bad for our first night.
The next day was Sunday and most shops are closed. Luckily, I did manage to find an open cheese shop. The cheesemonger spoke English and was very helpful recommending some local cheeses. We also bought The Best Butter Ever. Seriously. I didn’t think I cared much about butter but The German is a fan and the cheesemonger recommended it so we bought it. I don’t think I’ve ever had such flavourful butter before. I’m now officially a Butter Snob.
The cheesemonger recommended a bakery down the street that was open so we could get some baguettes. Neither of us speaks French and not many people speak English here, so its been fun negotiating things with my terrible tourist French and charades. That said, we still managed to purchase a pretty incredible baguette.
A similar transaction happened in a wine store just before it closed (whew!), and since it had been raining non-stop, we decided to hunker down in the apartment for the rest of the day. We basically ate bread, cheese, butter, and champagne for lunch and dinner, while making great use of the wifi for travel planning and Netflix.
Monday it was still raining but we needed to get out of the house (at least for more bread), so we went to check out the interior of the cathedral. It is certainly impressive.
Since the rain wasn’t letting up, we decided the wisest thing to do would be to head to a champagne cave. Taittinger is the only champagne house that doesn’t require advance reservations, so we decided to walk there and maybe find lunch on the way. However, most places are closed on Monday, and looking things up on Yelp & Foursquare didn’t help. So one hour later we were drenched and decided to skip food and go straight to champagne.
The Taittinger tour was very interesting (and thankfully we arrived in time for an English one). A few things I learned: in France you are required to pick grapes by hand – no machinery allowed. Also, Taittinger is one of the largest houses, and 70% of their sales are from their base champagne, which is of very high quality (as they tell you, over and over again).
The tour starts with a video that explains that only “champagne” comes from France (for those dumb Americans who don’t know that), how France is the best country in the world, and how Tattinger is amazing and better than all other champagnes ever. This was accompanied with footage of the Eiffel tower, snooty people drinking champagne, etc. The condescending video went on for about 10 minutes before we got to go into the cellars. Thankfully, it improved from there.
They have almost 300 hectacres of grapes, and the caves are in a 13th century abbey over 4th century chalk mines. So in other words, this place is serious about bubbly has some major history. All in all, the caves are pretty impressive – they are seriously old and very massive. Quite a difference from Napa. Our guide did a great job – it was the right amount of education and photo-taking before they took you to their very modern tasting room.
We paid for the tasting that got us the maximum number of glasses (duh – have you met me?). It started with their most popular champagne, the Brut. This really is a great glass of champagne. Then we had a choice – I went for the Rose and Stefan had the Brut Millisémé, which I have to admit was much better. The final glass was of their highest end bottle, the Comte de Champagne Blanc de Blanc (€120/bottle), which was just as amazing as the snooty intro video implied.
It was raining even harder when we left, so we took refuge in a champagne store on our way home, where a very helpful clerk recommended a few bottles for us. (Incidentally, prices at the champagne houses are actually more than the local stores.) I’ve been telling clerks “I like Krug, except for the price” and they’ve made great recommendations.
So in summary, we spent hours walking through the rain to drink champagne on an empty stomach, and it was glorious!