The majestic city of Reims is the undisputed gateway to the Champagne region and boasts royal connections going back over 2,000 years. Visitors make a beeline for the impressive gothic cathedral where the kings of France were crowned. This historic event is brought to life every evening at nightfall, from May to mid September, with ‘Regalia’, a state-of-the-art, interactive sound and light show projected onto the façade of the world heritage monument.
Below the streets of the city lies another major draw for visitors. Carved out from the chalk are vast, underground chambers, quarried by the Gallo-Romans and linked up by 200 kilometres of tunnels. Here, in the cool, still, darkness, millions of bottles of champagne are slowly maturing to perfection, waiting to be shipped far and wide to reach the 4 corners of the earth. Cellar tours, offered by many of the big Houses, such as Veuve Clicquot, Taittinger and Mumm, culminate with a tasting of the city’s most famous gourmet delight – chilled and fragrant with the finest of bubbles, the exquisite Champagne wine leaves weary travellers feeling relaxed and refreshed.
It is not hard to find regional delicacies to accompany the local wine. Soft cows cheeses, such as Chaource and Langres, feature on many of the restaurant menus, melted into a creamy sauce or adding special flavour to a gratin. And the Reims ham, cooked in a flavoursome stock and rolled in breadcrumbs, is aromatic and tender. It is often served thickly sliced and accompanied with Clovis mustard. Named after the first king anointed in Reims, the Clovis range includes a slightly sweet and delicate mustard made with champagne grapes. For an after dinner treat, the ‘bouchon de champagne’ chocolates are in the shape of a champagne cork and filled with the local eau de vie, marc de champagne.
These and other regional specialities can be found in a number of gourmet shops around the town centre. Clustered together along the Rue de Mars, a short stroll from the art deco Boulingrin covered market, are the award winning chocolaterie Maison Caffet, the Boulangerie les Halles for delicious bread and French patisseries, Fromages et Vins and, just opposite, Aux Gourmets des Halles for fine charcuterie.
Not far away, behind a candy-pink shop-front in the Cours Jean-Baptiste Langlet, the magical world of the Reims biscuit makers, Fossier , entices passers-by to push open the door. Inside, stacked high around the walls, the many different creations of this family-owned local manufactory are on display, with free tastings regularly on offer. The recommended way of sampling Fossier’s iconic pink biscuit, whose double baking gives a dry, crunchy texture, is dipped into a glass of champagne for the local take on afternoon tea!