The Champagne region is more than the house of one of the most famous wines in the world, but it is also an important piece of history. If you have a chance to spend a day in Reims, you can breathe the historical atmosphere of the city, and learn a lot from the past.
In this article, I’m taking you to a visit to Reims, we have seven activities on our agenda. Let’s begin:
1) Notre-Dame de Reims
To start to discover the history of Champagne, the first thing to do is visit the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Reims. Don’t be surprised that it’s very crowded. There are at least ten buses coming from all around Europe to visit the Cathedral. It’s one of Europe’s most important Gothic structures and over a million people visit it every year. Another reason that makes it so special besides its architecture is that Notre-Dame de Reims was where the kings of France were crowned. To have an idea of how many important events the Cathedral had hosted, it would be enough to say that in 2011 Notre-Dame de Reims compiled its 800th years. (1)
Just a look from the outside, and you see the Notre-Dame de Reims is covered with two thousand three hundred statues. (2) The statues of different sizes are all over the Cathedral and some of them are gigantesque. From outside, you might not realize how big they were since they are situated high, but when you see them closer in Palais du Tau, you’ll see that they are double of your height.
2) Traces of War
It’s sad to know that the city of Reims, including the Notre-Dame de Reims was severely damaged during the First World War. Inside of the Cathedral there is an exposition of the war photos, showing all the damage done by the bombardments. You’ll see a lot of people with their eyes full of terror around this exposition showing the tragedy. On the positive side, Notre-Dame de Reims became and remained as a powerful symbol of the war. (3) You can also see the details of the work of restoration which is still going on since 1919.
Not only for tourists, this Cathedral is very important for the local people. They do everything to protect it and they are very proud of it. The local people are always the best guides, and they would be very happy to answer curious tourist questions.
3) Vitrail du Champagne
One of the most charming parts of the Cathedral is the vitrail du Champagne, stained-glass windows of Champagne. This window consists of three lancets ten metres high surmounted by three oculi 2.4 metres in diameter. In the Champagne window, you can see all the story of historical Champagne production; winegrowers working in the vineyard, harvesting the grapes and finally pressing the grapes and making wine in cellars, viticulture and winemaking tools and landscapes of 44 Champagne villages. Moreover, you can see Dom Pérignon, cellar master of Hautvillers, John the Baptist, patron saint of cellar workers and St Vincent, the saint of winegrowers. (4)
4) The Smiling Angel
After finishing the visit to the Cathedral, pay attention to L’Ange au Sourire on your way out. The Smiling Angel, also known as Smile of Reims, is an emblematic sculpture situated in the west façade of the cathedral. The Smiling Angel is unique, because normally the angel sculptures of this genre don’t have face impressions. She is also unique because she’s believed to give hope, belief and the power of recovering to people with her smile. (5)
5) Palais du Tau
When you leave Notre-Dame de Reims and walk about two minutes, you will be arriving at the Palace Tau, where the kings of France were having their coronation banquet after the ceremony in the Cathedral. When you arrive just imagine yourself as one of the guests of the banquet. Actually, it is not very difficult to imagine it because the palace holds some rooms which retain their medieval aspect. (6)
Currently there is a temporary exposition of Henri Abelé, who founded Société des Amis de la Cathédrale de Reims (Society of Friends of the Cathedral of Reims) in 1917, to help and promote the renovations of the Cathedral. (7) It’s worth to visit.
6) Rêve de Couleurs
A final touch for finishing the day surrounded by the history of Champagne would be where we’ve started, in Cathedral Notre-Dame de Reims. This Cathedral has been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991. (8)
Every year, in different periods along the year, they are making an amazing light and sound show. To watch it, you should just check the time table (9) and go in front of the Cathedral and take your seat! I suggest you go early to choose a nice place to be able to have a complete sight of the Cathedral. This show, as well as being so much fun and a festival to eyes and ears, it’s also a great way to feel the history and symbolic importance of Notre-Dame de Reims.
7) A glass of Champagne to feel it all
To be able to understand all these better, order yourself a bottle of Champagne in front of the Cathedral. My selection is Henri Abelé, to keep with the theme of the exposition.
Maison Abelé was founded in 1757. Since then the maison is supporting the local heritage by contributing to the restorations of the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Reims. (10) In the necks of the champagnes of Henri Abelé, you will have the Smiling Angel, smiling to you. Also the premium cuvées of the maison are named after Smiling Angel; Sourire de Reims Brut and Sourire de Reims Rosé. (11)
The Champagne region has a lot to offer for wine and history lovers. A day in Reims will help you to better understand the area and the inseparable history of Champagne the region and champagne the wine.
All images © 2017 by Wines of Nesli. All rights reserved.