Beaujolais Nouveau – Est Arrivé

Beaujolais grape

Photo by Karaian, via Flickr, with Creative Commons license

It’s that time again!  The 3rd Thursday of every November marks the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau — light red, casual drinking wine from the gentle rolling hills and golden stone countryside of the Beaujolais region of France.  French law has decreed that the Beaujolais Nouveau cannot be released until the stroke of midnight, on the 3rd Thursday of November, so while the French countryside is sleeping, wine producers and distributors rush to stock their shelves with the new release. 

Beaujolais is made from the Gamay grape , and by law, the grapes must be harvested by hand. Sixty-five million bottles are produced annually, and exported worldwide, with the top 3 markets being Germany, Japan and the U.S.   Beaujolais is never aged, but meant to be consumed just weeks after harvest. 

Some wine critics do not believe  the Beaujolais Nouveau to be a serious wine, as it lacks complexity brought on by the aging process. But that is considered by some to be part of its charm.    If you are wine shopping, look for the banners that proclaim “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive!” 

Celebrating the release of the new harvest was originally a local festival, but thanks to successful marketing campaigns, you will see Beaujolais Nouveau celebrations popping up around the world.  Ask your local wine merchant when they will receive their stock.  Is it a coincidence that the wines hit store shelves just in time for U.S. Thanksgiving? 

In Lyon today, November 15, an expert panel of 70 wine critics, sommeliers, and Michelin-starred chefs gathered at Lyon’s beautiful Hotel du Ville for a tasting and judging competition, to award the coveted Trophy Lyon-Beaujolais Nouveau.  The winners will be announced tomorrow on the Lyon Le Progres website.  

Beaujolais Strolling Minstrels

Strolling Minstrels in Period Costume at Lyon's Hotel du Ville

I toured the Beaujolais region last year on a tour organized by the Lyon Office of Tourism.  We visited wine cellars, and met with the former Mayor of one of the Beaujolais villages.  Madame (adorable lady, center, in the photo below) educated us with the history of Beaujolais and the growing and harvesting process.  And of course, we sampled!
Beaujolais 2 - Former Mayor of Beaujolais Wine Tasting

So no matter where you are on the 3rd Thursday of November each year, you have cause to celebrate!  Santé!

“May I Have the Language of Origin Please?” – Another Reason We Love France

Cat at microphone croppedOur English language is filled with words from French origins.  In part, we can thank the Duke of Normandy for this, as the French spoken in the Middle Ages (a direct offshoot of Latin) was incorporated into English after the Norman Conquest in 1066.  Modern French uses the same 26 letter alphabet as English (both based on Latin), but the vowel combinations and pronunciations are quite different than English. 

quimper[1]Take for example the word “quimper”.  In English, it looks like you would pronounce this “KWIM per”, rhymes with “whimper”.  NOT SO!  In the Merriam-Webster’s 3rd New International Unabridged Dictionary (official source for U.S. Spelling Bees), the pronunciation is “kahn PAIR” with accent on 2nd syllable (sounds like “compare”).  Of course, if you’re familiar with France, you know Quimper is a town in the Brittany region of France, and “quimper” is the adjective used to describe the pottery from this region. 

 Because of the tricky pronunciations, French words that have made their way into English are favorite list words in U.S. Spelling Bee Competition.  Upwards of 30% of the words used in Scripps’ National Spelling Bee competition have French origins. But with study and practice, many French spelling patterns are consistent, and not too difficult to master.

My daughter is a spelling whiz, and participated in the Scripps’ National Spelling Bee in 2007 and 2008.  We credit much of her success to her knowledge of French, both from spelling study, and from being immersed in the language, through numerous trips through France. 
Press Conf

Even though she never studied French formally until high school in 2009, her familiarity of common words in French came in very handy when competing.  When riding in an elevator in France, you notice the word “etage” for “floor” or “level”.  Well, the word “étagère” a spelling list word for the open shelf display cabinet, is directly from “etage” root word. 

 Many of the words she was asked to spell in the final rounds of national competition came directly from French:  redoppe, Huguenot, boulangere (method of cooking with sliced onions in a casserole).  Coincidentally, I have this photo of her taken the year before the Bee, standing next door to the “boulanger” which is from the same root word.

L'isle Sur la Sorgue Street Scene

Eclat perfumeThe word “Eclat” was also featured in the 2008 Spelling Bee, which means “brilliant”, “dazzling”.  Coincidentally (again), Eclat is the name of the French perfume she wears from famous French perfumery Fragonard.  She found this fragrance on a family trip where we visited the Fragonard perfume factory in Eze, France.  So she was well familiar with this word! 

Cat with Dr. Sietsema at BanquetSo you see, in addition to art treasures, history, cinema,  gourmet cuisine, wine, champagne, cheese, pastries, tourism, literature, architectural wonders, french perfume, fashion, and pomme frites — we have yet another reason to love France and the French!  Spelling Bees!  Vive la France!

TGV – France Train Tips – Riding the Rails in France

tgv[2]France enjoys one of the most modern, extensive, high-speed rail networks in the world.  The renowned Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) network will whisk you across the country in a just a few hours.  And the Eurostar is heaven….central Paris to central London in a mere 2 hours 15 minutes.  Here are some of my top tips for enjoying the trains in France.
1. First things first – If you’re heading out from Paris, know that there are 7 major train stations, plus the Charles de Gaulle airport station, each serving a different region, based on proximity.  Know where you’re headed.

Gare du Nord – Paris’ busiest train station, with Eurostar to London; also Belgium, Netherlands, Northern Germany

Gare de l’Est Eastern France, Austria, Germany, German-speaking part of Switzerland
Gare du Lyon – Central and south-east France, French Riviera, French speaking part of Switzerland, Italy and connecting service into Spain through Montpellier

Gare Montparnasse – Western and south-western France (southern Normandy, Brittany, Pays de la Loire, Tours by TGV, Poitou-Charentes, Aquitaine, Midi-Pyrénées) and north-western Spain.

Gare d’Austerlitz – South Central France, Toulouse and Pyrenees; night trains to south of France and Spain

Gare du Bercy – near Gare du Lyon, provides service for overnight trains to Italy:  Florence, Milan, Rome, Venice

Charles de Gaulle – Gare Aeroport CDG – most convenient if you are flying in and making an immediate connection – you may not have to transfer to central Paris at all.  Travel directly from the airport via high speed TGV to Avignon, Brussels, Lille, Lyon and Nice.

Gare St. Lazare – serves Normandy, including Caen, Vernon, Le Havre, Cherbourg, Deauville, Lisieux

 Detailed practical information on each station can be found here at Rail Europe’s Paris station pages

 2. Travel like a local – Second class travel is just fine, and you’ll meet more Europeans that way.  Who wants to be upfront with the business travelers?

 3. Tickets – Don’t count on purchasing your ticket at the train station kiosks.  Most accept only European credit cards that have a chip which U.S. issued cards don’t have.  Purchase your France rail pass before you leave home, or purchase point to point tickets at the train station office. Check with a travel agent or Rail Europe for details on the many great options. France rail passes are offered for 3-9 days of travel.  If you plan to travel only 1 or 2 days, you’ll want point-to-point tickets.  Also, if you have a short-haul trip in mind, it may be more cost effective to purchase a point-to-point ticket for that leg, and save your Rail Pass day for a longer, more expensive journey.  Click here for the SNCF website in English, which has point to point schedules and prices. 

 4. Reservations – Eurail and France pass travelers, be aware that the high speed TGV trains and night trains ALWAYS require advance reservations, payment of a nominal fee, and space may be capacity controlled.  Reserve your train early to ensure your place, especially at peak travel times.  When I arrive in one station, I usually visit the ticket window before I leave to make reservations for the next leg of the journey.  You can also make reservations in advance from your travel agent from whom you purchased your pass, or directly on Rail Europe’s reservation page.

 5. Dining – Most French trains of any distance have an informal dining car, with drinks and snacks, and some even offer kids meals in a cute plastic zip container.  Convenience can be pricey though.  Take a tip from the locals and pick up a fresh baguette, some local cheeses, fresh fruit and beverage of choice before you head to the station, and enjoy your picnic onboard.  Many train stations also have surprisingly good patisseries – yum! – and sell sandwiches to go (emporter).

6. Travel light – Chances are you’ll be lifting all the bags onto and off of the train by yourself.  Most trains have overhead shelves to store smaller items.  Storage areas for larger bags are at the ends of the cars, where you may not be able to keep an eye on your belongings.  If you’re concerned about theft, bring along a bicycle-type lock to secure bags to the storage shelves.

7. Be alert – Like any major gathering place in the world, train stations have their share of pickpockets.  Carry cash, credit cards and passports in a money belt, and keep a watchful eye on your bags. 

8. Right Place at the Right Time – Note the platform your train will be leaving from and arrive early.  You may need to traverse up and down several flights of stairs to reach your platform, so again, travel light..bring only what you can comfortably carry yourself.  Most platforms have an electronic (or manual) board noting the composition of the trains, i.e. first class and second class cars.  Position yourself accordingly on the platform while you wait for the incoming train.   Each car will be marked with a 1 or a 2, indicating whether it’s first or second class.  Stations stops can be brief, and they don’t wait for you, so be ready to board.  Likewise, be alert as to when it’s time to get off.  Know the names of the stations that are several stops prior to your stop, so you can begin to collect your belongings and position yourself towards the exit doors.

9. Onboard bathrooms – Okay, maybe not the most glamorous, but serviceable.  Most cannot be used while the train is in the station (I won’t go into detail here), and the water is usually non-potable.  Traveling with your own hand sanitizer and small pack of tissues is always a good idea.

10.  Eurostar – I saved the best for last.  You really can’t beat the convenience and modern amenities.  Easy to see why high speed Eurostar service under the Chunnel beats air travel – no checked bag fees, no long security wait lines, no 2 hour advance check in.  It’s a breeze traveling from Paris’ Gare du Nord station to London’s bright new St. Pancras station. St. Pancras is almost a destination within itself with shops, restaurants, bars, and Europe’s longest champagne bar.  For the best insider tips on traveling Eurostar, check out frequent Eurostar traveler’s Paris Perfect blog post for excellent suggestions, including which cars are most convenient.

Matisse Museum – Nice, France

 The south of France is blessed with art treasures, and one of my favorites is the Matisse Museum in Nice

Matisse Museum -  Nice, France

Matisse Museum - Nice, France

Henri Matisse was one of the most important European painters of the 20th century, rivaling Picasso in his influence.  Born in 1869 in northern France, where his family owned a seed business, Matisse went to university in Paris 1887 to study law, and tried his hand at painting almost by accident.  His mother gave him art supplies to pass the time while he was recuperating from an attack of appendicitis, and discovered what he later called “a kind of paradise” in his painting.  “From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands, I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves.”

 Initially Matisse painted traditional still-lifes and landscapes, and was greatly influenced by post-Impressionists Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Signac.  It is said that Matisse nearly went broke purchasing other painters’ works which he admired and hung in his home. 

 Matisse’s career as an artist spanned an incredible 64 years, and this prolific master embraced a wide range of styles, including painting, sculpture, drawings, engravings, and his trademark decoupage cutouts, which he called “painting with scissors”.  His painting styles include post-impressionism, pointillism, and the genre of Fauvism, of which he is the acknowledged master. Fauvism (wild, untamed) is known for vivid colors, flat lines, and an almost one dimensional quality.

 Around 1904, Matisse and Pablo Picasso were introduced to each other in the Paris salon of Gertrude Stein, and they began a life-long friendship and friendly rivalry.   Matisse moved to Cimiez, a suburb of Nice, in 1917 and lived there until his death in 1954. 

 At the age of 77, he began the most ambitious project of his life – which Matisse considers his masterpiece – the design of the Chapelle du Rosaire in the hillside village of Vence, France. 

Chapelle du rosaire Compressed [1]

Over a period of 4 years, Matisse designed the building, created the stained glass windows, painted its murals, designed the bronze crucifix, fashioned the Stations of the Cross, and even designed the priests’ vestments. 

By this point, suffering with cancer and confined to a wheelchair, Matisse painted three murals by use of a long stick strapped to his arm, with a paintbrush affixed to the end.

 Matisse also published several books, with collections of his works and paper cutouts, along with his notes. The museum has a wonderful gift shop, so be sure to stop in to purchase a few prints, calendars, or note cards. 

One final tip, be sure to check out the museum’s bathroom with the cool, automatic toilet seat that washes itself after each use. Okay, I don’t think Matisse invented this, but it has high entertainment value for the kids!

 Getting there

The Matisse Museum in Nice, 164 Avenue des Arènes, 06000 Nice,

Tel: 33- (0)4 93 81 08 08 is open 10:00 am – 6:00 pm every day except Tuesday, and is closed on Bank holidays and major holidays. Check the website or call in advance to be sure you will not be disappointed.  Entrance is 4 Euro for adults, 2.50 Euro for students, and admission is free for children under 18.

Fondation Maeght – Modern Art Museum

The South of France is a jewel box, and holds many treasures to explore and discover.  Fondation Maeght museum of modern art is a hidden gem…one of the many treasures in the south of France we’ll be exploring in the next few posts. Compressed Red woman

Set in the gorgeous wooded hills of the French Riviera, the museum lies 20 km west of Nice, and just 500 meters beyond the lovely village of St. Paul de Vence. 

The museum was founded in 1964 by Aime and Marguerite Maeght “to present to the public modern and contemporary art in all its forms” and includes over 500 paintings, sculptures and works by 20th century masters such as Chagall, Miro, Caulder, Leger, Giacometti, and many more. Compressed Fondation Maeght Modern Art Museum

I’ll admit, it’s taken me a while to come to appreciate modern art, as I’ve always been a fan of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.  But this museum changed me, and helped expand my tastes.  The vivid colors and thought-provoking works are beautiful…sometimes whimsical, sometimes desolate….even if I don’t always understand what the artist is trying to say to me.  Compressed Yellow Tree
Compressed Giacommeti Sculptures
Compressed Chagall
Compressed Museum Box
The building was designed by Catalan architect Luis Sert and incorporates important art works into the building and gardens….”the Giacometti courtyard, the Miró labyrinth filled with sculptures and ceramics, mural mosaics by Chagall and Tal-Coat, a pool and stained glass window by Braque, a Bury fountain.”  The sculpture gardens alone are worth the trip.
Compressed PitchforkCompressed Man sculpture
Compressed Water Sculpture

Getting there:
Check the museum’s website for arrivals by bus, car and train.  The museum is open every day July 1-Sept. 30 from 10:00 am – 7:00 pm, and October 1-June 30 from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm. Admission is currently 11 Euros, and children under 10 are free.  Téléphone: +33 (0)4 93 32 81 63.  Opening hours and prices are current at time of posting, but are of course, subject to change.

From Fondation Maeght website

From Fondation Maeght website

Allow a minimum of 2 hours for your visit.  Combine your trip to Fondation Maeght with a tour of the charming perched village of St. Paul de Vence and you will have a wonderful day trip from Nice, Cannes or Antibes.

Chicago – Family Fun

I’m taking a break from writing on France travel to bring you up to date on my weekend visit to Chicago.  This past weekend I had the good fortune to attend the first (and hopefully annual) Travel Blog Exchange conference, which was the brain child of Kim Mance of GalavantingTV and Debbie Dubrow of Delicious Baby. TBEX was designed to tag on to the end of the larger BlogHer conference, but TBEX was just for travel writers and travel bloggers. 

Travel writers from all over the country, and as far away as Chile and Laos traveled to Chicago to meet, share and learn from panels of experts, and from each other. The mood in the room was effervescent, and the networking opportunities were the most valuable experience of all for a newbie blogger like me.  It’s hard to describe my excitement being surrounded by 100 other enthusiastic and experienced travelers who love to chat and write about their experiences….such a creative flow of consciousness.    Click here for cool video & Chicago Family Fun

Mont St. Michel – Returns to the Sea

Mont_Saint_Michel_bordercropped[1]It rises like a mirage on the horizon. Thirteen hundred years of history…..of faith…of contemplation and prayer. An act of faith and obedience.

Mont_St._Michel_Spire[1]Mont St. Michel began as a modest church in the year 708, after St. Michael appeared to the  bishop of Avranches in a dream, and instructed him to build a church on top of the rock.  In 966, the Duke of Normandy gifted the island to the Benedictines, who expanded the Abbey over the centuries .  Today, the entire island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site,  and you’ll see St. Michael in gold, atop the tallest spire, slaying a dragon…to symbolize the constant struggle between good and evil.

Mont St. Michel is the most visited attraction in France outside of Paris, attracting over 3 million visitors per year.  Besucher_in_Mont_St_Michel[1]Most are day trippers who make their way across the causeway, up the narrow steep street, past the gauntlet of tacky souvenir shops and astronomically priced omelets.  We would have loved to stop at Mere Poulards for the incredibly fluffy omelet, but no way we  could justify 100 euros for scrambled eggs. Keep going past, and a thousand steps up…up…further up.

Once inside the Abbey, marvel at the beautiful stonework, the  columns and arches, a mix of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. P1010076


  Continue reading

D-Day, June 6, 1944- France Will Never Forget

2011 marks the 67th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy, which was the major turning point of WWII in Europe.  Early in the morning of June 6, 1944, the largest military operation in history began as 135,000 Allied soldiers landed on the beaches of Normandy, to begin the liberation of Europe, and change the course of history.  The Normandy invasion was a true international alliance, with troops from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S.

Allied Forces disembark from amphibous Ducks

Allied Forces disembark from amphibious landing craft LCVP. Photo by Robert F. Sargent, US Coast Guard, provided by USCG Collection in US National Archives.

France will never forget the sacrifice of Allied soldiers who came to free them from Nazi occupation on D-Day, and each year, French residents of Normandy host numerous commemorative events to mark this historic date (scroll down for amazing video – I cry everytime I watch it). Normandy pulled out all the stops in 2009 to honor and remember the “Greatest Generation”, as many recognized this could be the last major milestone for veterans to re-visit the site.  However, there are always commemorations every year to remember the extreme sacrifice.

One of the many things I love about the French, they are great “preservers” of history, with such dignity and reverence.  Standing on Omaha Beach, or seeing the German cannons still embedded in Longue-sur-Mer, and the cliffs and bomb craters at Point du Hoc, you feel the years slip away, and imagine what it was like for these brave young boys, so far from home, and so cognizant of the imminent danger all around them.

These are some of my favorite photos of the region:

U.S. troops were met by German cannons embedded in the heavily fortified cement bunkers at Longues-sur-Mer

Allied troops were met by German cannons embedded in the heavily fortified cement bunkers at Longues-sur-Mer

Cliffs at Point du Hoc, where U.S. Army Rangers 2nd Battalion used fireman’s ladders and grappling hooks to invade the German stronghold.  Two-thirds of the Rangers perished in the assault.

Cliffs at Point du Hoc, where U.S. Army Rangers 2nd Battalion used fireman’s ladders and grappling hooks to invade the German stronghold. Two-thirds of the Rangers perished in the assault.

Bomb craters at Pointe du Hoc

Bomb craters at Pointe du Hoc

American cemetery at Colleville sur MerOmaha cemetery 1

American Cemetery at Colleville sur Mer...9,387 simple white marble crosses and Stars of David mark the final resting place of the brave men and women who lost their lives in the conflict.

American Cemetery at Colleville sur Mer...9,387 simple white marble crosses and Stars of David mark the final resting place of the brave men and women who lost their lives in the conflict.

Unfortunately, American troops suffered the largest casualties, because of their landing position on Omaha beach.

Caen Peace Memorial, extremely well done museum documenting conflicts throughout the 20th century.

As a tribute to peace, this sculpture says it all.

As a tribute to peace, this sculpture says it all.

Non-profit group “The French Will Never Forget” organized an extraordinary gathering of 2,500 people on Omaha Beach, July 4, 2007, to commemorate D-Day.  The crowd formed on the sand the letters of the phrase: “FRANCE WILL NEVER FORGET”, aimed at honoring the fallen American heroes who sacrificed their lives to liberate France from Nazi occupation. OMAHA_BEACH_2007_PHOTO

“Our goal is, once again, to demonstrate the deep respect and gratitude of the people of France, for their recovered freedom thanks to America’s extreme sacrifices during the Second World War and which no one can, or will ever forget.” declared the co-founders of the organization. Click here to watch the incredible video of the event.

Here is the link to the Normandy Tourism Office, and where you will find a schedule of events and all the “must see” sights in Normandy.
There are so many sites to tour here in Normandy, I would allow a full day for the D-Day sights, one day for Bayeux, plus a 3rd day to take in the magnificent Mont St. Michel.  You could do the D-Day visit on your own, but I strongly recommend choosing either a full day or half-day guided tour by one of several reputable companies, in order to fully appreciate the history and importance.  Rick Steves site describes the Caen Peace Memorial, and mentions several of the top tour companies (sidebar), so choose your tour, and reserve in advance.
To understand the historical perspective of D-Day, and help set the tone, go rent The Longest Day, and Saving Private Ryan.  Sobering…..sad……but essential to remember the past, and honor those who served.

Great Day Trips From Paris – Versailles

My last of 3 great day trips to recommend is the magnificent Chateau of Versailles
Originally constructed as a modest hunting lodge by Louis XIII in 1624, the Chateau was expanded and transformed over the next 50 years to become what is arguably the most extravagant palace in Europe, if not the world.  The Chateau became the official seat of the French monarchy when Louis the XIV moved the court from Paris to Versailles in 1682, and remained in use until the French Revolution in 1789 when Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were “escorted” back to Paris. 

Set amid 1800 acres of elaborate gardens and parklands, the Chateau has over 700 rooms, 1,250 fireplaces, 67 staircases and 2,000 windows, with the most elaborate furnishings, sculptures, tapestries and artwork of the time.  The renowned Hall or Mirrors, or Galerie des Glaces recently completed an extensive 3 year, 19 million Euro renovation. 
Two-thirds of the 357 mirrors were cleaned and restored, and those that could not be restored were replaced with antique substitutes.   In addition, the incredible ceiling artwork of Charles le Brun has been painstakingly hand-cleaned by forty restorers who worked full time for 18 months to return the canvases to their original state. 

Also on the Domain of Versailles you will find the Grand Trianon, which was used by the king as a retreat when he wanted to get away from the formality and demands of the royal court….sort of a “staycation” you might say.  You can also visit the Petit Trianon, which was originally built by order of Louis XV for his long-time paramour, Madame de Pompadour.  Sadly, she died before its completion, so Madame du Barry, her replacement, set up residence there.  When young Louis XVI ascended to the throne in 1774, he gave the Petit Trianon to his 19 year old Queen Marie Antoinette. 

 There is so much more to see here that I won’t go into every detail, but I’d be remiss if I did not mention the unbelievable, extravagant gardens. 
Marathoniano Fountains
On weekends in summer you can pay an extra fee to attend the Grandes Eaux Musicales, famous fountain show….like Bellagio fountains without the computerization. 

My best advice is to check the official website for opening times and prices, as they vary for each building and by season.  And you can count on temporary closings for some portions due to ongoing renovations.  But you won’t be disappointed….there is more than enough to occupy a full day.  You can purchase tickets online in advance and print them out before you leave home.  Or the general admission is covered in the Paris Museum Pass.  And the facilities for tourists are just as extensive as the grounds themselves.  Audio self-guided tours, guided escorted tours, mini-trains, electric carts, segway tours, bicycle tours, restaurants, snack bars, and the obligatory gift shops….a veritable Disneyland.  Yes, of course it’s crowded, but you can’t leave without seeing it.  So just go!

 While I am not a proponent of capital punishment, after spending time at Versailles, it’s not hard to understand why the French invented the guillotine.

 Getting there:

Versailles is located about 14 miles southwest of Paris.  From central Paris take the RER Line C5 in the direction of Versailles Rive Gauche Chateau (avoid the Versailles-Chantiers station as it’s not as convenient).  Get off the train, walk straight out the station doors.  Cross the street in front of you, turn right and walk about 2 blocks, then turn left and continue straight about 3 more blocks.  You’ll run right into the palace main gates.  You can’t miss it!  Or just follow the crowds.  If you want more detailed instructions on taking the train, I like this blog post   Round trip ticket should be around 6 Euro.


Great Day Trips From Paris – Reims – Champagne

3-glasses-of-champagne-and-me-compressedAnother great day trip, head off to explore the magnificent champagne region of France. With France’s highly efficient TGV fast trains, you can visit Reims (rhymes with sconce) in a comfortable day trip from Paris. With a population of 200,000, Reims is known as the City of Champagne, for the 155 miles of underground chalky caves criss-crossing beneath the city, which provide the perfect temperature and humidity for storage of the golden bubbly. And while most of the world’s leading Champagne houses are based here, there is more to see than just champagne.
From the train station, it’s about a 15 minute walk to the famous Cathedral de Notre Dame, where 26 kings of France were coronated. Admire the amazing Gothic architecture. Built in the 13th century, it was badly damaged in WWI, rebuilt in 1938, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The cathedral also displays amazing stained glass windows by famous Russian post-impressionist Marc Chagall.

is also famous for being the place where WWII officially ended. Musée de la Reddition (Surrender Museum) at
12, rue Franklin Roosevelt 51 100 REIMS, is the site of the former war room of Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower, where Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 7, 1945. The former school building has been declared an historical monument, and you can tour the war room, and view the strategic war maps still on the walls. NOTE: The museum has been closed for renovations, and is scheduled to re-open Spring 2009. Check their website or call for re-opening dates.

piper-heidsieck-train-compressedIf you’re not into history, then just take a taxi from the train station straight over to Piper Heidsieck. (51 Boulevard Henry Vasnier). This is Disneyland for champagne lovers. Board the automated champagne train for a 15 minute tour which explains the whole process of growing, harvesting, blending and aging the fine bubbly. D
isplay near the end of famous movies where champagne featured prominently. (Play it again, Sam….of Casablanca fame).


Be sure to stop in the tasting room at the end. You will taste three varieties of the beautiful bubbly, served with a variety of macarons.
(Update – Sadly, Piper Heidsieck has closed their lovely cave in Reims, and moved farther out into the vinyards, so no more champagne train! Sorry!!)

From Piper Heidsieck it’s a short walk over to Taittinger. (9, Place Saint-Nicaise). They offer 1 hour guided walking tours. A gracious interpreter leads you down into the chalky limestone caves and explains the aging and fermentation process, the riddling rack, etc. The caves are quite impressive. You’ll see a museum-like photo display of famous celebrities, and dignitaries enjoying Taittingier throughout the last century. Once again, at the end, you’ll be escorted into a tasting room to sample several vintages. There is a nominal fee for this tour.

Getting there:
From Gare de L’Est there are several TGV trains in the morning, and several retuning in the early evening. 62 Euros is the current unrestricted 2nd class fare, but you may find cheaper tickets if you book in advance. TGV trains ALWAYS require advance reservations. Click
here for the English website for France SNCF train schedules:

Here’s a map of the route. I would probably walk from the train station (A) to the Cathedral (B), then taxi to Piper Heidsieck(C), walk to Taitinger (D), taxi to Musee de la Reddition (E), and then walk back to the train station (A). It’s a full day, but a great one!