Today is our day to revisit Reims and redeem our memories of the city. Last time we were there we had booked into an appalling, noisy hotel, and so escaped first thing the next morning to a luxury hotel in Luxembourg. We saw nothing of the rest of Reims, so we really needed to fix that oversight.
Reims is only about half an hour’s drive north of Épernay and we headed straight for the cathedral this time, and holy cow, what an architectural marvel. Having been being heavily damaged during World War I, it has been (and is still being) beautifully restored. Heavily gothic in style, there are hundreds of statues and gargoyles decorating its facades, representing kings, bishops and biblical characters. It is rich in history, having been the site of the coronations of almost every French king and also of the Franco-German reconciliation of 1962, and it certainly would have struck the fear of God into its parishioners!
The city has taken advantage of the cathedral’s magnificence and closed many of the surrounding streets for pedestrians. Here the cobbled roads are lined with the usual brands, but also many local shops and restaurants. As it was Sunday, it was very quiet and almost everything was closed (it IS France!), but we found a very pleasant restaurant, Le Gaulois, in Place Druet d’Erlon, where we could sit outside in the lovely sunshine and enjoy their plat de jour (chicken and mash!) This is the life!
We had booked in to a tour of G. H. Mumm’s champagne cellars at 3 pm. Mumm is one of the largest champagne producers in the world (4th in terms of sales volume), and of course is well known in Australia for its sponsorship of the Melbourne Cup. We were not surprised then that more than half the tour group were Aussies!
We were taken down 14 metres to see where all those lovely bottles of champers were happily fermenting away. Our guide, Sophie, detailed how the grapes are pressed within hours of picking, made into wine, blended and then encouraged to make their bubbles. It really is amazing how anyone could have discovered how to do this in the first place!
Interestingly, the 25 km of these cellars (and others all over the city) were used during World War I as shelters during the extensive bombing. Schools, offices, hospitals and homes were set up underground so that life could continue safely during the bombardment.
We were of course also told how superior Mumm champagne is due to them only picking the best grapes, the quick pressing of the fruit and the extended fermentation time they use, which earns them the Grand Crus label. No doubt we would have heard the same spiel if we had visited Moët or Veuve! At the end of the tour we all had a glass of Mumm and we discovered that many of the Aussies were from Melbourne (of course!) They were delighted when Lan just had a sip of her glass and then donated it to the rest of them.
We drove back to Épernay, over the Montagne de Reims, where the slopes are carpeted with vines, and had a quiet night back in our apartment.