Reims is a beautiful and historic city in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France. It is only 130 km from Paris with easy access by train. Excursions to nearby Chalons are a must and there will be not only the delightfully ubiquitous champagne to taste but also the champagne truffles which are so celebrated here.
The city was founded by the Gauls and became a significant town during Roman times, but it’s also important to the story of French royalty as it is the town traditionally associated with the crowning of French kings. The cathedral, Notre-Dame de Reims, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991 and contains some stunning stained-glass windows and beautifully grand architecture as befits its status, although German hostilities during the First World War and a subsequent fire caused extensive damage to the cathedral.
Much of Reims has been rebuilt but I found it to be a feast for lovers of building design. One can find houses, shops and public buildings which show architectural styles from almost every era. There are still vestiges of the Roman occupation, as well as a palace, an opera house and the town hall which are all striking, and conveniently in the centre of the town.
Even the name of the region, Champagne-Ardenne, hints at its high-end eponymous produce and it can all be found in and around Reims. There are numerous speciality shops offering cheeses and wines, others offer tempting baked goods and chocolates; but you might notice a shop selling a curious pink biscuit. Biscuit Rose de Reims is a unique confection which is made by Maison Fossier, which was founded in 1756, although the biscuit is thought to have been invented in 1691.
Biscuits Rose de Reims are one of my top three gastronomic souvenirs of this area. They are associated with celebrations and convivial gatherings where they are dunked into glasses of champagne. Their crisp and dry texture allows for a dip without the fear of unsightly flopping. A delicious tradition. There are lots of recipes that incorporate the famous pink biscuit so it’s a souvenir that travels well.
One can visit the factory that makes Biscuits Rose de Reims and other fine regional cookies and cakes. There are guided tours by appointment and a shop in which to linger.
Magasin Fossier Reims Cathédrale
25 cours Jean-Baptiste Langlet,
That much-mentioned champagne is my next souvenir of Reims. There are numerous creditable champagne houses here but one of the most accessible is G.H. Mumm. Its champagnes are available worldwide but it’s a treat to be able to taste and buy at its place of birth. Mumm has a long history, being founded in 1827, but is in modern times recognised as the champagne shaken and showered at the end of Grand Prix racing events – although I personally consider that wasteful exuberance to be almost sacrilegious. One can take an informative hour-long Mumm Champagne cellar tour (by appointment) to learn about the unique Champagne-making process and to hear the history of the House. The old and atmospheric cellars hold some 25 million bottles in constantly cool conditions.
Choose the ‘Cordon Rouge Experience’ tour with a tasting of the Champagne house’s signature Cordon Rouge Champagne, or the ‘G.H. Mumm Experience’ with the cellar tour and tasting of a brace of cuvées. For a truly outstanding experience there is the ‘En Noirs and Blancs’ tour where one samples the produce of two very different grapes, chardonnay and pinot noir.
Truffles! That’s my third gastronomic souvenir of the region. The most famous and most eagerly sought are the Champagne truffles. They don’t taste of champagne but the name refers to the colour which has more of an amber hue than that of the less interesting white truffles which are also found here.
Auberge des Moissons is an ideal spot to stay and enjoy this fungus. It’s a comfortable hotel with a truffle centre attached. One can buy truffles but also learn about them. There is even a chance to actually go truffle-hunting with Honey the truffle dog and her dad, the owner of the establishment.
Not only does the truffle centre present the story of truffles but there is also a cooking school where guests can learn how to prepare truffles. You will go away with some delicious recipes to make back home and bragging rights about how you actually witnessed the discovery of this Black Gold.
So you have hunted, and now it’s time to try truffles in every imaginable guise and prepared by a professional chef. Auberge des Moissons has its own restaurant in a converted barn. The menu offers nibbles, starters, soups, savouries, mains and even desserts that incorporate the noble truffle. Lots of fine champagnes available to complete your truffle feast.
Auberge des Moissons
RD3 – 8, Route Nationale
Phone: +33 (0) 3 26 70 99 17
Fax: +33 (0) 3 26 66 56 94
Rail fares from London to Reims or Chalons en Champagne start at £86 standard class return per person.
For bookings and more information, visit here or call 0844 848 5 848.
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018