As the title of this blog suggests, I can be pretty basic. One of the basic things about me is that I do indeed love me some bubbles. Bubbly water, bubbly soda, bubbly wine… I prefer sparkling!
When it came time to choose where I wanted to go for my birthday, a sparkling frontrunner emerged: Champagne, France. Last year for my birthday, we went to dinner at Bob Bob Ricard, where each booth has a button for more champagne. This year, what could be better than celebrating at the source?
Just a couple train rides away from London, the Champagne region seemed the perfect place for a relaxing birthday weekend. We decided against renting a car (we don’t drive stick), which left us with two realistic options for the weekend, Reims or Epernay. Reims is larger, has more champagne houses in the city and is easier to get to via train. Based on those criteria I went ahead and booked us a trip to Reims!
Though Reims is larger than Epernay, it is still small enough that we were able to easily visit each place I had starred on my GoogleMap, often just happening to pass by. Size-wise, it reminded us of Luxembourg City – easy to see in a day, but still large enough to have many options for things to do and eat over a weekend.
Before I began my trip research, I was expecting the “capital” of Champagne to be posh. When we arrived, we found a cute a student city. This is reflected in the variety of the food scene and bar scene – for every fancy champagne tasting room or grand champagne house, there is a student-friendly pub or burrito joint. I quite liked this dynamic, as the city is not nearly as fancy or stuffy as you may expect from the capital of Champagne!
The beautiful stone streets, charming buildings and bustling center made it a lovely place to spend a special weekend.
Basic Bon Vivant’s Guide to Champagne: Reims
Direct high speed trains to Reims from Paris depart about every two hours. The trains are nice, and we learned the hard way to buy tickets in advance! We bought ours at the kiosk at the station and they were more expensive than our Eurostar tickets (though to be fair, we got a great deal on our Eurostar tickets for booking way in advance!).
Once in Reims, the train station is just minutes on foot from the city Center. There are also buses and taxis that can help you get to where you need to go.
Reims was founded in Roman times and has served an important role in the French monarchy, with its cathedral serving as the site where French kings had their coronations. There is a lot of history to discover in Reims, in addition to its champagne!
Reims Cathedral is a must-see when visiting Reims. Luckily, it is enormous and incredibly grand, so it is hard to miss. It is in the cathedral that French kings were coronated.
It is huge from the outside with beautiful detailing. It is done in the Gothic style and, fun fact, its beauty was so revered that the architect is depicted on the Royal Albert Memorial here in London.
I particularly enjoyed the many gargoyles.
Though the exterior is impressive (especially viewed at a distance from the champagne houses!), it is free to enter and view the spectacular stained glass throughout the church.
The church has commissioned modern day artists to create windows to replace damaged ones and it is so neat to see more contemporary designs in such an old space.
Reims Cathedral is truly special and cannot be missed when visiting Reims!
Reims is home to many famous champagne houses, thanks to its huge network of chalk caves. The caves were first built by the Romans in the first century and are still in use today, running all throughout the city center and further out where the champagne houses stand.
I did a lot of research on which tours to book. Some of the more famous names in the US, like Veuve Cliquot, didn’t get as stellar reviews and tended to be more expensive than other houses in the area. After reading about what each tour offered, I ended up booking tours at Taittinger and Pommery. I am so glad I chose those two. They were so fabulous.
The tours of the cellars were fascinating and it was neat to learn more about how champagne is produced. Dress warm – the temperature of the caves hovers around 9 degrees Celsius – bring a jacket!
At the end of the tours, the houses give you the option to try their champagnes. After seeing the process, it is fun to try the finished product.
Day Trip to Epernay
From Reims, it is just a 45 minute train ride through the beautiful vineyards of the Champagne region to the little town of Epernay. The famous Avenue de Champagne runs through the town and it is home to many champagne houses of its own.
While there, we walked around the town and ducked into a couple smaller champagne houses and tasting rooms to try some smaller produced champagnes.
The town is beautiful and grand, but we were warned it would be almost eerily empty and quiet in November when we visited. Our sources were not wrong!
During our weekend in Reims, we stayed at an adorable Airbnb just outside the main square. A quick walk from the train station, the location was perfect for both getting around and for seeing the sights. Our host was awesome and gave us great recommendations and even picked us up at the train station!
If you don’t have a car while visiting Champagne, I would recommend staying in the center of Reims. You’ll love walking the adorable cobble stone streets and everything you need will be just a short trip on foot away.
Because we stayed in a lovely Airbnb, we were able to utilize the kitchen there during our stay. France can be difficult to navigate when you’re gluten-free, but the places where we did eat at were fantastic!
One of the best meals of my life was in Reims. It was my birthday dinner at L’Alambic.
This place is so special. The food is fantastic and the cave-like setting is romantic and chic. The owner herself was around all evening and really cared about each diner’s experience. I cannot recommend this place highly enough and it was the only restaurant recommendation our Airbnb host mentioned. It is the real deal.
We got the veal tartare as a starter and they even brought out special gluten-free bread for me!
For our mains, I ordered the sea bass risotto. It was unreal.
Andrew got the filet de bouef with potatoes gratin. It looked incredible also.
For dessert, we shared the creme brûlée. Magnifique!
Andrew had told them ahead of time that I am sans gluten and they went above and beyond to ensure that we were well looked after and that I understood my options. And those options were divine!
Lou Creative Food
Sure this was not the most authentic option to eat when in France, but when I find I can get a gluten-free bagel somewhere, I go there! My order was even called the California, ha. Though somewhere more traditionally French may have been the better choice, it was neat to see a more healthy-options focused eatery in France. And Lou Creative Food was so cute.
Lucky for us, the food was really good.
It was the perfect base for a day of champagne tastings!
It was my birthday, after all, so a treat was necessary! Instead of cake, we opted for the gluten-free option of macarons at the best little macaron shop in Reims, Douceurs Macarons. They were adorable and delicious.
We learned that it is best to get there early. We stopped by in the evening after touring the champagne houses and they were out of some flavors.
There’s one thing to drink in Reims and that is champagne! You will find it served everywhere in Reims. Generally, the cheapest you can find for a glass at a bar or restaurant is €9.
Cafe du Palais
On our last night in Reims, we visited Cafe du Palais which I had come across several times in my research.
It felt very French and the champagne they had on special, the De Saint Gall Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru, was one of my favorite champagnes that I tasted during the trip.
The cafe was wonderfully quirky and very French. We had to go a little out of our way to stop here, but I am glad we did!
Though we got into Reims late, we were fired up to be there after discovering how incredibly adorable it is. After settling into our Airbnb, we decided we just had to head out, see more of Reims and, what else? but get a glass of champagne!
Google Maps procured La Loge, which seemed cool and fancy and very Champagne to us. It felt very Euro and chic to a bunch of basic Americans and I got some champagne at the long light up bar.
It was clear from our fellow patrons that we were there very early in the scheme of La Loge. It was slowly gearing up for a wild Thursday night. By the time we left, they were bumping the music. The bar was really cool and it was perfect for a drink before it turned into a club.
After our fabulous meal at L’Alambic we wandered town for a final birthday glass of bubbles. Andrew found Golden Bulles on GoogleMaps, but we almost didn’t go in because it was completely empty.
I’m glad we did! It is beautifully decorated and we got our choice of tables right up front in the window. All I wanted was a glass of champagne and some fun music without having to fight hordes of university students and this was the spot! We each had a glass of Perrier Jouet and it was the perfect end to a wonderful birthday.