For my husband's birthday, I took him to the beautiful city of Reims in the Champagne region of France. Originally, we had really wanted to go to Strasbourg for the Christmas market. But after seeing the outrageous cost of the train ride, we decided to go to Reims instead. It ended up being the perfect weekend ! The weather was not too rainy and not too cold. The crowds were also not too large since it's a smaller city.
We stayed in a lovely, charming Airbnb apartment just a stone's throw from the Christmas market and cathedral. As we had arrived late on a Friday night via the TGV from Paris, there was not a lot of activity in this sleepy town. As we were a little hungry, we got some drinks and hot pretzels at 'Au Bureau' right next to the cathedral square. It was also the first night they had set up the Christmas market (November 23rd), so we were some of the first people to experience it that evening. Everything was so cosy and adorable looking...with warm strings of lights and smoking pots of hot drinks and food. It was impossible resist the spicy aroma of 'vin chaud' drifting from one of the booths we walked by. So, we got a cup and it immediately warmed our cold hands and cheeks. Then, magic happened - I saw another booth selling fresh churros with sugar. I swear, churros and vin chaud may be one of my favorite combinations ever!
Saturday, we had a jam-packed day. We began the day wisely...meaning not too early, and starting with a good breakfast at Pâtisserie Waïda. We both had a pain au chocolat and split an escargot aux raisins (most commonly called pain aux raisins...must be a regional thing). That with our café crèmes, was divine. After breakfast, we walked around town seeing the Saint-Jacques de Reims basilica, heading back to the market, and getting to now see the inside of Reims cathedral. A little while later, we had a snack of sausage and sauerkraut at one of the booths with some more tempting vin chaud. Inexpensive and delicious, you really cannot go wrong. Not long after, we headed to Saint-Remi de Reims Basilica, which was on the way to our next destination. The basilica was jaw-dropping. Also because it was under construction, it appeared to be closed, so almost no one was in it when we visited, which is a rare treat!
About a ten minute walk away, we went to the Domaine Vranken Pommery to do a tour and champagne tasting. We chose the English tour this time, just because it's easier :) We toured the underground caves, which were super deep in the group and seemed to be neverending. Then at the end, we tasted two different kinds of champagnes in the gathering area. Both were very good. Luckily, just across the street was another champagne house called Villa Demoiselle. It was a beautiful art nouveau style mansion with exquisite interior details. Again, we were very lucky...for some reason there was hardly anyone there and we almost had the whole place to ourselves. At the end of the tour was the tasting, and we spent about 15 minutes talking to a very nice cashier that worked at the front desk. She complimented us on our French and joked with us quite a bit. It was then that it hit us how nice people were compared to most people in Paris.
Since it was now night time, we thought it would be nice to see the market again, but with more people this time. It was so much more beautiful the second night...full of people, Christmas music, and special lighting on the cathedral and other buildings. Afterward, we went briefly back to the Airbnb to relax and get changed into nice clothes for dinner. For Jared's birthday dinner, we went to an art nouveau restaurant from 1930 called Café du Palais. The foie gras was one of the best I have had (and we eat a lot of foie gras, so that is saying a lot! haha), which we had with a glass of Veuve Clicquot (champagne from the area). For the main course, I had scallops in a leek cream sauce and tagliatelle pasta. It was good, but not as good as some of the scallop dishes I recently had. The interior was great, including an original art deco style stain glass skylight and some unusual original artwork.
Our last day in Reims was relaxed. We skipped breakfast after the feast we had the previous night, and decided to use the morning to pack and slowly get ready. Once we checked out and stored our bags, we went to lunch at a brasserie called Le Gaulois. I was not expecting much as it was one of the only restaurants open, it being a Sunday in France and all! We ordered the daily special, which was Coq au vin (a dish of chicken braised with wine, lardons (aka thick bacon), mushrooms, and garlic). In this case, it was served on a bed of fluffy, creamy mashed potatoes. It was tender and lovely. We walked around until the museum we wanted to see was open. This museum is right next to the cathedral and is called Palais du Tau. The Palais was the palace of the Archbishop of Reims and is associated with the kings of France , whose coronation was held in the nearby cathedral of and the following coronation banquet in the palace itself. It was a short, but beautiful visit, and had a top notch gift shop. Honestly, I wanted to buy everything! We got a couple Christmas gifts to take back to the states with us during our visit.
We had kind of maxed out what we could see at this point, so we aimlessly wandered the market yet again. Honestly, it just didn't get old. So, we tried Choco Rum - a hot drink being sold at one of the booths. I was skeptical...chocolate and rum together in a drink? But, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. So good! We were a bit indulgent this weekend, now that I'm reading what I'm writing...but we did not stop there lol. We went on to spend some time in the Veuve Clicquot tent where we tried the rosé champagne and snacked on some unbuttered popcorn. Perfection. After a couple of hours of strolling and relaxing, we went back to the same place we went the first night (Au Bureau). We split chicken and flammekeuche (a flat bread that looks a little like a super thin pizza with cheese, creme fraiche, lardon, and onions). It was very tasty. Before we knew it, we were on the TGV back home to Paris. I give Reims a thumbs up! Can't wait to come back in the summer when we can taste champagne in the vineyards and sunlight.