Reims, a town in northern France, is best known for its cathedral, where numerous French kings were crowned.
Nothing can really prepare you for that first skyward glimpse of Reims’ huge Gothic cathedral. Rising imperious and golden above the town, the cathedral is where, over the course of a millennium (816 CR to 1825 CE), some 34 sovereigns – among them two dozen kings – started their reigns.
Brilliantly restored after WWI and again after WWII, Reims is enriched with Roman remains, attractive pedestrian boulevards, art-deco cafes, and a thriving fine-dining scene that counts among it four Michelin-rated restaurants.
How to reach Reims?
Since the high-speed train line has launched, Reims is linked not only to Paris but also to other major towns in France: Bordeaux, Lille, Strasbourg, and Nantes. Charles De Gaulle airport is nearly 30 minutes away and offers great connections to the South-East (Avignon, Lyon, Nice, Marseille, and Montpellier). Trains to towns other than Paris leave from the fantastic Champagne-Ardenne TGV station, situated just outside the town. This station is well connected to the central station by bus and cheap local train. When booking your ticket, don’t forget to check the station you’ll be arriving at or leaving from as many tourists (mostly international tourists) get mixed up and sadly miss their train.
Top Attractions in Reims:
Cathédrale Notre Dame
Imagine the lavishness of a French royal inauguration. The focal point of such pretension was Reims’ splendid Gothic cathedral, started in 1211 on a site maintained by churches since the 5th century CE. The center is a rainbow of stained-glass windows; the finest is the western facade’s excellent rose window, the north transept’s rose window, and the lively Marc Chagall creations (1974) in the axial chapel. The tourist office rents out audio guides for exciting self-paced tours.
Among the other exhibits of the interior are an extravagant Gothic organ case (15th and 18th centuries CE) painted with a figure of Christ, a 15th-century astronomical clock (covered in wood), and a statue of the legendary Joan of Arc in full body armor (1901 CE); there’s a second statue of her outside on the square, to the right as you move out of the cathedral.
Musée des Beaux-Arts
Caught in an 18th-century abbey, this museum’s vibrant collection stars one of four versions of the world’s famous Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Marat (yes, a weird bloody corpse in the dark bath-tub), 27 works by Camille Corot (only the Louvre had more before being destroyed by fire), 13 portraits by German Renaissance artists Cranach the Elder and the Younger, numerous Barbizon School landscapes, some art-nouveau works by Émile Gallé, and a couple of works each by Gauguin, Monet, and Pissarro.
This 120m-long former Benedictine abbey church, a famous Unesco World Heritage Site, blends Romanesque details from the early-11th century (the worn but beautiful nave and transept) with ancient Gothic features from the 12th century (the choir, with a big triforium gallery and, way up top, small clerestory windows). Next door is the popular Musée St-Rémi.
Palais du Tau
A Unesco World Heritage Site, this extravagant former archbishop’s home, redesigned in neoclassical style between 1671 CE and 1710 CE, was where French princes stayed before their vibrant coronations – and where they threw lavish banquets afterward. Now turned into a museum, it presents liturgical objects,, exceptional statuary and decorations from the cathedral, some in the majestic, Gothic-style Salle de Tau (also called Great Hall).