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Since today is my birthday, I thought it only appropriate to write about my favorite experience in Champagne 🙂

Champagne is my prefered drink for nearly every occasion, so when our AirBnB host suggested we go for a glass of champagne on the grounds of the five star hotel Les Crayères, we did not hesitate 🙂 Les Crayères is behind the Pommery estate, but a world away from its mass commercial enterprise atmosphere.

If you want to stay on the property, rooms start at around $400 USD, and meals at the main restaurant by a MOF chef, start at about $200 per person, not including beverages. If you want to enjoy the space without taking out a loan, there is a garden cafe with a set menu beginning at around $40, or you can enjoy the veranda views with glasses of remarkable champagne beginning at about $30 per glass.

The view of the veranda in the back is as stately as the entrance.

Some of the views from the veranda.

The foot paths throughout the property invite strolling.

You can see the hotel from the far end of the domaine.

They grow their own herbs and vegetables on the property.

I chose a Laurent Perrier Rosé and my friend the vintage Tattinger for about $70 USD total.

Parmesan crisps and fine jambon were complimentary accompaniments.

Vineyards surround the property, a reminder that there is no substitute for terroir 🙂

Reims is close enough to Paris in both distance and lifestyle that the town empties for vacation in the summer. My friend and I went in July but the residents had already left, so I imagine August is even more of a ghost town with many places closed for les vacances and the places that are open usually have seasonal staff, e.g., students working summer jobs, who are both inexperienced and have no interest in gaining any expertise before they go back to school.

The center of town is the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Opera House, which serves as the central transportation hub for trams and buses.

The number of people you see here are the maximum we saw during our entire stay.

Just two blocks away there are some very nice pedestrian streets, with attractions like this fountain sculpture and chain stores like Galeries Lafayette and Sephora.

 We saw this crêperie downtown and the nice terrace tempted us to try it for lunch.

 The decor of Louise was cute and it’s a lovely place for some wine

or water with delicate bubbles (most French people will not drink regular Perrier with a meal because “the bubbles are too big”).

Although we were tempted to come for crêpes, my friend ordered a ham and cheese sandwich,

and I ordered a gésier (gizzard) salad. We both enjoyed our choices and decided to split a dessert crêpe.

The lemon juice dessert crêpe was undercooked and we left about half of it on the plate, but for a lovely light lunch at a reasonable 20 Euros ($23 USD) each with wine, we were quite content with our choice.

For dinner we decided to try La Villa which had gotten great reviews from both websites and people we knew. Since we were in champagne, we splurged a bit with a glass of champagne to start our meal at 12 Euros ($14 USD) each. The small producer choice was much better than the Pommery we had after our tour of the cellars.

The summer staff’s inexperience was very evident as we tried to place our order, giving us a comedy routine akin to “Who’s on first” à la Abbot & Costello. We saw white asparagus on the appetizer menu and wondered about it since white asparagus was out of season in July, so we asked the waitress about it. She checked with the kitchen, came back and said “Yes, white asparagus is out of season. They will substitute green for the white.” We said, “Ok that’s great, then we’ll have the asparagus appetizer.” Our waitress replied, “Oh no we don’t have that.” My friend and I looked at each other wondering if we had both just heard her say they were substituting green for white asparagus. So we asked, “Didn’t you just say the kitchen is substituting green asparagus for white?” Her reply was “Oh yes, all the dishes with asparagus will have green, but we are not offering the asparagus appetizer.” We decided to order pasta and skip any appetizer after that conversation.

My friend chose the gnocchi with jambon cru and although the gnocchi were fresh and light, they were literally bathing in a cream sauce that filled half her bowl.

My seafood spaghetti was likewise freshly made but also bathed in a cream sauce and lacking enough garlic to really make it sing. As my friend and I remarked, the dishes were done for French tastes, which actually is a good thing in a restaurant because that means it has local regulars. The prices are very reasonable, under 20 Euros ($23 USD) for a main course, and it is a lovely space, so I would not hesitate to go if you like your pasta with cream.

 We opted for an easy tram ride instead of walking 20 minutes back to our rental 🙂

La Cantine du Coq is the only place we revisited for food during our stay, and we would have become regulars if we lived in Reims. It is just a block away from the forum plaza, and there is another location that is more of a wine bar closer to the Notre Dame Cathedral.

We were drawn to the place because it was not in the “trendy” plaza. As we walked by it was clear that this was the local lunch spot for residents because everyone knew everyone and service here was very professional and efficient because they cater to clientele who have to get back to work after their meal. Even though we were the only tourists, we were treated as hospitably as if we were neighbors. On our second visit the owner welcomed us back with, “One of each special like last time?”

We each had a glass of cool refreshing rosé to start our meal at 4 Euros ($5 USD).

There are only two menu choices for appetizer, main and dessert, and for two courses it’s only 16 Euros ($18 USD). If you arrive late, they may be out of choices. The fish purveyor was eating at the bar on our first trip, and on our second visit, the owner had his meal at the end of service with another supplier; all reiterating the local fresh connections that make this place a warm and friendly place serving a few choices well.

One day the appetizer choice was fresh mozzarella with arugula and dressed in balsamic vinegar,

or a lusciously ripe melon with uncured local ham.

Another day the choice for appetizer was either a cold pasta and mushroom dish,

or hand made blood sausage with apples.

A main course choice one day was a tender filet of fish in buerre blanc with vegetables,

or a chicken in a cream sauce over pasta that was so copious I couldn’t finish my plate:) I was amazed that as plain as this dish looked, the pasta was so tasty and the chicken so moist that I continued to eat long after I was full.

On another day, a hearty main course of braised beef and purée of potatoes,

or delicate salmon in buerre blanc over carrots.

Since my friend had the fish, she opted for a dessert of homemade apple clafoutis with freshly whipped cream. She adored the tart, but didn’t like the apples which were a bit too sweet for her taste, so she ate around them 🙂

We ended with two cafés, wishing we could transport this wonderful place to where we lived; our consolation was that Reims is an easy trip and we could easily come back:)

Pommery is literally one of the biggest champagne houses and the most vast vineyards in Reims with over 80,000 acres. It’s easy to book a tour here either online, or once you get to the property, but make sure you are on time or the tour will start without you and they will not allow a change or reimbursement. There are several options with the basic tour beginning at 20 Euros or $22 USD, which includes a glass of champagne.

Located at a main intersection, there are several buses which stop here and there is a large parking lot if you are driving a car or taking a tour bus. The scale here is enormous as you can see from the people in the photo of the property. Many contrasting styles of architecture are all built next to each other making for an unusual look. Walking around the property I felt as if I was looking at a set built by competing set designers.



This is the Maison Demoiselle, a sister property and champagne across the street (you may purchase a combination tour ticket for both).

Several acres of the vineyards surround the original estate.

Entry here bar coded and automatic; you can buy your pass at the machines at the entrance when you arrive, so this can be a last minute decision if you are visiting and not sure of your time allotments. It’s very different from the front desk personal style of Veuve Clicquot which requires a reservation at least a week in advance with a confirmation. The size of the groups and the style is also very different here, with about 40 of us in the group, as opposed to 5 of us at Veuve Clicquot, and the tour guide was definitely scripted with pat answers for her questions and comments. My friend and I would have preferred an electronic audio guide to the human who led our tour.



The tour began with a question about what these were….after a few guesses and condescending retorts from our guide, we learned these were face masks to protect the first guests who took tours of the cellars. The bottles sometimes exploded in the days before they learned how to control the pressure.

 The descent into the cellars is steep and long and it gets colder as you go down.

Once in the chalk pits, you can see how far underground you are when you look up.

 Some of the old machinery is on display along the walls

and above the bottles you can see the old pulley systems used for transport.


 This is stunning showpiece of Pommery bottles.

 Artists carved these over five years by candlelight and went blind in the process 😦


 The oldest priceless bottles are kept locked behind bars.

 The end of the tour includes a glass of champagne

served in glasses I would have used only if I had no other drinking vessel. The champagne was on par quality wise with the glass.

The gift shop offers both trendy gifts

 and their trademark Louise champagne.

Like Madame Clicquot, Madame Pommery was also a widow with a child to raise. She expanded her brand and business worldwide from 18 hectares (44 acres) to over 300 hectares (700 acres). She was also a humanitarian maverick, setting up a pension fund and social security fund for her workers, and the first orphanage in Reims, an admirable and audacious woman in any era.


Reims is about 18 square miles and easily navigated with local trams and buses. Most of the town can be covered walking, and the Tourist Office has a handy map with the best route to take if you wish to explore the town on foot. The City Hall is magnificent both in the daytime and at nightfall (see the pic at the end of this post).

You can see the Cathedral from most points in the town to get your bearings.

Some of the older original buildings are now storefronts, like this one for a pharmacy.

The streets are amazingly clean and well maintained; it was almost shocking to me that I only saw ONE instance of dog poo during our entire four day stay!

The big marché (market) in town is located very close to the train station and has many entrances,

but nearly all the stalls were empty for the summer,

with only three hardy merchants open in the entire place!

The marché was once a warren of buildings including this across the street, but everything is now under one modern structure with better lighting and insulation.

Some historic sites are now multi-use buildings housing businesses and residences,

but you can see the remnants of what used to be storage and transport facilities.

Reims was also an historic stop for Joan of Arc.


Not everything in Reims is historical or old; modern buildings dot the city.

Summer in France is the season of tourists in Paris, but in Reims, it’s just slow season, meaning nearly every place that is open is staffed by students, and you have your choice of seats.

As the sun sets the City Hall begins to light up,

providing a beautiful night time show of changing colors:)

cryptoporticus is a covered passageway, and there is an ancient Gallo-Roman one in Reims about one block away from the restaurant named Le Crypto.

Cryptography is defined as the enciphering and deciphering of messages using a secret code, which is something you already know if you’ve read the Da Vinci Code, or watched the movie.

I’m not sure which word Le Crypto is referring to with its name, but it was my favorite restaurant in Reims, and it’s definitely not a secret nor hidden away in a passageway:) They have lunch time menus for around 20 Euros ($23 USD) and daily specials at dinner that run about the same price for a main course. My friend and I passed by one afternoon and both did double takes as we saw the plates being delivered to the diners on the sidewalk terrace, so we came back at night for dinner.

A chilled melon amuse bouche with écrivisses (crayfish) was offered, and my friend liked hers, but I found the melon a bit too sweet for my taste. Upon seeing that I didn’t eat my amuse bouche, our waitress asked if I liked it and I honestly told her I didn’t like the sweet taste.

A few minutes later she came back with this delightful zucchini version which I thoroughly enjoyed. I found it exceptionally generous and graceful of them to provide me an alternative for a taste that was gratis simply because my preference was different. Kudos for the professionalism of the waitress noticing that I didn’t eat the dish and bravo to the chef for offering an alternative.

We both chose the souris d’agneau (leg of lamb) but with different sides, I chose the vegetables,

and my friend chose the whipped potatoes. Yes the plates were as huge as they look, and we could have easily shared one plate and been very full, but the flavors were so good, and the meat falling off the bone tender, that we managed to eat most of our portions.

My friend spied the macaron, sorbet, and berry dessert for 11 Euros ($12 USD)at another table and she somehow found room for this beautiful and light ending to our meal. We chose a nice bottle of rosé to accompany our meal and we left feeling that life is indeed as beautiful as the song La Vie en Rose 🙂



Veuve Clicquot was a pioneer in many respects, being the first woman to ever manage a Champagne house. Her status as “Veuve” or widow, gave her the rights and privileges a married woman of her era would not have enjoyed. She brought the celebrated drink and the town of Reims to the world market, and also created a company that was both creative and humanistic in its practices.

To visit the caves in Reims, you must make an appointment, receive a confirmation email, and respond to the email before you are granted access. The visit lasts about an hour, costs 25 Euros ($30 USD) and includes a glass of the Brut Yellow Label. I requested a time two weeks in advance and got my confirmation three days later through Veuve Clicquot. There is a parking lot if you are driving, and a bus line stops directly in front of the property if you come by public transit.

There is a spacious waiting area upstairs next to the gift shop which has pictures of the caves and a video of the company, giving you an overview of the tour. Luckily our group only had 5 guests and one of us had limited mobility, so we had the luxurious use of an elevator along with our excellent enthusiastic guide who loved her job and superbly shared the history of Veuve Clicquot. Tours are offered in several languages and can include several types of tastings, as well as private tours, so pick one which suits your taste and budget.

The descent into the caves also makes the temperature descend to around 53 F, so bring a warm sweater with you! Reims was originally a textile town, and the caves where the champagne is stored were excavated for their clay. The monuments above ground are made from the clay taken from these caves, and the clay was used to wash the textiles manufactured in the city. The champagne industry use of these caves is just practical recycling of the empty “Swiss cheese” holes created by the dominant city industry since the temperature stayed a constant 53F all year round and they had the space:)

There are over 27 kilometers (16 miles) of caves, so our tour only covered a small portion of the extensive underground network. During the wars, many people lived in the caves and there were designated areas for arms as well as medical care.

One of the things Madame Clicquot did was honor long time workers with plaques in the craters with their names, dates of service, and jobs. Monsieur Raguet worked for the company for 57 years!

Everything is labeled and organized.

One of the inventions of madame Clicquot was the riddling rack, which was originally just a door with holes drilled into it! Today it’s all mechanized, but the bigger bottles are still riddled by hand, allowing the yeast to settle to the neck by slowly turning the bottle upside down in precise movements.

The oldest bottle of Veuve Clicquot (1893) is kept in a special secured vault and is probably the most priceless bottle in the world.

It’s under the red light in the middle.

Not every year produces a Millésime, or vintage year, but the ones at Veuve Clicquot are each marked on the stairs out of the cave.

The specially made glasses (available in the gift shop) for the tasting encouraged the bubbles to dance long after the pour, and ended our tour with an effervescent flourish. Santé 🙂

Arriving in any new town always gives me a mixture of anticipation and confusion as I try to find my bearings and get a sense of the local atmosphere. Even though Reims is only 45 minutes by train from Paris, the city is nothing like any arrondissement. From the transit police who offered to give us directions as we stared into a map, to the old lady who told me how appalled she was to see a young girl wearing shorts (it was over 90 F and very humid), there is a small town character in Reims that does not exist in the big city capital.

Côté Cuisine was on several lists as a good place to eat, and it’s location directly across the park from the train station, made it an easy place to find. The open air garden setting on a very muggy evening, made this our first choice for our first meal. “Le Plaisir Commence Ici” (Pleasure Starts Here) is marked on all the wine glasses at Côté Cuisine in Reims, and it was a marvelous introduction to eating my first meal in Reims.

There are several menu options from 32-50 Euros ($36-56 USD), with prices climbing upwards depending on how many drinks you wanted with your meal. I chose the 39 Euro menu of starter, main and one glass of an apéro and one glass of wine. My friend didn’t like the set menu options so she ordered a starter and a main à la carte and just one glass of wine for about the same price. If you reserve with The Fork, you can also get a 20% reduction on 2 courses ordered à la carte. Service in the Summer will be very slow with limited (and temporary) waitstaff, so reserve ahead and be patient, especially if you want the garden seats.

My friend ordered the rabbit terrine and enjoyed it tremendously. It was obviously freshly made and the flavors were nicely married. The portion is very big, so this would be a great starter to share if you are not very hungry.

I love confit gizzard salad and I can only find it in France, so I almost always order it when I see it on the menu, and this version with pomegranate seeds, blueberries, red onions, and radishes tossed in a fruity vinaigrette, was one of the best I’ve eaten. The portion was so generous that I could have easily eaten just this as my meal!

My friend chose one of the specials of the day for her main course, parmentier, a baked meat dish with mashed potatoes on top. She said the meat was a bit dry but the flavor was good. Once again this plate was a large portion, and since this was a hearty dish to eat in the heat and there are no doggie bags in France, make sure you bring your appetite!

I ordered the sardines with a spinach soufflé for my main and unfortunately the sauce could not save the overcooked fish, however, the spinach soufflé was lovely, and after my large salad, I was quite content to just eat my vegetables on this plate.

My friend’s parmentier came with a side salad that was quite lovely, but she didn’t get around to eating it after her very large portions of starter and main.

My menu came with a dessert, and even though we really didn’t have room, we somehow found a place to fit in some summer fruit and sorbet to end the night on a sweet note 🙂




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