Reims, with its breathtaking Gothic cathedral and its beloved Champagne caves, is just 45 minutes from Paris on the new TGV connection. That makes it a wonderful day trip. We just reworked the Reims chapter in our France guidebook to make sure those zipping in for the day have everything they need to get the most out of their visit. My co-author, Steve Smith, and I spent a couple of nights in Reims, and our time here reminded me how important it is to enjoy modern French culture in a sizeable city that isn’t Paris.
The action after dark in Reims is along Place Drouet d’Erlon. While called a “place” (square), it’s really a long, wide street that’s now pedestrianized and thriving with hungry and thirsty fun-seekers. Reims was the biggest city on the Western Front in World War I, and about the only thing standing in this part of town in 1918 was this fountain of the Winged Victory. As local students filled the fountain with soap, and sudsed it one time too many, the mayor decided to replace the fountain with a garden. I think it’s great.
Reims Cathedral is breathtakingly floodlit at night. Just marveling at it after dark reminded me how enthusiastic and expert the French are about floodlighting their great monuments.
Throughout the summer in Reims, each night when darkness falls, a crowd gathers at the foot of the towering cathedral to enjoy a free sound-and-light show. The lights, colors, and sounds are all formidable (say it in French: for-mee-DAH-bluh).
I struggle with the idea that Europe’s wonderful Gothic church facades were boldly painted in the 13th and 14th centuries. In Reims, the sound-and-light show did a good job of helping me envision how they might have looked to a medieval peasant (perhaps on mushrooms).