Exploring Northern France: Reims

I was invited on a trip to Northern France (along with Jordan, Carol, and Dave) by the the French board of tourism. Initially, I was going to sum up the trip to Reims, Dijon, and Poitiers in one post, but I found myself wanting to include more photos — particularly of the Reims Cathedral — and decided to split things up a bit so I could go into more detail.

Reims, France

Reims is 45 minutes from Paris by high-speed train, and the city had an interesting feel to it. It’s charming and the buildings look aged, but much of the town was destroyed in the World War I, with additional damage taken in World War II. Most of what you see is (relative to the rest of France) newer construction.

Reims, France

Reims, France

Fossier in Reims, France

Reims, France

If you like champagne, you probably already know this, but true champagne can only come from this region in France. The rest is ‘sparkling wine.’ It’s my favorite drink, so it was a bit of a bummer to be pregnant for this part of the trip. (“Non merci, je suis enceinte.”)

Champagne in Reims, France

I did enjoy learning about the process of making champagne (our time in the Taittinger cellar and on a tour went over everything from the grapes grown, the mixing of new and reserve juices, freezing the neck of the bottle to remove sediment, the aging process, and more), but I do wish I could have fully enjoyed the copious amount of champagne we were served while in the region. Champagne as an apertif! Champagne with dessert! In the dessert! Champagne with breakfast! You can even have champagne high up among the trees at Perching Bar.

Perching Bar in Reims, France

And then of course, if you’re looking for more to do in the area, there is the Reims Cathedral. I fell in love with it as a college student studying architectural history and had always dreamed of visiting.

Reims Cathedral, France

Along with the rest of the city, the Reims Cathedral suffered extensive damage during the first World War. The original roof was made of lead, and when the church burned, molten lead poured from the mouths of gargoyles situated high above along the perimeter. The horrific imagery was used as German propaganda supporting their cause, but the church survived and went on to be repaired in subsequent years. We were able to climb to the top, but getting there via a stone spiral staircase in one of the towers was not an easy feat. I’m so glad I did it, but at six months pregnant (and stupidly carrying my heavy camera equipment), I wasn’t sure I could make it! Every so often, you’re tricked into seeing light and thinking you might be done, but it turns out to be another window. The views were an amazing reward though, and it was fascinating to see the buttresses from above.

View from the Top of the Reims Cathedral, France

Reims Cathedral, France

Beneath the Roof of the Reims Cathedral, France

Only the cathedral in Chartres boasts more sculptural figures, and its beauty befit its importance as the site where many French kings were crowned. There is a statue of Joan of Arc, occupying the place she stood during the Coronation of Charles VII.

Reims Cathedral, France

Joan of Arc in the Reims Cathedral, France

Joseph Campbell said this, on being in the Chartres Cathedral, and I felt it in Reims as well.

I’m back in the Middle Ages. I’m back in the world that I was brought up in as a child, the Roman Catholic spiritual-image world, and it is magnificent … That cathedral talks to me about the spiritual information of the world. It’s a place for meditation, just walking around, just sitting, just looking at those beautiful things.

I myself no longer identify as Catholic, but what I felt in the church was an overwhelming sense of beauty and awe. I wept.

Reims Cathedral, France

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  • Christine
    July 2, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    Looks beautiful. I visited Paris for the first time earlier this year, it looks like I’ll have to add a few more french destinations to my wishlist!

    • Making it Lovely
      July 7, 2014 at 8:21 am

      Yes, do! I’m so glad to have had the chance to visit more of the country. Each city felt so different.

  • Molly
    July 2, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    Oh goodness, THANK YOU for these pictures!! I have long promised myself (25 years! since I was 14 & started taking French in HS) that I will go to France. Someday I will have the money and time, and I cannot wait to visit Reims . Paris, yes, but Reims & Dijon & Lyon have always been my dream cities. Until then, I’ll drink in your visit!

    • Making it Lovely
      July 7, 2014 at 8:23 am

      I took French classes 10+ years ago with the same intention. So glad I finally got the chance to go! I hope the same for you, too. It was such an amazing trip.

  • Tena
    July 2, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    So glad you got to go and enjoy these beautiful places.

  • catriona
    July 3, 2014 at 5:14 am

    I’m sure you know it already, but that last image.. It’s a winner. I hope you have plans for it as lofty as it is sublime.

    • Making it Lovely
      July 7, 2014 at 8:24 am

      That shot made it worth it to lug my heavy camera gear around.

  • Kelly
    July 3, 2014 at 5:58 am

    I also no longer identify as a Catholic, but felt the same sense of awe in the cathedrals throughout Europe. The ambience is like nothing else… Gorgeous photos! Thanks for sharing!

  • Jess
    July 3, 2014 at 9:55 am

    Thank you so much for sharing such incredible photos!!! France is magical… I totally understand that feeling of awe; I cried everywhere I went in France because everything is just so beautiful and you just feel completely overcome by it!

    • Making it Lovely
      July 7, 2014 at 8:25 am

      It’s true. I was just so grateful the entire time to be experiencing it.

  • Dianna
    July 3, 2014 at 11:56 am

    Just lovely! It’s really like another world, isn’t it? Thanks for sharing!

  • judy
    July 3, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    As an old Bod who will never see these wonders in person the pictures are awesome but your personal revelation of the affect they had on you added so much to your message. I have had that same feeling sometime when we have looked @ really old decrepit homes for sale-almost as though they contain something more than just bricks and mortar. Not a ghost but a kind of sense of the lives lived there.

    • Making it Lovely
      July 7, 2014 at 8:50 am

      The history adds so much. My 125-year-old house is a wee baby compared to what we saw in France.

  • Joanna Ryan
    July 3, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    Wonderful photos! They almost make me want to get off my duff and take a trip. But my airport phobia is just a little stronger than my wanderlust.

  • Mally
    July 4, 2014 at 4:14 am

    I love medieval cathedrals for just that reason; whatever your religious orientation, they ooze peace and wonder at their sheer scale and artistry (especially given that most people would have been living in one story, probably wooden, homes at the time!). I live close to Canterbury (UK) and once when I was visiting the Cathedral the Dean took to the lecturn, gently reminded us that it is a place of worship and insisted that everyone (mainly tourists, unsurprisingly) sit for a moment of quiet contemplation or prayer. It sounds a bit full on but it was actually really lovely to be in that space surrounded by almost total hush. It was a pocket of calm and peace that has stayed with me.

    Your pictures and stories make me want to jump on the next Eurostar and head across to Reims (I live on the coast and on a clear day can see Northern France across the water so I really have no excuse!). Thank you

  • Swissrose
    July 4, 2014 at 5:31 am

    You can download a free app of Jumièges that takes you back in time to a mediaeval cathedral (360°) and how it looked then – highly recommended! (apparently, the original Westminster Abbey was almost identical…)

  • Chelsea T
    July 4, 2014 at 9:48 pm

    I visited southern Spain (and Morocco) when I was in high school, and was too busy missing my boyfriend back home to really be moved by the architecture. Now in my late 20s, with a husband and a 4yr old, I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to get back to Europe. Thank you for the inspiration to start planning that inevitable trip!

  • Laura
    July 6, 2014 at 8:03 am

    I’m not, nor ever have been Catholic, but I too feel overwhelming awe and beauty in these sacred places, as Joseph Campbell describes. Thank you for your post. I wish I had studied architectural history; I love these buildings.

  • poulattitude
    July 7, 2014 at 9:26 am

    I studied there :) I am so happy to see pictures from your eye, as someone I love and as an American too !
    You make me love it more !

  • Sarah
    July 7, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    I was raised Protestant (Moravian, to be precise) but have an incredible affinity for beautiful European Catholic cathedrals. They have always been a moving, emotional highlight of trips I’ve taken abroad. Tearful, peaceful solitude and reverence. And how beautiful and humbling to be in a space where Joan of Arc once stood – I find her so fascinating. Thank you for this.

  • alisa
    July 9, 2014 at 12:04 am

    I knew we were destined to be friends because 1) bubbles are my drink of choice (that is how we refer to them here in california, you know, since they can’t be called champagne) & 2) I am also a non-catholic (raised episcopal actually) but have an immense love of catholic churches and cathedrals. It came from my love of renaissance art.

    So fun watching your IG account as you traveled.. Can’t wait to find out what this baby is named, lol!

  • Exploring Northern France: Dijon | Making it Lovely
    July 9, 2014 at 8:13 am

    […] and Jordan climbed the Tour Philippe le Bon, for a view of the town. It’s 150 feet high, and after climbing to the top of Reims Cathedral the day before, my six-months-pregnant belly and me were out. Instead, I went by myself to the […]