THE PROVINCE of JOIE

REIMS, France

There is no substitute for the real thing.

Climate, tradition, chalky soil, caves deep in the earth.

Elegant bottles, tulip-shaped glasses.

Not just a drink, but an entire region in France.

Not just for celebrations, but for every day.

I am talking bubbles here, lots of them; millions, in fact.

I’m talking about my last vice, not just sparkling wine, but the real thing.

Champagne.

Leave the hustle and bustle of Paris and drive 90 minutes northeast to Champagne. The road turns hilly and green, and soon you pass signs that list cities most of us see only on champagne bottles: Epernay, Reims, Ay, etc.

Even if you do not know the difference between a grand cru and a cru, tour operators in Paris can put together a tour, or you adventurous types who speak a little French can wander the region and knock on the doors of the champagne houses and ask for a taste.

Reims, the sister city to Arlington, is a good base for a visit to this region of the Champagne-Ardennes province. Lots of reasonable hotels and restaurants dot this charming city.

This is champagne country, and the culture of it is everywhere. From the stained-glass windows in Notre-Dame de Reims Cathedral to vagrants drinking champagne in an alley, everyone in Reims seems obsessed with champagne.

Reims was mostly destroyed during World War I; the German front was next door, and the area was a thoroughfare for foreign invaders. Thanks to people such as John D. Rockefeller, plenty of money came in to rebuild the cathedral and the hospital. Streets are named after some of the benefactors.

Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie earlier built Reims’ main library, one of thousands he financed. Most of the older buildings in Reims represent architecture from the 1920s. Place d’Erlon is filled with cafes and is the Champs-Elysees of Reims.

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