villa maia lyon

Roaring Lyon the Revitalized City Gets a Savvy New Design Hotel

Each fall, Lyon—once overlooked by travelers speeding through from Paris en route to the south—hosts a biennale that toggles between world-class art one year and modern dance the next.

La Confluence, a former industrial neighborhood, is now a starchitect’s playground with a massive Jean Nouvel project joining other mixed-use spaces, and young chefs are energizing the restaurant scene with lighter cooking that honors and advances the city’s gastronomic traditions.

Now, with the opening of Villa Maia, there’s a hotel that feels right in a reinvigorated Lyon.

The designers—a French dream team that included architect Jean- Michel Wilmotte (who updated the Louvre), interior designer Jacques Grange (he did Karl Lagerfeld’s home), and garden guru Louis Benech (he redesigned the Tuileries)—have created a sophisticated space that soothes rather than wows with hackneyed design trends.


The only pops of color in the Jacques Grange–designed rooms come in the form of a few accessories

The minimalist spa with an arched arcade is modeled after ancient Roman baths.

Its 37 guest rooms (which lookout on meditation gardens or over the red-roofed city) have neutral textured walls, wood trim, and sliding panel doors leading to bathrooms done in Carrara marble and heavy nickel, creating a sort of ryokan-meets-Art Moderne feel.

Design aside, the real key to understanding Villa Maia maybe, well, the room key.

It’s an actual key attached to a heavy leather fob.

It doesn’t demagnetize or remind you of a credit card.

You leave it at the front desk when you head out and retrieve it when you return.

It’s a welcome moment of hospitality in an increasingly automated world.

occitania landscape

The Accidental Rebirth of Occitania

An ancient region in the South of France has risen from the ashes and put itself back on the map. Occitania is an area doused in heritage, its name long entwined with the old hamlets, towns and cities that stud its hills, and the intriguing language marking out many of its inhabitants.

There are vultures circling over the Gorges du Vis. Soundless silhouettes tracing loops above the clifftops, black wings outspread, riding the currents. First one bird, then two, then six. A few hundred metres below, the canyon floor is a wild, rumpled corridor of sun-baked limestone. “For me, being Occitan is about having a connection to the land,” says Valerie Bousquel, as she stares across the ravine. “It’s about having a passion for artistic expression and a love of liberty,” she continues. “C’est un, esprit.” A spirit.

I’m in the South of France. Not the glossed world of palm trees and rock star villas that shimmers on the coast, but inland among the high plateaus and drowsy villages at the foot of the Massif Central. The landscape tumbling out in front of us has, despite its aridness, been grazed and farmed since at least the 12th century. For most of that time, the everyday language spoken by its inhabitants has been not French, but the Romance tongue of Occitan. Still spoken today, albeit on a much smaller scale, it was being used at its height by some 12 million people. Describe it as a patois at your peril.

This is a part of the country that Valerie — dressed in a heavy coat despite the 20-degree heat — has known from birth. She works for CPIE Causses Meridionaux, a local association preserving not only traditional farming methods but the countryside itself, and has brought me here to show off the remarkable Cirque de Navacelles —a rounded, cathedral-sized rock monolith standing far beneath us at the foot of a naturally eroded canyon.

 Cirque de Navacelles

Cirque de Navacelles

It’s a beautiful but odd sight, as if a green meteorite had slammed into the soil and remained there, stubborn and immutable. “You see,” smiles Valerie. “Occitania holds surprises.”

The name Occitania has been pushed to the fore in the past year. Mainland France recently underwent a wholesale change in the way its regions are divided up, parcelling together previously separate regions — reducing the overall number from 22 to 13.

Some of these mergers appear to have simply lumped together areas that happen to neighbour each other — new super-regions created foremost as a means of cutting civic costs. Others, however, hold mom significance.

Step forward the pairing of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrenees, two historically Occitan regions, which since 2016 am now officially joined together under the title Occitania. A happy by-product is the return to prominence of a place-name doused in heritage, a word long entwined with the old hamlets, towns and cities that stud the hills.

To its most vocal adherents, Occitania is a territory, a homeland, a language and a way of life. For them, the true Occitania —that is, those areas where the Occitan language was once predominant — actually stretches all the way from the Bay of Biscay to the Alps, incorporating pockets of Spain and Italy and utterly dwarfing this new region. The freshly formed administrative borders do, however, encompass an area that can claim close to a thousand years of Occitan cultural history.

It’s somewhere with a Mediterranean climate, a Latin spirit and a tendency to view Paris and the north with a wary gaze.

It’s a terrific place to travel through, being exceptionally easy on the eye and predisposed to long, well-lubricated meals. It also has a stack of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a past fierce with drama and a passion for rugby and music.


I’m making a road trip between its two main cities, Montpellier and Toulouse. The distance between them is just 120 miles, but with a bit of judicious zigzagging, the riches that can be enjoyed en route are essentially numberless. And in the process of getting from A to B, I want to find out what the idea of Occitania means in the 21st century. Is it these days just a name, or something more?

Monsieur BMX

In Montpellier, bicycles fly and disappear into walls. I’ve been in the city for just a few hours, and have already seen half a dozen protruding from buildings, their frames metres off the ground and their handlebars vanished from view. “It’s the work of a street artist. We call him Monsieur BMX,” explains Bruno Martinez, a local guide and photographer. “They started appearing four years ago in different parts of the city. It seems as though they’re hem to stay. I like them.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Montpellier is laissez-faire about the presence of rogue wheels above its medieval alleys. The city is resolutely open to fresh ideas. Whereas most French cities have grand, stuccoed town halls, Montpellier has a maze-like block of translucent glass. Its trams were designed by A-list fashionista Christian Lacroix, students make up one fifth of its population and a whole swathe of its town centre was reshaped in the late 20th century by an architect allowed to run freestyle with neoclassical styling.

monsieur bmx

Street Art by Monsieur BMX

This mood of tolerance is nothing new. Bruno unlocks a door from the street and leads me down a set of steps to a dark underground chamber that served as a ritual bathhouse for the city’s Jewish community 800 years ago. He flicks on light to reveal a small changingarea and a square pool still filled with naturally gathered water. “Historically, Occitania always welcomed outsiders — Jews, Muslims, Cathars, everybody,” he explains. “This is key to understanding the history of Montpellier and Occitania.”

The Cathar religion, in particular, had very strong ties to the region. A hybrid faith that took the pillars of Christianity and added elements of Middle Eastern philosophy, it grew in popularity across Occitania to the point that, by the early 1200s, France’s political and religious rulers saw it as a grave threat to their authority. There followed a two-decade military campaign known as the Albigensian Crusade, which stamped out Catharism in brutal, bloody fashion. Some estimates place the death toll at close to a million.

Such things are not easily forgotten. Catharism has been closely linked to Occitania ever since. Over a bottle of Gaillac, I meet long-term local Patrick Hutchinson, a Cambridge-educated academic who composed the words — in Occitan — to a musical about the Albigensian Crusade. “Occitania has a very real dimension,” he tells me, pointing out that there has always been a spirit of resistance in the region’s character. “It represents something that the rest of France is not, so the fact that it now exists as an official entity — well, until recently no one would have dreamed of such a thing.” He explains that in early 2016 the name of the new administrative region was put to public vote, with Occitania soundly beating the four other alternatives.

But although the region’s current incarnation might be new, its chief attractions am anything but. Nowhere evokes images of fire, sword and medieval bombast quite like the fortress city of Carcassonne, and my first glimpse of this hilltop citadel, shining and Camelot-like in the afternoon sun, is powerful. Settled since the sixth century BC and progressively fortified by the Romans, the Visigoths, Saracens, Counts of Toulouse and French, the citadel is today a tourist-seducing flurry of towers, turrets and fearsome ramparts.



I cross its moat and walk through the double-walled main gateway. The old streets, lined with souvenir shops, lead me to the basilica, where rows of deranged-looking gargoyles still stare down at visitors. Carcassonne played an active role in protecting the area from anti-Cathar forces until falling to Catholic crusaders in 1209, and it remains very much of its region. These days it houses one of Southern France’s 65 calamiretas (primary schools in which lessons are conducted entirely in Occitan).

Shortly before sunset, I join dozens of others by walking out onto the battlements and watching as flocks of starlings swirl and gather in the sky. Carcassonne’s swashbuckling good looks, I learn later that evening, are partly the result of a fanciful but dramatic 19th-century restoration that added crenellations, conical towers and arrow slits. It’s evidence that in Occitania, initial appearances can hide a deeper story.

The Art of Paratge

One of the most prominent words in the Occitan language has no direct translation. Paratge, in loose terms, means a respect for others, a courtesy towards strangers and an understanding of the difference between right and wrong. Conversely, Occitan itself has endured a torrid time over the centuries, having been marginalised — shamed as a peasant’s dialect and, until relatively recently, banned from formal education.

Despite the fact that more than 500,000 people still speak it to some degree, Occitan has an unpromising future — indeed, it’s been classified as officially endangered (UNESCO includes Occitan in its Red Book of Endangered Languages). There’s residual anger that France still refuses to recognise it as a national language. During my trip, I see a poster showing Che Guevara with the French Tricolour wrapped gag-style around his mouth. The words below the image — Parlar Occitan Es Encara Un Acto Revolucionari — state proudly that to speak Occitan is a revolutionary act.

This might be why, aside from the odd bilingual street sign, the language is almost undetectable as I drive around the region. There’s certainly little evidence of it at the boisterous Saturday market in Revel, where flowers, grapes and gooey cheeses are being sold from underneath broad oak eaves. Sancisson sec (cured sausage) is being chopped, pumpkins are being weighed, snails are being ladled. It’s mid-autumn, and the queue at the chestnut stall is 20-strong.

Revel is one of hundreds of bastides — fortified market towns built in the Middle Ages to protect local inhabitants from marauding outside forces. The recurrent images of war and conflict in Occitania are at odds with the countryside itself, which remains an open, docile landscape. Plane tree-shaded roads unfurl beneath escarpments and forested mountains, and close to Revel, the massif of La Montagne Noire hulks quietly on the horizon.

The pull of the great Southern outdoors was a common theme in the paintings of the region’s most famous artist, who would, by contrast, become best known for depicting the brothels and cabarets of Paris. The brilliant but famously dissolute Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec grew up in and around the laid-back cathedral city of Albi, where a museum dedicated to his works still stands.

“When he was young he was known as lo poulit. It means ‘the beautiful baby’ in Occitan,” says guide Christian Riviere, leading me through the red-brick palace that houses the collection. “Toulouse-Lautrec never stopped loving this region. He came back several times a year.”

musee toulouse lautrec

Musee Toulouse Lautrec Albi

The artistic leap from the lakes and horses of his early canvasses to the can-canning mademoiselles of his later works was considerable, but then the man himself — born into aristocracy, and in adult life standing just 4ft 11in tall — was full of surprises. Christian takes me to a restaurant set in the former family stables, where I’m taken aback to learn that Toulouse-Lautrec was also an obsessive cook, putting his own spin on traditional Occitan recipes and, according to some food historians, inventing the first chocolate mousse.

A trip to Occitania still requires a loosened belt. Like elsewhere in France, the region approaches food and drink with reverence. The native larder relies heavily on meat, herbs and dairy (the most famous of its cheeses is Roquefort) and mom wine is produced here than in any other part of the country. Sitting down to table is therefore a convivial affair, and I’m informed matter-of-factly that one of the most renowned local wine producers still starts each day with a quick santat! (cheers!) and a glass of red. Down in the sun-warmed South, some old traditions die hard.

Sweet Goat Music

In the Occitan Cultural Centre at Cordes-sur-Ciel, Daniel Loddo is playing a folk instrument that is, to all intents and purposes, a goat. The animal’s skin, still bearing four legs, is the central component of a bagpipe-like contraption known as a eraba. The sound it produces — all things considered — is surprisingly tuneful, and the notes eddy merrily around the small room in which we’re standing.

Music has always been a fundamental part of Occitan culture. In the centuries before the Albigensian Crusade, troubadours — usually funded by wealthy southern nobles — helped to accelerate the spread of the Occitan language, performing poetic songs about everything from religion to courtly love. Their modern Occitan descendants, however, are far harder to classify, covering every genre from metal and punk to folk and rap.

I sit down with Daniel and local civil servant Philippe Sour, whose job it is to ensure that Occitan culture has every chance to thrive. I ask how they feel about the formation oft he new region. “Well, the borders are far too small,” says Daniel, laughing.

Daniel Loddo playing the craba

Daniel Loddo playing the craba

But yes — it’s a very important platform for the future. We have to ensure younger generations understand Occitan culture and know its stories. Culture is not dust and death, culture needs to live, and music is fundamental to that.

“The government has been against regional cultures since the French Revolution. We cannot let it die,” continues Philippe. “The language might not survive, but we have to safeguard the knowledge and the history.” As a potent illustration of how he views the situation, he recently arranged for an Occitan town to be twinned with a settlement in Tibet.

Today, there are effectively two Occitanias. One is the newly minted administrative region, the other is the historical land stretching from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The challenge, perhaps, for its custodians is to ensure that the traditional culture — paratge and all — is as relevant to one as it is to the other.

In Toulouse, now the regional capital, the issue doesn’t seem to be furrowing too many brows. Late October sunshine is washing over the city’s cafe terraces as sightseers spill in and out of the Basilica of Saint-Sernin. I walk down to the banks of the Garonne River — source of the red mud that gives the city’s buildings their famous pink hue — and, in the distance, can pick out the shape of the Pyrenees.

Basilica of Saint-Sernin, Toulouse

Basilica of Saint-Sernin, Toulouse

Toulouse is now the fourth largest city in France by population, but it’s an easy-going place to spend time in. I make my way across to the Ostal d’Occitania, which puts on regular cultural events, and notice a spray-painted mural on a side street.

Only when I’ve nearly passed it do I see that it depicts the traditional Occitan cross; its design modified to include a tongue sticking out in defiance. Maybe that’s the thing: when you travel through this handsome, hardy region, Occitan culture is often right in front of you — you just need to look for it.

place de la bourse bordeaux

More than Just Wine: Bordeaux, France

More than a jumping-off point for wine-lovers swilling their way through the region —a citywide makeover has seen Bordeaux take on a hip new life.

The experience was like walking into a street party that you didn’t know was happening. By the banks of the River Garonne, dozens of young people were sitting on blankets, eating saucisson and drinking wine, enjoying the balmy evening air as lights twinkled from the Pont de Pierre bridge.

The curving facade of the 18th-century Palais de la Bourse (above) shimmered in the Miroir d’Eau, a giant reflecting pool that turns into an impromptu paddling pool when the weather warms up.

Garonne river crossing Bordeaux

Garonne river crossing Bordeaux

Go back to the late 1990s and it was a very different scene in Bordeaux. France’s wine capital was looking decidedly past its best: years of unchecked car pollution had left its dignified 18th-century architecture covered in grime and dilapidated waterfront warehouses blighted much of the river.

But when current presidential hopeful Alain Juppe became mayor in 1995, he put into motion several crucial actions that were to change the city profoundly.

A new tram network in 2003 meant fewer cars and cleaner air, and blackened buildings were sandblasted clean to reveal creamy limestone facades. The riverside was transformed into the city’s playground, its wide quayside filled with joggers, strollers, cafes and shops. The Miroir d’Eau came along in 2006, becoming an instant hit.

Bordeaux’s students used to flee south to Toulouse to study — now they stay put. The city has a buzz to more than rival its near neighbour, while the heart of its old town still boasts UNESCO status among the cluster of streets dubbed the ‘Golden Triangle’, where Place du Parlement, Place St-Pierre and Place Camille Jullian meet.

Place du Parlement

Place du Parlement

Everywhere — wedged into narrow cobbled streets, tucked into small squares — you’ll find terraces, bars and restaurants, with any available outdoor space taken up by cafe tables. The atmosphere is convivial, lively, civilized, just shy of raucous.

The Bordeaux wine that’s fuelled the city since Roman times also goes down pretty nicely with the fresh seafood that is shipped in from the Atlantic coast just an hour away.

This same wine was once key to Bordeaux’s prosperity. In the Middle Ages, when the English ruled the Aquitane region of western France, they developed a taste for the area’s rich red wines and exported them back home.

The effect on the city was noticeable. By the 18th century, grand boulevards spread through the centre, lined with neo-classicaI townhouses that elegantly showed off the wealth of their wine-merchant owners.

Now there’s the fantastically futuristic La Cite du Vin wine museum, which opened in 2016. Its audacious shape— styled like a giant swirling wineglass — reflects Bordeaux’s rejuvenated trailblazing spirit. After years of being bypassed by travellers on their way to the Atlantic coast or the nearby vineyards, Bordeaux is back in the spotlight as a place to linger and savour.

la cité du vin bordeaux

La Cité du Vin Museum

Here’s The Plan…

Essential Info

When to go: Year round. Spring and autumn are the most pleasant periods. Summer can be scorching, and many restaurants close for several weeks during late July and August. Some regional flights also only run from March to October.

Getting there: EasyJet flies from Gatwick, Luton, Belfast, Bristol, Glasgow and Liverpool to Bordeaux from £45 return; flight time is between 90 minutes and two hours. Ryanair flies from Stansted and Edinburgh; British Airways from Gatwick; and Flybe from Birmingham and Southampton.

Getting around: It’s easy to walk around the centre, and there’s also a bike hire scheme. Buses, trams and boats all use the same tickets, which you can buy for €1.50 (£1.30) each; a day pass costs €4.60 (£4).

Where to stay: Mama Shelter is in a central location and has a rooftop eatery; doubles from €79 (£67). For modern rooms in an 18th-century city-centre townhouse, try Hotel Continental; doubles from €68. Central boutique hotel La Maison Bord’eaux has stylish rooms with doubles from €125.

Where to eat: Laid-back Belle Campagne has seasonal food, while Glouton features a ‘bistronomic’ menu with a seafood focus.

Day 1: Discover the Heart

Place de la Comedie

Place de la Comedie

Most of Bordeaux’s main sights are on the left bank of the Garonne. Start amid the 18th-century facades of the Place de la Comedie, then turn into Rue Sainte-Catherine, touted as the longest pedestrianised shopping street in Europe.

From here, veer east into the mazy streets around Place du Parlement. Here you’ll find two leaders of the city’s so-called ‘bistro brat pack’, Miles and Le Chien de Pavlov – both have helped shake up the city’s old stuffy image.

Head south to Rue St-James, which forms part of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrims’ trail, and is tailed by the gothic Grosse Cloche belfry. The is street full of oddities, with Le Vintage Bar worth revisiting for happy hour. For a good-value lunch, grab a garden table in nearby Rue Buhan’s Potato Head.

Plunge back into the web of streets and re-emerge via the 15th-century Porte Cailhau at the quayside, where you can stroll the promenade and its long line of 18th-century townhouses. You’ll soon reach the stunning Palais de la Bourse and its Miroir d’Eau.

Day 2: Soak Up the Culture


An aerial view of Bassins à flot – Bordeaux

Hop on a tram northwards to the renovated Bassins a Flot riverside district, where the swirl of La Cite du Vin soon hovel into view. Its entry fee (£17) includes wine-tasting in a rather eye-catching bar and 360° views.

Cross the Garonne to discover one of the city’s regeneration success stories. Darwin used to be a grim military barracks; it now houses a bistro, skate park, organic supermarket, outdoor cinema, music venues and even an urban farm. The warehouse-like Magasin General is a genial spot for lunch and craft beers.

Back in the old town, trawl local history at the Musee d’Aquitaine. Exhibits here range from prehistoric cave paintings (found at nearby Lascaux) to harrowing relics of the 18th-century slave trade — another source of Bordeaux’s wealth.

For a relaxed introduction to the city’s wines, drop by Aux Quatre Coins du Vin. It’s a brilliantly simple concept: put a preloaded card into the dispensers and choose from a bewildering number of wines in either small or large measures. Knowledgeable staff are always on hand for advice, too.

Day 3: Explore Wine Country

Entre-deux-Mers vineyards

Entre-deux-Mers vineyards

Sauternes, Pomerol, Margaux, Pauillac, Medoc — some of the world’s most highly prized wines are produced in the vineyards surrounding Bordeaux.

The Medoc vineyards are found north of the city in a chunk of land between the Gironde estuary and the Atlantic coast. You can join a ‘chateau route’ tour of the Medoc area, with tastings at wine estates in Margaux, Pauillac and St-Julien, among others. Bordeaux’s tourist office offers half-and full-day tours (from €38/£32) that include transport and tastings.

Alternatively, hire a bicycle from Pierre Qui Roule from €10 (£8.50) a day and explore the vineyards of the Entre-Deux-Mers region along the 58km Roger Lapebie Cycle Path, an old railway line that runs along the eastern banks of the Garonne River.

The medieval town of St-Emilion is exquisite and only a 30-minute train ride away. Begin at Maison du Vin, which has an enormous selection of local wines. Wander narrow streets and stone houses, saving energy for the 196-step climb to the medieval bell tower; this forms part of the vast underground Eglise Monolithe, which can only be visited via a tour.

reims france

Must See and Do in Reims – France

Let’s get this out of the way, the French pronunciation of Reims isn’t pretty. Where Anglophones might say reemz and are generally understood by locals, the normally mellifluous Francophones pronounce the word something like ranse, with a heavy dose of nasal undertone. Luckily, it’s only the name that’s hard to swallow.

An easy 45-minute train ride northeast from Paris, Reims is the buzzy epicenter of sparkling wine. Champagne has been made here since the late 1600s, and roughly 300 million bottles per year are produced from its surrounding vineyards today. Home to esteemed names such as Veuve Clicquot, Pommery, Louis Roederer, Ruinart, and Taittinger, the Gallo-Roman city bubbles over with enough Champagne and French history to slake a nearly unquenchable thirst for both.

Few people have helped stamp Reims on the tourist map as has the Taittinger family: The late Jean Taittinger, the family scion and mayor of the city for 18 years (1959-77), campaigned successfully for the A4 Paris-to-Strasbourg highway to pass nearby, ensuring that all roads – or at least the important ones – lead to Reims. But it’s the current generation who are determined to raise the profile of bubbly and of its birthplace with up-and-coming tastemakers worldwide.

In 2005, the Taittingers sold their luxury conglomerate, which included two prestigious Paris hotels as well as their Champagne holdings, to U.S. firm Starwood Capital. A year later, Jean’s son and current CEO Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, 63, bought back the business, which he now runs with his son, Clovis, and daughter Vitalie.

As the company’s marketing and artistic director, Vitalie represents the brand in France and abroad at notable events such as Paris’ Le Salon de la Revue du Vin de France, an annual gathering of the world’s greatest winemakers, and the Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles – where a Champagne Taittinger toast has opened the ceremony for the past 16 years.

Despite its profile, Pierre Emmanuel strives to keep Taittinger affordable and welcoming. “It’s not for billionaires,” he says. “You should drink it because you like it, with a delicious meal, and with people you like.” The same could be said for enjoying Reims.

More and more people from Paris and other places are coming to live and work in Reims, opening restaurants and little shops,” says Vitalie, 37. “The city is alive and fresh.” Whether you’re passing through for a day or drinking more deeply of Champagne’s capital, raise a flute to her favorite finds in the city.

Crowning Glory – Notre-Dame de Reims and Palais du Tau

Notre-Dame de Reims

Notre-Dame de Reims

The thirteenth-century Gothic cathedral is the hallowed spot where 29 French kings were crowned, including King Charles VII (accompanied by Joan of Arc in 1429) and the country’s last Bourbon monarch, Charles X, in 1825.

“It was very important to my grandfather for Reims to have a future linked to Paris,” Vitalie says. “As the mayor he celebrated the 1962 German-French reconciliation in the cathedral with Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle.” He was also among those who recruited Marc Chagall – a frequent visitor to Reims – to create the axial chapel’s stained-glass windows. Place du Cardinal Luçon.

POP! STAR – Champagne Taittinger

Champagne Taittinger

Myriad Champagne houses imbue Reims visits with an effervescent Zen, but perhaps none more so than Champagne Taittinger, built on the ruins of the thirteenth-century Saint-Nicaise Abbey. It’s the last of the Grandes Marques Champagne houses owned and run by members of the founding family.

Stop in and tour the crayères, chalk caves filled with aging bottles of prized cuvées – which use a higher proportion of chardonnay grapes than other Champagnes for a lighter, easy-drinking feel – and scan the walls for carvings made by sheltering Allied soldiers and civilians. The tasting room is open from mid-March through late November. 9 place Saint Nicaise;

PINK PICK – Rose Biscuits of Reims

As well known in Reims as the cathedral at which they were first presented during Louis XVI’s coronation in 1775, Maison Fossier’s biscuits roses (pink biscuits), ladyfinger-like cookies typically dunked in coffee, tea, and, yes, Champagne, make a sweet souvenir.

“They have a long, beautiful history in Reims,” Vitalie says. “I’ve seen those biscuits in my kitchen since I was a child.” Pick up a tin at the shop near the cathedral (25 cours JeanBaptiste Langlet) or watch them made fresh at the factory (20 rue Maurice Prévoteau).

Style Stock-Up – Head-Turning Taste

At Les Fées de Style, French- and European-designed home decor items and accessories such as place mats, pillows, teacups, and candleholders dress up any address. “It’s a nice shop with little things to make your home sweet,” says Vitalie. “My daughter loves to bring me there!” 81 rue Chanzy; lesfees

For fashion-savvy Rémoise there’s no rival to Intemporel (Galerie Condorcet), an Ali Baba-esque cave of high-end clothing, shoes, and accessories, managed by Agnes Peucheret since 1978. “She knows by heart the history of fashion and style, and has many masterpieces, sometimes at half price,” says Vitalie. Around the corner is the more casual Tandem (19 rue Condorcet), with clothing Vitalie describes as more youthful and hippiechic oriented.

Santé! –  Where to Eat and Drink Well

Inside Café du Palais - Reims

Inside Café du Palais – Reims

“You can feel the family spirit at Café du Palais,” says Vitalie. The Vogts love art and have run the café for four generations, and their collection of drawings and paintings and the stained-glass ceiling tell their family story through the artists who have met – and still meet –  at their historic café. 14 place Myron Herrick;

Le Parc at Les Crayères has served as the gastronomic institution in Reims for more than two decades. “Young chef Philippe Mille’s delicious dishes fall between tradition and modernity,” Vitalie says. “Plus, they serve fabulous wines, thanks to their smart sommelier, Philippe Jamesse.” 64 boulevard Henry Vasnier.

A newcomer in town, Racine is the French/Japanese-fusion gem of Kazuyuki Tanaka, formerly the sous chef at Le Parc. “It has only ten tables, and his menu changes all the time,” says Vitalie. “The dishes are like art.” 8 rue Colbert;

Located in the city’s historic center, Le Wine Bar (16 place du Forum; is Vitalie’s “perfect place for an after-work drink.” For a sophisticated night out with friends, she heads to La Loge (35 rue Buirette;, which offers a wide variety of Champagnes by the bottle.

Uncorking Reims – Life the Life of Champagne Dreams

STAY – An elegant nod to nineteenth-century manor houses, the 20-room Château les Crayères brims with fine fabrics, antiques, and oeuvres d’art and is home to chef Philippe Mille’s gleaming twoMichelin-starred restaurant, Le Parc. For more casual but no less impressive dining, try its modern brasserie, which faces the garden and pours a wide selection of local bubblies. Doubles from $420, including breakfast daily and a cellar tour and tasting at Champagne Pommery.

GO – Explore Paris, Provence, the Côte d’Azur, and more on Travcoa’s 12-day tour of France. The trip includes two days in Reims, with a tasting at Champagne Pommery, a private cocktail reception and Champagnepaired dinner at Ruinart, and accommodations at Château les Crayères. Departure: September 9, 2017; from $15,990.

European Connection’s privately chauffeured day trips to Reims from Paris visit sites such as the 800-year-old cathedral and the Basilica of Saint Remi before a cellar tour and tasting at Taittinger. Travelers then head to Épernay for a tasting at Moët & Chandon and follow the Route du Champagne past vineyards for a sampling at the only house to use 100 percent grand cru grapes, Mailly. Departures: Any day through 2017; from $1,215 for two people.

Artisans of Lei sure’s customizable eight-day journey through France can kick off with an epicurean tour in Paris before setting out to discover rural Burgundy and Champagne with a private driver and guide in each location. A walking tour of Reims highlights its art deco and UNESCO jewels, while a second day is filled with a tasting tour of cellars lining the Route du Champagne. Departures: Any day through 2017; from $13,950.