Rail Europe: Riding the Rails in France and the U.K.

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Next, it’s off for a little wine and cheese tasting at the O Chateau, which is actually a kind of wine education program and stand up comedy act hosted by a noted wine expert with a sense of humor that’s as rich as his wine knowledge. The program matches the right French wines with various French cheeses and teaches the participants the ins and outs of selecting a good French wine. Recommend it to your clients because they’ll not only learn a lot about French wines, they’ll have a great time doing it.

The next morning, we get an early start and head off to the train station for a 1-hour, 10-minute trip to Reims and France’s Champagne region aboard the TGV train, a high-speed dream of a ride that will make you happy the U.S. is serious about developing high-speed rail in this country. The ride is smooth, the first class seating is extremely comfortable, the scenery of the French countryside is absolutely beautiful and you arrive right in the middle of the city of Reims. Rail travel truly is the only way to go in Europe.

Upon arrival, we’re met at the station by our guide who leads us off on a walking tour of this fabled city, home to the famous Reims Cathedral where centuries of French kings were crowned, thus the name, “The Coronation City,” and, because of its role as the major city in the Champagne region, it’s also known as the “Champagne City.” Its history actually goes back to the late Roman period and its famous cathedral—Notre Dame Cathedral is its actual name—was built in honor of Bishop Remi who baptized the Gaul leader Clovis on Christmas Day in 498. Saint Remi Basilica, located near the cathedral and one of the most important Romanesque churches and pilgrimage destinations in Northern France, was consecrated in 1049 and built to house the tomb of Saint Remi.

But for all of its history, the city with its proximity to the Ardennes—site of one of the most famous battles of WWI—took a pounding in both wars, particularly in WWI when the Germans shelled it, nearly destroying the famous cathedral. France spent nearly 40 years repairing the massive church, and removing all of its famous stained glass windows at the beginning of WWII, hiding them away to ensure their safety.

Strolling through this beautiful town, it’s easy to see the remnants of what once was in between the charming art deco facades of the present-day city. There are restaurants galore lining the main streets, charming little chocolate and pastry shops—all made to complement the various types of Champagne offered in sidewalk cafes, most of them priced only a little higher than soft drinks and juices. The city center boasts no less than four World Heritage sites and it’s a magnet for tourists from all over Europe and the world.

Of course, because this is the Champagne region and the home of all of France’s famous Champagne houses—including the home of Dom Perignon, a 17th century Benedictine Monk at the Abbey of Hautville near Riems and the alleged inventor of the process that allows wineries to produces Champagne—a visit to a winery that makes Champagne is a must. We visited a small house called Champagne Jacquesson that was originally founded in 1798.

Tell clients visiting in the region to make sure they take the time to enjoy one of the tours offered by the major houses. It’s a fascinating process to see and if they enjoy Champagne, there’s always a tasting at the end.

The next day, it’s time to head off to Gare du Nord Station for the trip to London aboard the Eurostar, an adventure that every traveler to Paris and London should never miss. It’s an incredible journey when you think about it—just a 2-hour, 15-minute jaunt between the city centers of the two most exciting cities in Europe, a modern marvel that’s made air travel between the two capitals a historic memory. In first class—just a $200 roundtrip fare (think taxi fares from Paris to CDG and from Heathrow to London, long security lines and late flights)—you get entree to lounges in both stations, comfortable seating and in this case, a delicious lunch with a hearty wine.