Basilique St-Remi © Thomon
A visitor's first impression of Reims (pronounced Rhance) is of a sprawling industrial town peppered with concrete apartment blocks, the result of World War I bombs and later disastrous town planning. However, Reims is an ancient Roman city and the birthplace of the French nation - it contains one of the most impressive Gothic cathedrals in France, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims, where dynasties of French monarchs were crowned starting with Clovis, first king of the Franks. The neighbouring Basilique St-Rémi is even older and, half Gothic, half Romanesque in style, includes the old royal abbey which is now a museum documenting the history of the town.
Most visitors come to Reims not so much for history but for the hedonistic pleasure of visiting the cellars of its great champagne producers. This is the home of the world's best bubbly. The best of the best is to be sampled at the Maison de Pommery, which has more than 10 miles (16km) of tunnels extending 100ft (30m) down into the chalk below its Gothic superstructure. Move on to Mumm, which contains 25 million bottles of slowly fermenting champagne in its vaults, and then Taittinger and Veuve Clicquot. All offer a guided tour of the cellars and champagne making process, followed by a tasting.