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A truck whizzed by me, the air pushing me ever so slightly closer to the edge of the already quite narrow shoulder. Frantically, I looked behind me, thankful that it now seemed the wave of vehicles had abated. Peddling slightly more desperately than before, I decided that this was the last time I would ever cycle for at least the next three years. Prior to finding myself in Reims, France on what was effectively a highway, on bike, wearing riding boots, I had not cycled in three years.
In order to have found myself on this narrow strip of road, however, I already had to make the poor decision of riding through a ginormous traffic circle, complete with merging lanes. I spent a good 30 minutes hemming and hawing; working up the courage; looking for any possible detour; and calling my friend to see if, indeed, I needed to elbow my way onto what looked like a freeway. The answer was a resounding OUI, and my heart has probably never beat faster.
Once I was able to make the (LEFT) turn off the highway, however, that’s when things got really magical. Rows of vines splashed with oranges, yellows, and reds. The tiniest towns, church bells sounding into the emptiness. The weather was fine, too. Fluffy clouds dotted the blue sky, the breeze was swift and cooling, and the sun welcoming.
We stopped in the first town of Villiers-Allerand, sitting on a bench in the church parking lot for a simple picnic, enjoying the sunshine. There was barely a sign of life in the town, save for the café (appearing to be the one and only), which itself was not what you’d call lively. A short stroll confirmed the non-existence of a boulangerie, so we unlocked our bikes and headed to the next town over — and of course, I stopped for a few pictures
It was in the town of Rilly-la-Montagne that we found a number of champagne houses, where you can do tastings, as well as a bakery (that didn’t open until 4pm). We stopped in to a little place that greeted us with a vintage vespa and car, and plenty of construction. They appeared to be the only house open, save for the tapas and champagne bar down the road. Three glasses (shared) of champagne later, my friend walked out with a bottle, and me, a tongue still prickling from all the bubbles. Collecting our bicycles, we rolled down the road and into what I had actually come to Champagne to see: the vineyards.
Something about vineyards makes me feel “at home.” I suppose its the way they remind me of California and Wine Country. It’s peaceful. Dirt roads stretch endlessly, and at this point (the end of October), the harvest was finished and the grapes left hanging were the excess of an abundant season. My friend plucked a few bunches to take home, rinsing some off to share with me. I’ve never had a wine grape before, but all I can say is that it’s an experience to eat a wine grape in a vineyard in Champagne.
We took a leisurely ride back to Reims, walking our bicycles through the fields, stopping for pictures, grape-picking, and to admire the landscape before us. A beauty almost worth being run over for.
Guide to Visiting Reims, France
Getting Around Reims and the Countryside
Cycling in the Champagne region is very doable, and there are many trail maps available on the tourism website. However, be aware that the paths will not always be flat. The route we took was 90% uphill, and while not super steep (all the time), there was definitely a steady incline.
If you have little-to-no experience cycling in urban areas, I highly recommend renting a car, driving into the country from Reims or Épernay (Reims is where the champagne houses have offices/tastings; Épernay has the vineyards. However, we arrived and began our journey in Reims and had plenty of both.), and biking between the small towns. Otherwise, you will be biking on highways and in cities. As an inexperienced cyclist, I was grateful for my friend who regularly rides in Paris and got us back to town in one piece.
Where to Cycle in Reims
Starting at Villiers-Allerand, you can follow the D26 through many small towns, where you’ll pass by plenty of vines and find tasting houses. The hills can be steep. Taking a detour through the vineyards will get you back to D951 without having to cycle back up.
Towns to Visit Near Reims, France
- Reims (the capital of Champagne)
- Villiers-Allerand (first stop)
- Rilly-la-Montagne (second stop, followed D26)
We did a tasting in Rilly-la-Montagne at Les Bulles Dorée, and they were very kind and knowledgable. You can sample three types of champagne for 15€, and you can share a tasting with a friend.
Where to Stay in Reims
In terms of accommodation in Reims, we stayed at CIS Champagne (Centre International de Séjour), a hostel. It was very simple but clean and pleasant. We took a double room (two beds with a shower) and shared toilets in the hall. It was 70€ for two nights (35€/person).
Where to Rent Bicycles
Many bicycle rental companies close for the Toussaint holiday, but we were able to find some through OuiBike, which was 30€50 for the day. Manu Loca Vélo is 15€, but closed for the holiday. You can arrange to have your bicycle delivered to you and picked up at the same location. Or, you can meet them at the train station of Reims.
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