On my visit to Reims last month, the first thing I saw as I stepped out of the station were the armed soldiers. A jolting reminder that throughout the controversy surrounding the presidential elections of the past few months France remains under a state of emergency because of the terrorist threat.
Rising imperious on the skyline behind the soldiers is the Gothic splendour of Reims gargantuan Cathedral. For more than a millennium some 34 sovereigns - among them two dozen kings - began their reigns here.
But a revolution put paid to that. Today though this ancient city is gearing up to celebrate its past. The city is holding its annual parade to honour Joan of Arc. A heroine for the French for her role during the Hundred Years' War and seen by many as the woman who shaped this nation.
As they get ready in the cafes nearby the televisions beam out the crowning of a new head of state as France inaugurates its new President at the Elysee Palace.
At 39 years old Emmanuel Macron is the youngest head of state since Napoleon. The former investment banker is promising a great renaissance for France.
It's a year since the former economy minister set up his own political party En Marche in a bold effort to seize the centre ground. Some on the left deride him as a "copy-and-paste Tony Blair". Yet in the first round of the parliamentary elections at the weekend, the results put his party on the path to a landslide.
As the crowds gather to watch the costumes, horses and music at the Joan of Arc procession the hopes and fears of modern day France are never far away.
More than 10 million people voted for the Front National's Marine le Pen in the final round of the Presidential election. Her talk of workers left being behind in a forgotten France as victims of globalisation struck a chord with many.
Ottoman and Paul Vincent are students and sum up the thoughts of many.
"I want to believe in Macron. I'm very happy he won. Clearly for me if he doesn't succeed it will be the beginning of extremism in France," Ottoman said.
But his friend Paul Vincent has his doubts.
"For me, I'm not convinced Macron is really different. He's a person from the establishment - from the banking system for the political system. We'll have to wait to see if he's really different. I have a small hope he's going to be a new and modern President. We have to find a new way to determine our culture and integrate everyone in France because it's a real problem," he said.
Out in nearby champagne country the grapes are starting to grow in the vast vineyards which sweep across this timeless landscape.
But with a crucial second round of the parliamentary elections this weekend, just a few weeks after the President was sworn-in, Macron desperately needs his En Marche party to grow quickly and win if his project to change France is to succeed.
Aina Kuric - is co-ordinating the En Marche candidates here. Across the country many of those standing have no political experience and have been dismissed by some as novices.
But Aina is adamant they can win and change things. "Yes we can and that's why it will work. Finally we don't want to have the same policies we've had for decades and decades. Give us a chance to prove what we can do. President Macron defends Europe and for the champagne region because of our exports that's very important."
"We have to be honest. If En Marche fails during this next five years the Front National will come back and try. But we cannot fail. I feel very confident," she said.
In a bar back in Reims Anthony Pantuso takes a very different view as he beats me at table football. He's a Front National Supporter and is dismissive of Macron.
"Yes he can build a new France for the people of the cities who are the winners of globalisation but not for the little people, for workers in industries who are victims of globalisation," he said.
Anthony believes immigration will remain unaddressed "France can disappear for me. In 10 or 20 years it might not change but in 200 years I don't know if the French will become the minority in their country. I hope the French people will wake up."
In the vineyards of champagne country they tell me you need three things to make good champagne - a favourable climate, getting the right mix, and above all patience. President Macron knows building a new France will require much the same but will he be gifted with all three?
- On Assignment is on tonight, Wednesday 14th June, at 10:55pm