Here’s my favorite picture from that day:
It was taken in the Cafe du Palais, a restaurant with everything to recommend it. The spirit of the place is generous, the decor zany, the welcome warm – the owner, Jean-Francois Vogt, is the fourth generation of Vogts to welcome guests to the cafe – and the food, which is prepared simply and with heart by M. Vogt’s mama and sister.
The cafe, just across the street from the Palais du Justice (the courthouse), is a city favorite, the place where the lawyers and judges go, of course, but also where the wine people can be found. In fact, it was where I had lunch a few years ago when I was meeting people from Veuve Clicquot, one of the many Champagne houses that calls Reims home.
If you go to the Cafe, you have to wander around the rooms to see all the paintings (there’s even a Marc Chagall) and the stained glass panels that were created by Jacques Simon, who made some of the most famous windows in the cathedral in Reims and whose family still has a glass studio in the city.
You must also have dessert. There’s a display of desserts in the back of the restaurant (under the stained glass canopy) and you could easily be tempted by the tartlettes
but you should hold out for the floating islands made with the famous Biscuits Rose de Reims (I think of them as slightly crunchy, beautifully pink lady fingers).
And don’t miss the mustard – it’s in little pots on the table. It looks like berry jam, the color is so deep and purple, but that’s because it’s made from must, the juice (and some pulp, pits, skins and stems) from freshly pressed wine grapes. I liked the mustard so much that I hunted down a jar and packed it into my suitcase, the one I thought couldn’t hold another cubic inch of anything.
This mustard, made with must from Champagne grapes, is hot, spicy, sweet and surprising, but there are other mustards like this one made in other wine-growing regions as well. If you see a French mustard labeled violette, the odds are good it’s made with grape must.
And if you see anything labeled Clovis, as this mustard is, you’re bound to think of Reims because Clovis was the first of many French kings to be baptized in city. In fact, the 13th century Cathedral in Reims was built on the site where Clovis was baptized (in 496) and it became the cathedral of kings, the place where a long succession of French kings were crowned. It’s also the place to see extraordinary stained glass windows, including a pair by Marc Chagall and this one, created in the 1930s by Jacques Simon and depicting, step-by-step, the process of making Champagne.
Of course, you can’t tell what’s happening from this point-and-shoot picture, but if you go to Reims it’s almost impossible not to find out a lot about (and drink a lot of) Champagne, since the city is home to some of the best Champagne houses in the world, including Krug, Piper-Heidsieck, Pommery, Taittinger and Veuve Clicquot, and many of the houses have terrific tours (often by appointment). This picture is from the tour of Clicquot I took the first time I visited Reims.
If looking at Champagne isn’t inspiration enough to get thee to Reims, how’s this?
It’s the Champagne souffle and rose ice cream from the Royal Champagne, a beautiful hotel and restaurant overlooking the vineyards in Epernay.
I can’t imagine you need any more inspiration – or temptation – but just in case:
Who can resist a city in which the most common sight is Champagne on ice?