Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Time for Coffee and a Cathedral

Having been done in by delicacies and now bankrupt, we decided not to have breakfast at L’Assiette Champenoise, but rather, to make our way to downtown Reims, figuring that we had time for coffee and the cathedral before it was time to head for Germany.

Following our preference for family run establishments, we took our coffee on the Place Myron-Herrick, across from the law courts and near the cathedral, at the fab and famous Café du Palais, which has been run by various members of the same family since 1930. With a spectacular art deco stained glass ceiling and crammed full of objects d’art both fanciful and serious, this bar/café/ brasserie is big fun. Frequented by locals and tourists alike, and with a young staff eager to please, this is one of the best cafes I’ve been to in a long, long time, chock full of experiences. When we asked for a croissant and none was available, someone was sent to the bakery next door to fetch one. When we struck up a conversation with an English couple en route to the Netherlands, they invited us to visit them in the South of France. When Jeff translated the election headlines from the communist newspaper, two older ladies sitting near us “tut-tutted” and shook their heads in displeasure. Quelle surprise - this was an authentic café of the old school. We were charmed. Rumour has it the food’s good too.

Afterwards we wandered over to the Notre-Dame de Reims Cathedral begun in 1211 and site of 25 coronations of Kings of France. If Café du Palais is a quintessential café, the cathedral is a stunning example of high gothic with awe inspiring scale, spectacular statuary, superb windows (including lovely ones by Chagall) and a heroic statue of Joan of Arc who had been present in the cathedral for the coronation of a reluctant Charles VII. We spent about 45 minutes wandering around, but you could easily spend longer and even though this is a World Heritage site (there are four monuments in Reims listed by UNESCO), we had the place virtually to ourselves.

As we got back into our car (by the way, driving and parking in Reims is dead easy), I thought that when one adds up all the attractions within walking distance of central Reims: the champagne houses such as Piper Heidsick, and Taittinger, the churches and museums and the Café du Palais, we really needed to consider coming back for a longer visit.

With the commencement of train service on the TGV Est in June, visitors in Paris can reach Reims in 45 minutes, down from 1 1/2 hours and I have seen promotional fares through August for as low as €11 each way which would make Reims a great day trip from the City of Light. In any event, to go for only a coffee and a cathedral is way too short. We’ll be back.

Café du Palais
14, Place Myron-Herrick
51100 Reims
Tel: 03 26 47 5254
Fax: 03 26 47 93 77

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