Champagne

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A slow road through France.

Am writing this tonight sitting in a very full Aire in Beaune, in the Burgandy region of France studying the map and realising we havn’t gone very far in the last 4 days. In fact 4 days travel we have only managed 300 miles and most of that was on Saturday through to Talon, since then we have gained an impressive 60 miles in 3 days. This could have something to do with the zero alcohol content and driving in France but more likely is the fact really enjoying this area.

So leaving Calais late morning Saturday made our way down the D 1044 to Laon, this area of France is pure agriculture with thousands and thousands of hectares of grain crops, and with Harvest full underway we are quite often stuck behind tractors. The waving golden grain paddocks are broken up by maize and an equally huge area of beet crops. With the amount of hay and straw baled and the huge area of beet crops where are all the animals??

The town of Laon was easy to spot with a very impressive Cathedral towering above the rolling country of the Picardy plain. The old city known as the holy district of Laon is another completely walled city built on top of the only decent hill for miles.

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Built during the 5th century the fortified town held by the Romans checked many invasions . In later times the town also kept Napoleon out .

Later History, it became a German stronghold early in 1914 who held it until the Allied offensive in 1918.

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Each of these little ancient towns has something unique and with Laon it is its mainstreet leading to the cathedral, it is decorated with colorful umbrellas.

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Our park here for the night was in a quiet little spot on the outside of the town ramparts.

Park4night  GPS: 49.561298  3.60986. A simple gravel park with shade, very quiet, no services 5 min bike ride to town centre

Leaving Laon we had an easy drive to Reims on the D 944 once again an easy park found with the help of Park4night app GPS: 49.249901  4.02165. A small Aire almost central city. You get the code for the gate from the Information centre ( or somebody leaving), it is quite tight and did have a non camper parked in it which took up space when we stayed. A good safe place but a little noisy from the motorway.

Reims is a lovely city with tourism based on the nearby Champagne Region, with several of the Major names having there “Champagne Houses” in the outskirts, we spent a bit of time wandering around but really hit home here the damage done to these cities during the wars and the amazing job they did to rebuild these impressive buildings. The Reims Cathedral is actually still being repaired and exterior damage is still visible.

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Before and after photos of restoration
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Damage still evident, restoration ongoing

 

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Statue of Joan Of Arc, couldn’t quite work the story out on this.

However when in Champagne country a visit to the town of Epernay is a must. It is only a short drive from Reims through some amazing vineyards and villages.

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Once again easy parking; Park4night GPS;  Special area set aside for campers, (no services). Only 5 minutes bike from Tourism Office and Avenue de Champagne.

Had done a bit of reading on which champagne house to visit and so many mixed reviews.

This town revolves around the bubbly stuff and has in excess of 30 individual Champagne houses. As neither Susie or I are real connoisseurs of fine wines or bubbles this is a real treat so we start with a tour of the biggest, “Moet & Chandon”. (25euro/person for a cellar tour and 1 glass of bubbles).

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The tour was amazing, an English speaking walking tour through the a small part of the cellars, really good explanation of the family history behind the company, and the vineyards, and the making process.

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Key Facts:

  • The smaller the bubbles the better the taste. Tick Agree
  • Moet & Chandon is the biggest producer of Champagne in the world, 1300ha of vinyards out of the total 2000ha grown in the area.
  • 40 km of underground limestone cellers
  • Traditional Champagne is actually a mix of years of harvests, whereas vintages are made from single years of outstanding properties, (not that many vintages).
  • Really strict controls and regulations around the production and marketing of champagne
  • All hand picked, 3 varieties of grape used two of which are red skin /white juice.
  • Rose Champagne, a harder press used so some of the skin colour comes through.
  • It’s a long process 6 years for Traditional

Now just to make sure we had quality control sorted we did a 2nd tour at the House Of Mercier.

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This was a very different tour. Mr Mercier had a desire to see champagne affordable to everybody and was a real entrepreneur. He transported a 20000 bottle barrel to Paris for the world exposition by Bullock cart, he offered visitors a trip in a hot air balloon with champagne tastings. And he installed a train system in his cellars for ease of working environment.

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The tour here was by glass walled lift to the cellers ( with an amazing video showing on the walls of the cave as we descended) and then a train through the cellars with an audioguide. In my “experienced” opinion the Moet & Chardon tasted better, (smaller bubbles on the palette).  Hahahaha.

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2 glasses of bubbles on a hot day, is a guaranteed recipe for a nana nap, so a quiet couple of hours back at Miss Stella buried in a book.

Late afternoon we decided to make tracks to find somewhere a bit more rural to spend the night.

Just out of Troyes is a lake “ Lac d Orient” with a good Aire to park up on. Park4night, GPS: 48.2555  4.34108. Not quite as lakeside as we expected, but very pleasant anyway. Good services, paid. Heaps of room, lucky as there were about 30 motorhomes here tonight.

This is a very popular summer lake and was quite busy with school parties.

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