Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Between Epernay, Reims and Troyes (towards the south east of Champagne-Ardenne) there are always competition as to who really is the capitale de champagne.  The first champagne house in Epernay was founded in 1730, one year after the first one in Reims, being Ruinart.  Troyes' town centre has the shape of a champagne cork.  But I guess with Epernay advertising with a huge cork and capsule on one of their traffic circles that they are the capitale de champagne, and in addition, has an avenue de champagne where the mansions of big champagne brands are lined up, many tourists believe that Epernay is the true capital of champagne.  Even though you will find the big brands having houses in Reims too.
Epernay was the starting point of the Tour de France on 8 July 2010, after the previous day finished in Reims.  And they will once again be the starting point during next year's Tour, on 6 July (after my experience at the finishing line in Reims during last year's Tour, you won't find me at the starting point, maybe a bit further down the road...).
We like to take our visitors on a drive down avenue de champagne and if there is enough time, to show them the big marketing bla-bla of Moët & Chandon (that will give you a good understanding where a big part of the money that you pay for a bottle is going to) or visit one of the champagne houses.  One champagne house we still want to visit is Castellane (we were running into their reception with Nico, hoping to be on time for an English tour, but as it was only in French, we had to take him to Mercier).  They have a 63 m high tower, La Tour de Castellane, from where you can have a view over the region if you are fit enough for the 237 steps.  The tower was designed by the same architect who has designed Gare de Lyon in Paris (a big train station for those of you who do not know). The photo below is once again thanks to Anita'a ability to take photo's while I'm driving!

Moët & Chandon who is also the owner of the Dom Perignon brand has a statue of him on their premises, a favourite spot for a photo! (as we have photos with many models by now, I'll show you photo's without any models!)
They have numerous buildings and on both sides of the road
The bla-bla shop
Below: a 1969 Dom Perignon, I had to photograph the price of the bottle.  My mom insisted nobody in SA will believe us that the bottle costs 1830€!
One of their buildings on the other side of the road, le trianon.  As you can see, the garden changes colour from year to year.
And another building of them
The chandelier at the entrance of their marketing shop - champagne glasses...
And some mansions in the avenue de champagne

The photo's of the underground visits in the caves I'll share when I explain a bit more about champagne.  But for now, I hope I have given you a good overview of our region and I can start with a new region during next week (with visitors arriving on Friday I still have a lot to do, so won't be able to blog again before next week!)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


As promised, the blog on the village with the name that our (non-French) visitors find so difficult to pronounce.
What Verzenay and Verzy are for this side of the Montagne, Hautvillers is for the other side of the Montagne, sought after tourist attractions.  In France it is difficult to find a place that is open on a Sunday, but with many visitors arriving during weekends Hautvillers is one village where you'll find champagne houses open on a Sunday morning (but then don't go on a Monday, you'll find closed doors).
Haut means high, and that is exactly what Hautvillers is - a village high up, just below the forest.  Just outside the village you'll find a lookout point where you can admire the valley below, with the Marne river traversing through it.
The village is also known for its church, where you'll find the grave of the 'father of champagne', the famous Dom Perignon, as well as that of another champagne monk, Ruinart (which is also a well known champagne brand today).  The church has a long history, it was founded in 650, destroyed by the Normands in 882, restored by the English and then they've burnt it down in 1449.  Reconstructed again, destroyed by the Huguenots in 1564.  Then the infamous Catherine de Medici donated a large sum of money to restore the church one more time.  Although the official birth date of champagne dates back to 1668, Dom Perignon arrived in Hautvillers in 1658.
It is a village one should explore by foot (not that the time always allows us when having visitors, so with Colette, Jo-lene and Paul it unfortunately had to be a drive through the village).  The many wrought iron signs are a big photographic attraction.  The use thereof originated in the middle ages to enable the illiterate to know what activity takes place inside (it was used purely for commercial purposes). However, in the last century, people started to use it to show their type of work/their interest/their history.
Parisian-born JL was very excited when he saw the one below, as it is an emblem of Paris
Like in Verzenay, you sometimes get a surprise when a door is left open.  From the street you'll often think it is the outside of the house, but when you get a peep, you realise there's a little courtyard in front of the house:
Hautvillers' mairie:
As most bottles today are turned mechanically (yes, I'll still do a posting on the champagne making process), many champagne houses use the old wooden bords in which they've turned the bottles by hand nowadays for decoration, putting flower pots in it.
One of our favourite champagne houses is situated in Hautvillers:
Above, three signs with the names of the only grape varieties allowed in the making of champagne - Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay
Below, they have a pretty garden behind the house offering a spectacular view. 
Above: their tasting room, below: their sign
Below, the view in early spring

Monday, October 24, 2011

Unwinding after the rugby world cup final

Yes, it was a week of mixed feelings.  Sorry that SA will not play against France, hoping that France will at least not get a big hiding from NZ, getting angry for the arrogant NZ press.  Then we bought 2 kiwis from NZ at Saturday's morning market in Reims - to eat a kiwi before the match!  Nina spent Sa night with us, so she was forced to watch the match with us.  And decided it is the first and the last match she's watching with us, we're crazy.  But she was obliged to eat half a kiwi with us (which we only remembered of with less than 10 min of the match to go, so to late to ensure a victory, I fear!).  When I said at the end it is a good thing that we forgot to put champagne in the fridge, JL admitted he did remember.  So needless to say, the bottle is still in the fridge, as we really didn't feel like champagne :(
One thing we both have realised with yesterday's match though, is that we never want a rugby world cup knock out match between France & SA!  Only a friendly match, please.
So after dropping Nina in Reims and having lunch, we've decided to go for a long walk again.  After a cold week, with frost and thick fog in the mornings, we had a beautiful sunshine day without a cold wind.  For a change of scenery we took the car to the village on the other side of Verzy, Villers-Marmery.  Even though on this side of the Montagne, which is mainly Pinot Noir area, Villers-Marmery is the exception by being mainly Chardonnay area. 

Just above the village one can park the car where the vineyards meet the forest from where you can decide whether you want to walk through vineyards and/or the forest. 

We decided to walk a circle route (self invented) of about 2 hours through the forest.
The road leads to the main road linking the villages whereafter we've walked uphill through the vineyards to continue through the forest. While I was taking the photo below, JL was exploring which footpath we should take, as the way forked.

And it wasn't long or we've realised we have chosen a path of some wild animals.  The soil in this area is chalky, but here we've found clay soil.  And an overhanging rock forming a cave, with the date 1902 carved into it.
The road was very muddy in some places and with more forks in the road, we weren't always sure of which way to choose, but JL was confident he'll manage to get us back to the car.  I was just thinking I do not want to sleep in the forest, as the nights are already quite cold.
I was quite relieved when we've exit the small footpath and found ourselves on a bigger road in the forest that we know
The bigger roads are sign posted, not that we need it!
We were amazed that our adventurous road led us to a road less than 1 km from where the crowds are gathering in the Faux.  And happy that we could have an escape away from the crowds.
Although, it didn't took long before we started seeing the first signs of civilisation...
Fortunately we had to turn right towards Villers-Marmery, only us on the route!
On the way back to Verzenay we took a small road through the vineyards so that I could took more photos.  Unfortunately the sun was not in the right position and there was already some fog in the air. Can you spot the phare
At home, we had our fig harvest of the day before, waiting to be turned into jam (to be eaten with foie gras).  We had to go shopping on the Saturday afternoon (an even bigger nightmare than in SA!) to buy glass pots and a casserole to cook the jam in!