Thursday, May 7, 2009

viva la France

Okay….back to France…Saturday morning we were greeted by our mini bus driver and Laurent who gave us a ‘to go’ bag of warm croissants (naturally) for the ride and then we were off to tour some of the champagne houses in the region. Let me just tell you that when you see the cellars of even one house you realize pretty quickly that a whole lot of champagne is consumed around the world. We visited just three houses and the number of bottles is staggering.

Our first stop was Moet and Chandon which is also home to Dom Perignon. Perignon was a Benedictine monk who was cellar master of the Abbey at Hautvillers near Epernay, a role in which he apparently excelled. The abbey doubled its vineyard holdings under his management and he is buried in a section of the Abbey normally reserved for abbots.

The tour began with a short film and then we headed into the wine cellars with our guide who explained the process as we walked. When they talk about wine cellars here they are talking about caves. There are literally miles of caves and thousands of bottles tucked into every nook and cranny.

The champagne houses have precise procedures they follow to ensure quality…bottles are hand turned or ‘riddled’ by someone whose job title is actually ‘The Riddler’. There may have been a Batman joke or two at this point in our tour. And we’re sure the riddler must have some serious carpal tunnel.

After leaving Moet we went on to a small house known as LeBrun where we sat in what felt like a family room and tasted three varieties of their champagne before driving into Reims for lunch. The cathedral in Reims is a World Heritage Site with stained glass windows designed by Chagall.

We had lunch and a stroll around town before heading to the final champagne house of the tour, Tattinger, which we all pronounced as spelled but were told it should actually be pronounced ‘tatt-en-zhay’. The cellars here are positively amazing. The oldest parts of the chalk caves were first excavated by Gothic slaves under Roman occupation in the fourth century. A few centuries later the caves were enlarged by the Abbey monks who used them to store the champagne they traded. The Abbey was destroyed during the French revolution but portions remain, including a bit of the chapel and some interesting staircases. The monks actually carved stairs into the ceiling so when they came down at night (oh yeah, no electricity) they could put their hands up and feel the steps to know where to put their feet. Those monks were pretty industrious and pretty clever too!

As an aside, whenever I think of monks (which isn't actually all that often) I remember a postcard Daughter2 sent to her friend back in the states from a trip to France we took shortly after arriving in the was blustery and after visiting an abbey her postcard said this. ''s really cold here. We saw monks. Love, M.' She's too cute. I miss my girls. Sigh.

Where was I? Oh yes, back to now...after Tattinger we returned to the inn because it had been at least four hours since we'd had any bread and cheese. We really enjoyed getting to know our hotelier Laurent. He had quite a sense of humor and told some great stories. I especially loved it when he told us about the 'crazy' boulanger (baker) in town and added. 'I like crazy could we laugh if there wasn't any crazy.' And he said it in his charming French accent all while wearing a tres fashionable scarf.

On Sunday we drove slightly under an hour out into the beautiful French countryside to visit just your typical French chateau…Vaux Le Vicomte.

The chateau is located in Maincy and was built from 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet who was court financier to Louis XIVth. Fouquet only lived in this magnificent home for three weeks before he was arrested. Seems King Louie didn’t appreciate an underling having a grander home than the king and found a reason to have him imprisoned for the remainder of his life. Not saying he was a choir boy but many of the charges were made up and the punishment was more for daring to build a home better than the king’s. In fact, Louie took the architect, landscaper, and painter who worked together on Vaux Le Vicomte and moved them over to Paris to create his home in Versailles.

Vaux Le Vicomte’s biggest claim to fame though has to be its gardens. The landscape artist trained as an architect and this is apparent in the terraces, fountains and lakes around the chateau. You can rent a golf cart type vehicle to tour the 60+acre property but we just took a nice long walk which was a lovely way to end our weekend in France.

Sunday we were back on the chunnel train for the ride home to England. Hubs drove so I could snooze and pretend we weren’t approximately 328 feet under the English Channel.

And the moving company is coming today to survey our goods and see if they will all fit in our allotted sea and air shipment and I’m pretty sure it will stress me out and I may just decide to think about the French countryside instead.


  1. Joyce,

    What a great tour of the champagne houses. The picture of the gardens is amazing, definitely a place I'd like to see.

    Having the moving company come and assess your goods for shipment has to be stressful. What is your timeline for moving back? I'll be thinking of you today and praying for you as well.


  2. Sounds like a great trip through the champagne houses. Here, many of the champagne makers use "automated riddling" -- but I don't think it is the same!

  3. Champagne is my absolute favorite, whenever we finish a toast at a function, many of the others at the table will hand me their glasses to finish. Mmmmm...

    Just FYI, I was married by a Monk. There is some French ancestry but alas...he is as American as I am. (My cousin)

    It looks like you have some great memories! I will be praying for your move, may God make your way smooth Joyce.

  4. You really had me at warm croissants =O) What a beautiful spot you are in the world right now...the pictures are breath taking! Laughing at your daughters card about the cute.

    ~ enjoy

  5. Please don't stress out. Definitely dream of the French countryside. There is so much of France left for me to see. That chateau is beautiful.

  6. This post is so interesting.
    I love the picture of the garden. That is amazing!
    What great experiences you have had while in the UK.
    Cute picture of you and your husband.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Love from Oklahoma!!