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Published: October 23rd 2013
We left Lago Maggiore and drove towards the French Alps. Steve worked a ski season, a few years ago, in La Plagne so we decided to put this on our map, especially as we had discovered an aire in La Plagne Villages! Stopping first at a campsite called Camping Le Courounba near Les Vigneaux, in the French Hautes-Alps, a quiet place with direct walking and cycling routes from the site, we spent a day walking in the mountains. The next day we set off for La Plagne, following the D902 towards Saint-Michel-de-Mauriene, we noticed flags and names drawn on the tarmac as we climbed higher up the mountain road, we were following the Tour de France route! The drive was a little terrifying in parts but when we stopped at the top the views were breath taking, including watching the little furry Marmots running up the mountain side to hide behind stones (their little chubby bums wobble as they run!).
After a peaceful night on the Aire in La Plagne we continued on towards Epernay, taking our time and stopping for a few more overnights, near Lyon, then Nuits-St-Georges and finally Troyes. Our friends: Jenny and Pete, were meeting us
in Epernay and staying for a few days, having crossed from Dover and driven straight down. We welcomed them on Monday afternoon with our, now traditional, Aperol spritz and settled down to plan our few days in the Champagne region.
Our campsite was just outside the town so the following day we walked in to Epernay to find ourselves some fizz. The town is pretty much dedicated to Champagne, some of the biggest houses are situated along the Avenue de Champagne: Moet and Chandon, Heidsieck, Mercier (outside the Moet and Chandon building is a statue of Dom Perignon, a monk who allegedly discovered the second fermentation process that makes the wine bubble) but we walked the length of the avenue to a lesser known, but just as posh looking, house called Comtesse Lafond. The house had a twin turreted roof, one on each of the front corners and was set behind a high stone wall and gates, in beautiful grounds, given our jeans, fleece and trainers combos, we wondered if they’d let us in? The house was offering two tastings, each of three champagnes: the ‘summer’ tasting and the ‘vintage’ tasting, to ensure we didn’t miss out on any
of them Steve and I went for the vintage and Jenny and Pete chose the summer. This meant that we could all taste six kinds! Included was a rose, blanc de blanc, vintage, brut, extra brut and a sweeter variety, they were all gorgeous but unfortunately we could only afford to buy one to take home with us (the vintage of course!).
We caught the train in to Reims the following day, the weather was turning decidedly autumnal: rain, but we didn’t let it put us off. We walked towards the enormous gothic cathedral: Notre-Dame de Reims, the building is a World Heritage site, it has two towers and 2303 statues adorning the outside, aside from the huge round stained glass window at the front the cathedral is not particularly pretty to look at but it’s an important player in French history as it was the place of royal coronations for 1000 years! It fell in to the hands of the English during the Hundred Years War but was liberated in 1429 by Joan of Arc, allowing Charles II to become King. The cathedral was damaged severely by German shellfire during the First World War and images of the
building in ruins were used as propaganda by the French. Restoration began after the war and thanks to financial donations by the Rockefeller family it was reopened in 1938.
We manfully wandered the city, admiring the beautiful Town Hall building, another structure burnt down in the Great War but rebuilt in the 1920’s, and behind this an art nouveau building originally for Mumm champagne, until the drizzle got the best of us and we found a nice bar specialising in French and Belgian beers (a pub to us Brits) to dry off in.
The next day, after checking half a dozen different weather forecasts and picking the one that predicted no rain, we piled in to Jenny’s car for a drive along one of the Champagne routes. On our way to Epernay the previous weekend, Steve and I had driven along the D10 through Oger, Avize, Cramant and Cuis, the scenery was beautiful so we suggested a repeat journey and a picnic. Driving the route is such a pleasure, there is almost no traffic and stretching for miles either side of the road are rows and rows of well behaved vines, little stones sunk in to the ground
at the vine trunks to display which grower they belong to. The gentle rolling hills are home to picturesque villages who are dedicated to growing grapes and making the wine. The rain held off long enough for us to enjoy the drive and our lunch and get some all important photos of each of us posing next to the enormous Champagne bottle by the side of the road in Cramant.
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