Gallery 20: Champagne, France

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This was the occasion of my 50th birthday. (Yes, I know, I don't believe it either!). Tracey had arranged a wonderful surprise, whisking me (and her!) off to the Champagne region of France. I genuinely had no idea where where going until well along the road towards Reims from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport.

I have included pictures from the trip in chronological order below, with one exception: one morning I was required to abseil into a Cave de Champagne. Snaps from that event are included here.

Much of the trip was organised by Damian from Grape Escapes.

Click on an image to enlarge

We stayed in a rather splendid small hotel called Chateau Les Crayeres. This is a title that sounds better in French - the English translation would be "Chalkpits House". (This is in much the same way that Maserati Quattroporte sounds much better in Italian than, say, "Jaguar Four-door"!)

Also a shot of me standing outside the front gate.

Chateau Les Crayeres Trevor outside the Chateau Les Crayeres

Here's a shot of the front entrance. Very grand. Our suite was on the second floor above the doorway and to the right. In fact, the bath was situated just inside the arched window above the entrance.

A shot of Tracey at the rear of the hotel, overlooking the gardens.

Entrance of the Chateau Les Crayeres Tracey ouside the hotel

The suite itself was particularly luxurious. A shot of me relaxing and pretending to read a French newspaper! At least I managed to get it the right way up...

And a nice shot of Tas just about to enjoy the really wonderful breakfast in the room.

Trevor in the room at Chateau Les Crayeres Tracey in the room at Chateau Les Crayeres

A close-up shot of the breakfast table. This was particular nice, but quite light - presumably to leave plenty of room for the meals later in the day.

The bedroom was very comfortable too. Here's a picture of Tracey demonstrating just how nice it was.

Breakfast at Chateau Les Crayeres Tracey in bed at the Chateau Les Crayeres

Of course, I was presented with a birthday cake. Fortunately, they omitted most of the candles, presumably on the grounds that it would be a fire risk otherwise. The cake arrived at the end of the dinner on the evening of my birthday, but I was too full to try it then - but it was delicious for afternoon tea the following day!

It seemed that the whole area was full of strange and wonderful buildings. We were convinced that this one was in fact Cinderella's Town House being renovated!

Trevor with Birthday cake at Chateau Les Crayeres Cinderella's Town House

A major activity during the stay was the exploration of various champagne "caves" (cellars), which was invariably followed by an opportunity to sample a glass or two of the supplier's wares. Wisely, we had elected to be chaufeurred around the region, which was very pleasant (and essential!).

Our first visit was to Epernay, to visit the Moet et Chandon caves.

The Caves at Moet et Chandon Trevor in the Moet et Chandon caves

The House at Moet is famous for having been visited by Napoleon at the height of his power. Apparently, he was an old school friend of the proprietor. The garden at the rear was where Napoleon took his champagne, and was also the site of a meeting of many powerful men after Napoleon's fall from power.

Trevor in the Caves at Moet et Chandon Garden and tree at Moet et Chandon

Later on, we walked around the area. It seems that Moet and Chandon (and many of the other great champagne houses) mark their vines with these stones.

Trevor at a Moet et Chandon vineyard

We also visited the Ruinart Caves. Splendid buildings and grounds!

A statue of Dom Ruinart - compare and contrast with Moet et Chandon's's Dom Perignon!

Ruinart Champage House Statue of Dom Ruinart

Some parts of the Ruinart Caves were dug in the conventional fashion with arched roofs and galleries. Good collection of Champagne bottles being "riddled" (remurage in French) to get all the gunk into the necks of the bottles.

Inside the Ruinart Caves Trevor inside the Ruinart Caves

That's a lot of Champagne - undergoing maturation, and not ready to drink yet. (D*mn!)

Interestingly, some of the oldest parts of the Ruinart Caves where actually much older - dug originally as quarries during Roman times for blocks of chalk to construct buildings.

Trevor with loads of Champagne bottles Trevor in the old quarry

These older Caves are approximately conical in shape, and were dug from the top down, widening as they were dug. Apparently it was the presence of these disused chalk-pits which were the original inspiration of underground storage.

After the tour, sampling the results. Interesting bottle holder!

Trevor in the old caves Trevor sampling the Ruinart results

Finally, from the Ruinart visit, Tracey also enjoying the results of all that work!

Tracey enjoying the Ruinart Champagne

Another unexpected and unusual part of the trip was learning the art of Sabrage. This is a novel technique for opening a bottle of Champagne.

The approach is, first remove the foil top and wire cage. Then, take a large (blunt!) sabre, and slide it along the bottle towards the neck, quite vigorously.

Trevor preparing to sabrage Trevor successful (at the seond attempt)

This doesn't knock the cork out, but instead breaks the glass cleanly (if you do it right!) just below the cork. Apparently, this was Napoleon's preferred technique for opening bottles.

Trevor with sabre and cork Trevor with sabre and cork

Of course Tracey had a go as well. Make sure you try this outside, or somewhere where you don't mind getting a little champagne on the carpet!

Tracey preparing to Sbrage Successful Tracey!

Part of the whole event was being accepted into the Sabrage d'Or.

And we have the certificates to prove it!

Tracey being joined up Trevor's Sabrage certificate
Trevor's Sabrage certificate Tracey's Sabrage certificate Tracey's Sabrage certificate

We also visited the Pommery House, which the Bluffers Guide to Champagne (a book now sadly out of print) describes as "the only Champagne House modelled on a Scottish Manse".

We didn't bother with the tour here - just snapped the big barrel and bought some quarter-bottles of Pop.

Entrance at Pommery Barrel at Pommery

Another shot of the big barrel.

Barrel at Pommery again

On the last day (a Sunday), we just could not face any more visits to Champagne houses (or even glasses of Champagne!). So, we took a walking tour of the town of Reims, and had a light lunch (with beer!) in the town square. Actually, it was quite good!

Trevor at lunch in the Square in Reims Trevor at lunch in Reims

There were also some wonderfully mysterious old gardens, which one could just see by peeking though barred archways.

Old garden in Reims Old garden in Reims

More shots of the old gardens. I was fascinated by these ancient plants and buildings.

Old garden in Reims Old garden in Reims

And finally, a shot of the old Town Hall in Reims. I love the municipal buildings - so overblown and full of themselves. You can just see me standing on the steps.

Reims Town Hall

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