I haven’t been short on holidays lately. While in July I was complaining about everyone leaving me in dreary London, now I’ve finally had my fair share of trips. First it was Istanbul and a week ago, I came back from a fast and furious-style roadtrip through France and Italy.
The main reason for our drive was a wedding in Rome, it was the marriage of the Italian’s ex-flatmate and his pretty and fierce fiancée (it’s an Italian woman you don’t want to have a fight with). The secondary reason was to try out the Italian’s new sportscar. He might love it more than he loves me. In our relationship you just have to be accepting of automobiles.
Our first stop was Reims and a Champagne tour of Veuve Clicquot. I hadn’t anticipated that it would be so interesting. First of all, we had a terrific guide, a French homme, who had a great sense of dry humour. The tour was called In the footsteps of Madame Clicquot and it sounded terribly boring. Yet, Mr. French delivered fact upon fact, about Madame’s pygmy height, the Russian’s faiblesse for sweet bubbly, to the real intricacies of how they produce the champagne; how it’s stored and kept. The history of the house is very fascinating and had it been today, Madame Clicquot had swiftly been turned into a reality star, possibly with her own talk show.
The cellars were a-mazing (sorry, I couldn’t resist). At one point, when we all climbed down the steps into the dark champagne abyss, I feared that some participants might get lost in the crayères. They lingered, took photos and generally seemed keen to explore the barrels. I was on best behaviour and only took around 100 photos…
The crayères were used during the Second World War as hospitals, schools and shelter. Reims city centre is built on champagne cellars from the different champagne houses, so these were immensly important during the occupation. Such facts gave more depth to the tour and it additionally made Veuve Clicquot sound like a stellar company to work for. Each crayère is named after an employee, after they have worked for the company for a certain number of years. You’re even allowed to come back after you’ve retired and visit your crayère, as well as have parties there with your friends and family. Very generous, although I’m not sure how raucous the parties get as the cellars are pretty cold and damp, being kept around 12 degrees.
We finished the tour with a glass of La Grande Dame, their cuvée prestige.
Although we had a hearty breakfast to start with, the cellar tour had made us hungry and so we stopped by in the centre of Reims, admired the cathedral and made for L’Epicerie au Bon Manger. As it was our first stop on the trip, we had yet to grow tired of heavy food, so we duly ordered: foie gras, pata negra, a cheese board, a rustic bread loaf and wine. It was a lovely lunch (though quite light considering!) and we drove off for new adventures in Provence. More tales to come of that another day.