Thursday 6th April
Leaving Laon Tuesday morning it didn’t take us long to reach our next aire, it had a great rating in Camper Contact, it was clean, spacious and very well laid out. There was space for 6 motorhomes but the area had the capacity to double in size which it could easily do if there had been something of interest in the local area. Like a shop, or a bar, or a church…
The pizza wagon was due in three days time, it takes a tour of the local villages, but we weren’t going to wait for that. Since it was only 12.30pm and we had eaten our lunch we made plans of places to visit. We are right on the edge of Champagne country and it would be rude to come all this way and not see some of it – tasting is another issue, neither of us like it.
Almost as you come over the brow of a hill there are vineyards laid out in every direction…
…every where you look.
We had a choice of three places to visit, Eparnay, Champillon and Hautvillers. The first two are home to most of the worlds biggest and best known Champagne houses, Hautvillers was described as being picturesque, so that’s the one we went to. The town of Villers used to be down the bottom of the hill but after years of suffering from invading forces the village moved up higher (Haut).
The Tourist Office had a self guided tour of the town and off we trotted looking at the sights. The oldest house was built in 1512 and it is rumoured that Henry IV (theirs, not ours) used to visit young ladies for entertainment. Many of the houses had decorative metal signs, this one showing the steps in the process of champagne making…
… and this showing how the vines are trimmed. The air was heavy with the smell of champagne, you could see bottling plants through some open doors and there were a few brave souls having a degustation and trying to tell the difference between the five glasses of champagne that they had in front of them.
The Dominican monks built an abbey and it was here that Dom Perignon joined at the age of 18. He promptly became the cellarer and the procurator in charge of the community until his death 47 years later. The grapes in this area weren’t the best for making wine, you are left with a greyish red still wine, but with careful observation and an eye for detail he worked out the five key elements for the production of champagne. 1:- The right combination of grapes, 2: Quick pressing of the red grapes to obtain as clear a juice as possible, 3: The use of thick glass in a pear shape, 4: Introduction of cork instead of wood and 5: the digging of cellars into the chalk to ensure a better wine ageing in a constant environment.
My guidebook says that there are 200 million bottles of champagne stored underground in huge caverns.
This is what a vine should look like (Emma and David, please take note) and there are just four officially approved methods for tying them back. There were hundreds of workers in the fields trimming and tying the vines.
The nearest aire to Hautvillers was at Mareuil-sur-Ay, just about room for 8 motorhomes with a space for more along the river front. We were 15 yards from the front door of a mini supermarket and free wifi was available from the Mayor (good enough to stream a couple of films).
We had a lovely walk along the river, saw the house that Lucy wants but changed her mind when she thought about the dusting.
Wednesday morning and another 50 mile jaunt to our next stop, again next to a river. Free wifi from a local SFR FON owner and very quiet.
A little walk around the town and we found the wash house. In the early 19th century villages started building communal wash houses as it was far more hygienic than washing clothes in the local river.
We need to think about getting some washing done and looking through Camper Contact I found an aire 60 miles away (Stella miles) which has electric, showers, toilets, free wifi and washing facilities. It also had 160 comments giving it an average rating of 8.3. The only downside was the cost – a whopping €9.50 per night!!!
Stella really didn’t want us to go there – she kept telling us about weight limits, at one point we were 2km from the aire and she wanted us to turn around and drive 19 miles to get to it from the other side. Bravely we ignored her, and all the 3.5t signs we saw (we’re not a lorry so think that the signs don’t really apply to us).
Here we are with a pleasant river view, the electric is plugged in and I went off looking for reception. Reception opens at 2.30pm and the washing facilities are closed until 4.00pm. What shall we do?? I know, go for a walk into town which like all good French towns is shut for lunch!!
When we get back to Frankie we have a little chat and decide that we can go a few more days without a launderette, we don’t even know if this place has a tumble drier although suspect that it does since it is next to a marina, so we have a look in Camper Contact and find another free aire 7km away (Stella wanted to take us 25 miles!!).
Here’s our view, still the Moselle and we are all ready to join one of the road trips tomorrow that we worked out weeks ago.