The Retirees go Abroad – Epernay and Hautvilliers

We had planned to visit a few champagne houses starting with Mercier. We did not know what to expect but I think this was a good place to start. Mercier Champagne prides itself on bringing champagne to the people and is big and bold and brassy. A visit to their cellars has a feeling of Disneyworld about it. It cost 16€ per person for the tour and I would have to say it was a good tour. Firstly we were given the history of the house. As best as I can recall, a young Mercier convinced 5 of the older houses to join forces and fund his grand plan of bringing champagne to the people. They built purpose built cellars, miles of them, 30 metres underground and to promote the house he had constructed a huge barrel which he ultimately dragged to Paris for the world’s Fare and but for the Eiffel Tower it was the biggest attraction. You can still see the barrel. He also introduce delivery by panel van boldly emblazoned with his brand.

After getting the history you travel 30 m down to the cellars board a train and take an escorted tour through the cellars. In addition to the champagne and the serious work of making the product he engaged master sculptors to engrave the walls with murals as he fully intended to exploit the tourist. He also developed luxury dining rooms for the well healed tourist but we did not get to see past the chandeliers. The tour ends with a tasting – yes that is right – a single tasting. He knew his stuff as the tours are full and run every 40 minutes. As we left another bus load arrived and judging by the driver’s demeanour it had been a busy day.

On our way to the next champagne house we were diverted by the sight of a large clock tower and ended up at Castellane. We ventured inside and the tour was about to start but having done Mercier we felt it could not be bettered so we just tasted the champagnes instead. We shared three coupes of champagne and did not see much more of interest so we pushed on.

We pushed on to Hautvilliers looking for G. Tribuant. Hautvillers is a beautiful village on a hill surrounded by grape vines and home to quite a number of smaller producers. It also is small enough to park and walk the village which we did bumping into a few fellow tourists loaded down with cases of champagne and all vowing it was superb and cheap. The first cave we came across was the house of Locret Lauchaud. Unfortunately, or so we thought, he was closing his door as we arrived. We moved on to Joseph Desruets only to find that no one was home or so we thought. As we stood viewing the ancient equipment a young crowd of French came in and pointed out that we were in the work shop not the Cave and directed us up the hill. For reasons unexplained we went the other way and I am glad we did as we found our way to G Tribuant.

The Cave was superbly located atop a hill looking over the countryside. We tasted we bought and then we relaxed in the afternoon sun looking at the valley sipping champagne and eating cheese. I will let the pictures tell the story.

 

We were late into bed that day. With twilight and daylight saving the sun is present up to 10.00 o’clock.

The Retirees go Abroad – On the road to Avignon – La Grotte de St Marcel d’Ardeche

After having a great time at Beaune, we were eagerly looking forward to Avignon.

On the way we planned to visit La Grotte de St Marcel d’Ardeche; a system of limestone gorges just north of Avignon. Tommy guided us to the gorge by the most convoluted route. I am sure we passed through a forgotten village where they are still using a Roman bath house.

The wind was picking up as we arrived. The next tour was at 2.00pm and in French. The English narrated tour started at 4.00pm so we opted to take the French tour. Even though we could not understand much of what the guide told us the images will remain with me forever. First there was the views from the top of the mountain to the river valley below, then the trip down a man-made entrance along 416 steps to see the wonders of nature. The highlights were the illuminated pools and the immense chamber. Have a look at the photos.

When we returned along the 416 steps our pre-ordered lunch awaited us. Finishing lunch we drove down the mountain towards Avignon and stumbled upon a fabulous view point. The wind was howling but the view made it a necessary stop. Courtesy of David Colch I am able to share with you the world’s best selfie.

We followed the River Rhone to the bottom of the valley where the canoe hire companies were making a fortune hiring canoes to tourists and local wanting to explore the upper Rhone. We elected a cup of coffee at a local café and the girls wanted to wet their feet in the river. It did not go to plan for the girls – anyway have a look at the photos.

We arrived in Avignon at our apartment around 4.00pm the wind still blowing fiercely. Avignon is a commune in south-eastern France in the department of Vaucluse on the left bank of the Rhône River. Our apartment turned out to be on the fourth floor and there is no lift. Again a struggle to get the luggage to the apartment and daily exercise up and down 60 steps. Otherwise the apartment was fine. We settled in looking forward to the next day.

 

The Retirees go Abroad – Gordes and Rousillon

Our last day in Avignon and we are going into the country to visit two nearby villages – Gordes and Rousillon.

Gordes is a commune in the Vaucluse département in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in south-eastern France. It is very much as it was before the Second World War and therefore interesting and quaint. On the way we spotted some poppy fields and the tourists could not help themselves – out of the car camera in hand.

The village, like so many of the villages in southern France was built on top of a hill for defensive reasons which no longer exist today but give rise to the quaintness tourists find attractive. As with all these villages the church is a central element. In many cases the church came first and the village followed. Here in Gordes it has traditional church with some regional differences like the blue ceiling above the altar and the stairs up to the organ. Unfortunately the church is showing a bit of neglect. The village had a second church which has been de sanctified and is now a modern gallery. It also has a castle which now forms the Hotel de Ville and Tourist Information Centre.

 

Down the road (or should I say the footpath on which they drive) from the church we found a cave. When the town fell into decline after WW2 and premises were abandoned things like underground caves were lost and forgotten. When this particular house was remodelled by its new owner he rediscovered a series of caves going back to roman times. The caves most recent use was for pressing of olives. For a small fee we were able to visit the caves. The visit started with a film presentation and then an audio tour.

The charming mademoiselle at the caves gave us a tip as to a good place for coffee. On the way we saw more of the underground tunnels and caverns of the town. We also saw one of the residents sunning itself and of course we admired the view from the top of the hill. As we left Gordes to travel to Rousillon we were able to take some vistas of the village including the local vines and poppies.

Roussillon is a commune in the Vaucluse department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in south-eastern France. It is famous for its ochre deposits found in the clay surrounding the village and ochre mines. Ochres are pigments ranging from yellow and orange to red. One of the former ochre quarries can be visited via the ‘Sentier des Ocres’ (Ochre Path). On arriving at the village we embarked on the walk to see the ochre in all its shades.

The village sits atop a hill and like Gordes has a fantastic view of the valleys surrounding it. The day turned out to be rather warm so ice creams all around as we investigated life in Rousillon. Interestingly the vineyards all seemed to have poppies growing between the vines.

During our investigation Kerry noted that some ancient stone dwellings could be visited just 4 klms outside Rousillon. These were called “Bories” and exist in many different places usually as temporary shelters for shepherds. However in this case there was a whole social and economic system built around and based on these dwellings. A small self-sufficient settlement. They were not easy to find and once found it was difficult to think of life in such a settlement.

A path through the scrub to a group of thirty dry stone huts, now restored following ten years of work gives an example of life in rural Provence in the past. The stones, without use of mortar, have been skilfully stacked into huts with corbelled vault ceilings. The huts give an austere and harsh appearance.

The Bories village is composed of seven groupings of huts, each having a very precise function. There are houses, stables, sheepfolds, barns, grain lofts, silkworm factories and bakehouses, vat houses and tanning mills, henhouses, pig sties and goat shelters. Preservation of the Bories

Attempts at dating the bories have been made and they may originate as far back as the Bronze Age. But it is more likely due to the remains found in and around the village that it would have been constructed around the 7th century. There are objects and money found on the site suggesting it could not have been built prior to the 15th century and other remains, such as the pottery, date from the 18th century.

One thing is for certain they could have used some outdoor shelters as the afternoon sun baked the ground and heated the rocky shelves on which the bories are built.

By late afternoon we were hot and dry. Retreating to the car we broke into the water bottles to quench our thirst and they remained with us on the drive home. A very satisfying if arduous day climbing hill top villages and negotiating the rubble around the bories.