Who’s life is so fabulous she can holiday in Champagne? That’s right ladies & gents, I have reached a new level of sophistication in my 30-something, Euroized life!
Maria, Tracey, and I decided to take advantage of a long Dutch holiday weekend by heading off to the French countryside. Getting there was nowhere near as fun as our spontaneous Paris weekend due to the atrocious traffic and shoddy Google directions…not surprising that even a computer program can’t figure out the interwoven little villages that make up this region, especially as every single one contains a Rue de’ Ingles and token stone church….but what fun we lacked on the drive was certainly made up for once there! Our lodging for this rather authentic weekend was a rustic apartment in a proper country “manor.” Our hosts at Manoir Maffrecourt, Brits Sandra & Grant, patiently awaited our arrival even though it was after midnight and easily 2 hours later than planned – not the last time we would get horribly lost this weekend! Our tour of the offered amenities was rather brief, a house dog named Hector, and the 24 hour self-service bar where a fantastic array of Dampierre (local) champagne, homemade apple cider, local wines & beers were available to us. It was like Big Ed’s garage but with a mini-fridge of bubbly for the taking! Once we coordinated our sleeping arrangements -- me being the weekend organizer and driver in the private bedroom, and Tracey, Maria, and a very handy pillow ‘sausage’ to keep everyone in their own space took the pull out daybed in the living room – we sampled a few bottles of the much earned Dampierre. One glass in we knew that not only had we made the right choice in going to Champagne for the weekend, but that we were also quite possibly the luckiest people ever to have found such a gem of genuine accommodation.
The next morning we awoke to splendid sunshine and the honking of the local bread truck, where our thoughtful hosts bought us some fresh baguette and croissants, which they delivered with tasty homemade rhubarb jam. As we got ready for the day, a swallow made it’s way into our apartment (Gite Cerise) and much to the girl’s discomfort could not see itself back out, all while leaving a trail of droppings in it’s wake. Thanks to our very kind, and very patient, hosts the crisis was quickly resolved and we were able to eagerly set off and see the Champagne region. In our first stop, Epernay, we did a nice tour of the Mercier cellars and strolled down the Avenue de Champagne to gawk at the infamous Moet (makers of the super-expensive Dom Pierre, in honor of the monk who inventing the blessed bubbly) house. Maria & Tracey took the plunge and bought some very blinged out bottles but I decided to conserve my cash for the local, not to mention cheaper, finds.
As we drove on the Route de Champagne, we realized – much to our dismay - that the champagne houses were only open for tastings during a very small window of the day, and of course, we had arrived too late. But the venture wasn’t all in vein; we saw some incredibly quaint villages, including Avize, which had a beautiful hillside view over the vineyards. When the black clouds rolled in and rain drops the size of golf balls started to fall, we retreated to the dry warmth of the Michelin starred Aux Armes de Champagne in L’Epine. Three glorious gastronomical hours, 6 different types of cheeses, and 8 bottles of champagne brewed by our waiter himself (just like Hollywood, everyone’s a champagne maker!) later we started the trek back to Manoir Maffrecourt. Predictably we got tragically lost– those country lanes were very confusing!! – and nearly peed ourselves when upon arrival in the wee hours of the morning, Maria, a true NYC girl, protected us from bats and other creatures of the night with the “electro-magnetic waves” from her iPhone and an umbrella!
We again awoke to some lovely sun, and more fresh bread this time delivered by our very own pajama clad Maria with curls sticking every which way. On the agenda this day? A bike ride to St. Menehould and lots, and lots of champagne drinking. The 10k ride might have been slightly easier if not for the massive hills and country highway! traffic, but at least there was a good bit of country scenery and friendly cows…even some of the Christian faith…along the way. We rewarded our aerobic feat with a lovely lunch at the Cheval Rouge, Maria sampled the local delicacy pig’s feet while Tracey & I went a much more conservative direction with a goat cheese salad. Back at the Manoir we were true ladies of leisure, soaking up the sunshine, sipping the bubbles, reading gossip magazines, and talking general nonsense. Sandra prepared a delicious traditional, home cooked dinner while Grant supplied the ‘dessert’ of home-brewed liquor.
The sun was again shining the next morning but as our heads were a slight bit sore, we didn’t seem to appreciate it quite as much as the other days. It wasn’t long until we were back in fighting form and off to visit the American Cemetery in Muese-Argonne. On the way we came across a very impressive WWI memorial in Varennes, which we found was donated to the citizens of that village from the State of Pennsylvania…very interesting! Of course it took a few hours, but eventually we found the cemetery where over 14,000 Americans were killed in WWI, 1918-1919.
On the way home we again found ourselves on the Route de Champagne and this time, a house that was open for tastings in the village of Bouzy (how appropriate!) no less.
It was a classic ending to another superb trip with some very fabulous friends.