7 – 8 May: Castles, Champagne and Churches

Author: Mrs A

Location: Château-Thierry & Reims, France

Tuesday was the day Mr A and I had planned for the household, taking us to the small town of Chateaux-Thierry, about a 25 minute drive from our gîte. We parked up outside the town hall, a grand building in the centre of town, and climbed up the stairway to the castle above.

Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall)

A magnificent view awaited us at the top of many stone steps, looking out over the town to the Marne River and south to the farmland beyond.

View over the town from the first set of stairs
Jenny enjoying the sunshine and view
Thank goodness for breathing!
Mates. Mr A and David
Mr A proceeding along an avenue of trees along the castle wall
Ancient varieties of roses grow here, with incredible aromas
Jenny climbing the tower steps up to the next level
More great town views as we walk around the castle
Jenny and Karen

The walls and tower

The castle has a varied history dating back to Roman times, starting with a wooden fortification and gradually being added to and amended by subsequent inhabitants. There is evidence of the biggest castle kitchen in Europe within this shell, once employing in excess of a hundred workers in meal preparation.

We all had an explore around the town before meeting for a delicious plat du jour served at L’adresse Rive Droit, a superb recommendation from our next destination.

Wandering along the pedestrianised streets
This feels a very authentic and alive town, many local residents and lives lived here
Pretty streets
Pretty dogs 🙂

After lunch we drove a short distance to Champagne Pannier, a champagne cooperative sourcing grapes from 400 small producers across the region. Our guide, Elina, took us into their caves, a combination of natural and man-made caverns originally discovered in the middle-ages.

The Middle Ages carving found on the walls which inspired the archer on Champagne Pannier’s logo
Champagne is laid down for a minimum of three years before bottling
The caves

We learnt a lot more about the making and bottling of champagne, giving us an appreciation of why champagne is so expensive. We finished off with a tasting of two champagnes, one a 2014 vintage. Delicious.

Champagne and Ratafia Champenois (made from the skins of grapes pressed for champagne) were purchased.

Happy times. L-R: Ann, Jenny, Peter, Penny, Karen, Chris, Steve, Mr A, David and Mrs A

After this we returned to the castle in the hope of witnessing a falconry show – sadly after climbing up to the entrance we were advised they did not do it on a Tuesday any longer (despite the sign saying they did), and so we did a little shopping for the evening’s dinner and moved on.

Our final destination for the day was the American War Memorial, a magnificent monument overlooking the town in recognition of the relationship between the American and French armed forces during World War II. It was quite sobering after a jovial day, and reminded us how fortunate we are to live in peaceful times and to be able to do what we are doing.

‘This monument has been erected by the United States of America to commemorate the services of her troops and those of France who fought in this region during the World War. It stands as a lasting symbol of the friendship and cooperation between the French and American Armies’

Mark and Karen reading the inscription – horrified at the sheer numbers of lives lost (67,000 American soldiers alone)

We returned home to consume our goodies of the day – delicious food from the bakery, deli and greengrocers, accompanied by some fine French white and red wines.

Wednesday morning began with rain, which continued on as we piled into the minibus and Chris drove us all for an hour to the nearby town of Reims.

Our plan had been to split into two groups, five members heading to a car museum, and the rest of us heading to a large market in the city centre. Mr A and I were in the market crowd. On arriving at the market we found it was closed. What we hadn’t realised is that today is a national holiday in recognition of V-E Day, the day in 1945 the Germans surrendered in Reims following World War II. The wet weather didn’t discourage several people from attending a ceremony close by, and we immediately forgave them for closing the market.

I decided to break from the rest of the group and go to see the cathedral. Mr A and I leave this region tomorrow, so we wouldn’t have a chance otherwise.

The city of Reims was very quiet, with most of the shops closed and the rain keeping people at home. It has some fabulous classic French architecture and the cathedral itself is hard to miss as you wind your way through town.

Shining empty cobbled streets of Reims
Beautiful architecture in empty squares, the cathedral towering over in the background
Need a hand knocking on the door?

Strangely it was great to see the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Reims in wet weather, as the water poured from the roof and out through the mouths of gothic wolves.

Gothic wild beasts foam at the mouth, drainpipes channeling the rain down to the street

The more than 800 year old cathedral has been listed by UNESCO since 1991, and is has been the location of the coronation of many of France’s kings. It’s quite incredible to stand inside and imagine centuries of kings and courtiers looking at the same or very similar view.

It was built between 1211 and 1516 and during its time has been damaged by revolutions, attacked by peasants, and bombed during World War I. But the cathedral within told of a progressive view, with beautiful stained glass windows telling stories from the old and New Testament as well as more recent additions which are there for the pure art of colour and form. There is a fabulous window dedicated to the local peasants, recognising their part in the congregation and work in the champagne industry.

One of the newer stained glass windows
Dedicated to the wine growers, harvesters and makers in the area

I returned to meet the others, who were sipping coffee in a local bistro, and together we went up to the local war memorial to watch the ceremony, observe a minute’s silence and spend a moment or two in recognition of the significance of the day.

The local gendarmes in short sleeves despite the chilly wet day…their dogs ensure we observe the minute’s silence

We returned to the house for a fine three course dinner prepared by Penny and Steve, starting at 3pm and concluding around 8pm. Much fun, very delicious and a fine end to our visit with our friends in this area.

About to start course 2 – delicious roast chicken, potatoes and vegetables. L-R: Mrs A, Jenny, Ann, Mr A, Chris, David, Karen, Peter, Steve and Penny.

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