We left Meaux having seen Georges and Lucie and generally feeling much happier and more confident with both the alternator and Bill and Ben. Adrian checks frequently as to how all are working together and how much energy is needed for our appliances, as we go along the river Marne. When we plan to cruise the next day we can even load Conchita and switch her on after we set off so that all is clean when we arrive at our destination!
The river Marne joins the Seine close to Paris but then takes you into the Champagne region within 100 kms of the centre of Paris. And it is a beautiful river once out of the urban sprawl that is Paris. Meandering through the countryside with trees right down to the water’s edge and fields stretching up the hillsides around. As you come into the Champagne region proper the vineyards stretch up the hillsides – vines as far as the eye can see! There aren’t loads of mooring places and we have had to go further than intended on a couple of days in order to find suitable moorings but we have been lucky so far.
We stopped in Chateau Thierry where the pontoon has been much improved since my visit in Misty Morning in 2010. At that time Cath & Tall Paul were with me and we had quite an eventful stop over! Firstly about 50+ ( I do not exaggerate) white-vans-pulling-caravans came over the bridge in front of us and literally took over the car park beside us for the night – complete with barriers, arc lights and opening of fire hydrants to get water. It was not a restful night. Then Tall Paul injured his hand quite badly which necessitated a visit to the local hospital! Eventful, as I said, but not this year. We had a pleasant stop over, walked around the town and spoke to a Brit who had just arrived back to his boat after a few days at home visiting his wife who suffers from Alzheimer’s and is in care. He goes back every 2 or 3 weeks to see her but still cruises his boat on his own so that he maintains his own life and continues to do what they loved to do together.
From there we went on – seeing more and more vineyards take over the hillsides – stopping at Binson and then Cumières. What a contrast between the 2 villages. Binson was really dead, run down & the only functioning shop we saw was a Pharmacie. But it had a lovely free mooring beside a big well cared for park.
On the other hand Cumières is thriving. Surrounded by premier crus vineyards there are about 18 champagne houses which welcome visitors. Several have upped their game providing tours in little ‘phut phut’ style vehicles or chambres d’hotes.
Cath, Paul and I had really enjoyed visiting one of these houses in 2010, and I knew Adrian would too. Not much time spent debating which to go into – ie the first one we came to – Phillippe Martin. A real family business which has been passed down through several generations. A stunning house (dated 1892) set in beautiful gardens with the champagne making business on site. They have even brought together old tools etc to make a little ‘musée’ for visitors. Another group were also there and so Anne (secretary) came out to take us round. Very interesting to talk to her as her family also have a small vineyard, she divides her time between this job and working in the vineyard at home. She is involved in all the stages of the champagne making business & described / demonstrated how the sediment in the bottles was released by hand before mechanisation and, in fact, still is in small houses. An informal and very personal tour followed by the dégustation! We actually tasted several bottles and Anne was very good at suggesting which bottles would suit each of our palates! We bought a dozen assorted bottles which she obligingly dropped off at the boat for us on her way home! What could be better?
The 3 grape varieties used in champagne are Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier & Chardonnay. Some champagnes are a blend of 2 or 3 grapes but some are single varieties eg Blanc de Blancs just contains Chardonnay grapes (and is delicious!).
We then moved onto a little port called Vaudemange – which we nicknamed Voldemort – where we spent a couple of very peaceful days away from everything with just a couple of other boats nearby. We ended up staying an extra day having heard that Andries, Corrie & Ashley were en route to meet up with us at Rheims.