Champagne et les chiens
The French appear to understand how to achieve a quality of life. People work, but it appears to not be ridiculous hours, try finding a post office or a store that opens on a Wednesday or a Saturday afternoon or on a Sunday. A lot of places also close on a Monday. Then there’s the long lunch breaks, 1 1/2 to 2 hours appears to be the norm, but if you want to eat in a cafe or restaurant make sure you are seated by 12.30 or 12.45 at the latest, we’ve seen people being turned away at 1pm being told the kitchen closes at 2pm. It’s not much different in the evenings where dining times are between 7.30pm to 9pm.
Another huge positive of living in France is the quality of the food and wine. There are so many traditional and regional dishes and products sold here, even the supermarkets have amazing ranges of cheeses, pates and breads along with the freshest of fruits and vegetables which are all seasonal. You can smell the fragrance from the melons and peaches as you walk around the fruit aisles. The patisseries have the most beautiful windows full of eye catching pastries and cakes and the cafes have mouth watering chalk written menu boards.
The French also appear very patriotic when it comes to the cars they drive, the wine they drink, the clothes and fragrances that they wear. It does help that they own some of the worlds best designer brands though.
Le tour de France
Our latest pet sit is in the small village of Bouy Luxembourg, it’s near to the city of Troyes in the Champagne region of France. The village is in a large farming region where wheat, lentils, poppies, sugar beet and sun flowers are grown.
On our latest sit we met our owners, Judith and Terry for the first time after writing to them for nearly 6 months. On previous sits our induction with the owners has lasted up to 3 or 4 hours before the owners left, with Terry and Judith we were together two and a half days!
They were fabulous in not only showing us around the home and how everything works, but also taking us to three different dog walking locations for us to use over the house sit.
We then visited Troyes where they were able to show us where the best parking place was followed by a guided walk through the town explaining where the things that we would need were and which restaurants were good etc. We then went for an amazing lunch at on of the restaurants, La Table De Francois.
Judith and Terry then took us around a hyper market explaining what to buy, what was good and what not to buy, they also explained the current promotion with scratch cards that are handed out at the checkout. During our sit we won a reusable coffee cup, perfect for our free Waitrose coffees back in the UK!
Then we visited a huge green grocer to buy the things that were not as good in the hyper market. The green grocer was in a huge warehouse building with very little signage on the outside, we would never have found it without Judith and Terry. It had the most amazing selection of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, etc.
Back at home Terry took me to meet the neighbours who sold gas bottles and eggs to the local residents. As we walked in Madame Monet (I made that name up!) came out to meet us and spoke French at high speed, Terry chatted with her, they discussed the eggs and the gas bottle, it seemed to go for a while with lots of arm waving from Madame Monet.
In the meantime, Monsieur Monet came out into the courtyard and Terry told him that I was from Australia. Monsieur Monet became very excited and started to tell me that he’d been in the French military based in Tahiti and was part of the nuclear tests that happened there many years ago. I chatted to him in school boy French and Franglais and we got by.
After about 5 minutes we left with a gas bottle and two boxes of eggs. I asked Terry why Madame Monet was chatting about the eggs for so long, he explained that she had told him that it had been too hot for the chickens to lay eggs and so she only had duck eggs, of which Terry had two boxes of in his hands.
Le paw de France
On this pet sit we are looking after two Labradors, 4 year old Jess and 12 year old Layla. We take the dogs out for two walks a day, the first one in the morning is to a local lake, Lac D’Orient, which they absolutely love. Terry and Judith have left a van for us to drive the dogs to the lake in, they jump in the back and we set off on the journey. As we get closer to the lake Jess starts to recognise buildings and other things along the way and she whines showing her excitement. The whining gets slowly louder and faster as we get closer to the lake, once she sets eyes on the water her whining becomes really loud, she doesn’t hide her joy and excitement.
They both love to retrieve the ball when it is thrown into the lake, they dive in and try to beat each other to get to the ball first, Layla is the better swimmer and tends to win. After a few throws Jess tends to give up and finds a stick to play with.
After towelling the dogs down and giving them a snack each we then go for a walk through the beautiful woods that run alongside the lake. This is a stunning location of natural beauty and we enjoy this daily routine as much as the dogs.
The second walk of the day is just outside the village and through the local farmland. Walking through this location with the dogs is such a pleasure, visually it’s like we are walking through a giant blanket of colours.
As with all pet sits, we don’t only take care of the pets, we look after the home too. This is the third swimming pool that we have had to take care of checking the water quality and scooping out any leaves etc. On a previous sit there was a huge storm in the night and we woke to 18 frogs in the pool that we had to scoop out. On this one it’s more about getting the ball out of the pool for Layla!
There’s also quite a few pots to water each day once the sun has started to set. On the front terrace alone there’s over 50 pots of flowers and herbs. There are also cherry tomatoes which taste blooming delicious.
The nearest bakery to us is in the next village of Piney. Here the Artisan Boulanger has a fantastic range of French bread and cakes plus the region’s best croissants! The bakery won first prize in the regional competition for the best croissant. After our drive to the local lake with the dogs we would stop by the bakery on the way home to pick up our daily supplies. Everything we bought was so well made and tasted so fresh with so much flavour. The dogs also got their portion too, eating small pieces of toasted baguette each day.
If you ever wondered what France may have looked like when the Three Muskateers were around then a visit to Troyes may be a good guide. The town is full of 16th century buildings, some are so close together and are almost falling into each other. One street is called Cat Alley due to the closeness of the buildings, it’s where cats could jump from roof to roof. These streets are now lined with cafes, bars and restaurants that really come alive at lunch and in the evenings.
Being July, it has been pretty hot while we have been here, with one day peaking at 42 degrees and several other days of similar temperatures. Needless to say, it’s been shorts and T shirts all the way on this visit.
Le pour de France
One of the best things that we did on this trip was a tour of the Bollinger champagne house which included exploring part of their 6KM of cellars. These tours began recently and are only available on certain days and have to be booked online. The tour includes a tasting of three champagnes, a cuvee, a rose and a 2008 vintage, the host opened two bottles of each between ten of us so there was plenty to go around.
The wines were served in regular wine glasses, we were told that this is the optimum method for drinking champagne so as to appreciate the aroma and flavours. An Australian on the tour sipped his first tasting then he poured the remaining champagne into his partners glass as he was driving. The French host was not pleased, she told him that he had ruined the tasting in doing so as the bubbles from the champagne pop up 12mm in the glass and are part of enjoying the tasting. By overfilling the glass the bubbles would now overflow out of the glass!
Bollinger keep 800K magnums of champagne in the cellars dating back over 50 years, they use about 80K of them each year to blend their annual cuvee, Bollinger is still family owned and produces just 1.1% of total champagne output, or about 3m bottles.
The tour took us threw the production areas where barrels were being washed and bottles of champagne were being stacked by hand in the cellars. We had to move to the sides at times so as to miss the fork lift trucks that were dashing around carrying crates of bottled champagne through the cellars. Health and safety does not appear to be too stringent in France! We also visited the Gallerie 1829 where all the vintage and old champagnes are stored.
The methods at Bollinger are very traditional including a daily a quarter of a turn rotation by hand of 55K bottles of vintage champagne to help to move the sediment towards the top of the bottle. The barrels that the champagnes age in are a minimum of five years old, so as not to give an over oaked taste to the champagne. After this tour we really came to appreciate why the wine is so expensive.
The Avenue de Champagne is the main street in the town of Epernay, here a lot of the main champagne houses have their offices and cellars. Some offer tours others have bars on the street and Moet Chandon even has a hotel.
Champagne has several regions and uses Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes to produce the wine. One hour south of Troyes is the Cote Des Bar region that specialises in rose Champagne. We visited a local store in the pretty village of Les Rileys where we tasted a couple of the rose champagnes over lunch.
One of the prettiest villages on the Montagne de Reims route is Verzenay, the village is completely surrounded by vineyards. The grapes here are all Grand Cru and so go to produce the best champagnes. We walked the 101 steps to the top of the lighthouse that was built in 1909, as a publicity stunt, to get the amazing 360 degree views across the vines and to the village.
The artist Renoir lived in the village of Essoyes for 25 years, he purchased two houses and had them joined together to create a single home. He designed a tower, which now houses the staircase, to join the two houses. He painted the completed house from the garden. At the end of the garden is his studio in which he worked.
In the village there or locations where Renoir painted the scenery and these are identified with a copy of the painting on a board looking out to the view. His wife grew up in the village and on the building next to where she lived is a large copy of a painting he made of her.
Notre Dame Cathedral in Reims
There were 25 royal coronations held at Reims cathedral between 816 and 1825, including Louis XIV and the final coronation was for Charles X. A statue of Joan of Arc is in the cathedral to commemorate her beating the English in 1429 and reinstating the French king Charles VII. There’s also a plaque on the wall for the 1m British soldiers who died in WWI, many of whom never left France.
Au revoir Champagne
This has been our first visit to the Champagne region of France and hopefully it won’t be our last. Troyes has been a real discovery, it’s such a beautiful town with so much style and history. Spending time visiting the champagne houses and getting a greater understanding of the champagne making process has also been really enjoyable.
We will really miss our morning drives to Lac D’Orient with Jess and Layla and playing ball there with them, they absolutely loved it, they showed so much excitement each time. It was the perfect way to start each day and for us this will be a pet and house sit that we will never forget.