After Team Tandem Ecosse’s fantastic tour of the Alsace – and ticking off the bucket list item of sampling Alsatian wine where it was made, in the vineyards of the Alsace! – it was time for another bucket list item … this time the task was to quaff champagne in Champagne! So there was a non cycling day on the itinerary for the three of us to reposition from Strasbourg to Reims to begin the third and final leg of our two week Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017.
So as our tour t-shirts said – the “old git” and the “old gal” were determined in their quest for le vin et champagne! A three hour drive along the fabulous French toll roads flew past and soon Matilda Transport was pulling up at Le Clos des Roys, our chambres d’hote in Reims – marking the start point for a three day tour of the vineyards of Champagne.
And what a fantastic location – the beautiful old fabric trading town house was located in the heart of the historic district, just 30 metres from the forecourt of the city’s magnificent Cathedral. We received a warm welcome from hosts Marie Ann and Gerard and shown to our luxurious room.
With both me and our car parked safely in an internal courtyard, my dynamic crew didn’t waste any time in exploring their new base, so headed out for dinner and their first taste of champagne! Our hosts had made a booking at the highly recommended Brasserie de Boulingrin – an art deco sea food restaurant dating from 1925 which we later discovered is an institution in Reims.
The menu was mouthwatering! Pop went the first of many champagne corks to be popped over the next few days and “the old git” and the “old gal” toasted what they knew would be an epic trip with their first ever taste of champagne in Champagne! It really was one of those special moments to savour and remember – even more special as it was accompanied by a fisherman’s basket of gorgeous seafood including oysters! OOh la la!
All in all, a promising start to Le Tour de Champagne!
Day 1 – Climbing and climbing from Reims to fab champagne vineyards at Verzenay and Bouzy as phone died at epic moment!
An early alarm and after another wonderful communal petit dejeuner, it was time for my dynamic crew to get me kitted up to depart on our 35 mile adventure on Le Route de Champagne. The schedule being to tandem from Reims to the other main town in the region called Epernay – which lays claim to be the champagne capital. Team Tandem Ecosse are staying there for two nights – with a short ride on the day in between – before heading back to Reims on day three.
With three days tandem touring – and given that Team Tandem Ecosse was going completely self sustained and self-guided with no luggage transfer as they had enjoyed in previous years – my four panniers were again packed full to the brim, adding substantially to my weight!
In bright sunshine and in high spirits all three of us pedalled off from our stylish base and headed towards Epernay in our quest to find out lots more about champagne. Check out the details of our Day 1 route by clicking on the Strava map below.
The start was idyllic as we tandemed out along the cycle path along the banks of the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne out towards the town of Sillery and then head towards the first of the villages with names which resonate, Mailly-Champagne.
It was at this stage that the realisation dawned on my dynamic crew that the champagne vineyards are hilly. Maybe the “old git” and “old gal” should have realised when the route description said: “You will be touring through the villages of the Montagne de Reims!” For some reason the word montagne hadn’t hit home … but let’s say it did as we left Sillery behind and started to climb … and climb!
My dynamic crew – who were a bit less than dynamic with the effort required on the hills – have subsequently realised (with a bit of basic research) that the best grapes for champagne require long roots to give them the best flavour – and long roots means they grow on slopes on the hillside! Doh!
The views across the vineyards were stunning however. A quick glance at the guidebook for the area there are more than 15,000 wine growers in the designated Champagne area, 5,000 small champagne houses and over 100 well-known houses. We pedalled thru a welcome flat part at Mailly-Champagne – one of the over 300 picturesque villages which make their living from the fizz and were amazed to see winegrower’s houses at every turn … all offering their own name champagne. All fabulously scenic!
Leaving the village and back into climbing mode, my dynamic crew were fortunate enough to see one of the eye-catching high axled tractors which amazingly pick the grapes mechanically. It is a sight to be seen and obviously cuts out a lot of back breaking work!
Our target – and hopefully where the mountains would plateau – was firstly a landmark windmill and then a lighthouse at Verzenay. I got to feel a real VIP by posing at the gates of the windmill which is owned by the world-famous GH Mumm. The windmill – officially known as Le Moulin de Verzenay is unfortunately not open to the public – but it is used by the company as a corporate reception area. The next day we discovered that Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt had flown in by helicopter in his role as brand ambassador. Obviously he wasn’t fit enough to cycle up the hills to get there either!
A final climb took us over the next ridge to the village of Verzenay and a welcome stop at Le Phare de Verzenay – a lighthouse which incongruously sits overlooking the vineyards. It was built in 1909 by Joseph Goulet to promote his brand of champagne – shining its light all over the vines. It turned into a bit of a folly but now combines a role as a promotional area for champagne tasting and museum.
Le phare offers the chance to sample up to 50 different varieties of champagne – which was just what my dynamic crew needed for recovery after their exertions. Well they sampled a glass each – not 50! And they were able to chill and relax and enjoy their tasting in a fabulous sun-kissed garden area overlooking the vineyards under the lighthouse.
After that reviving refreshment – my crew climbed the 120 odd stairs to the viewing platform of le phare to get a magnificent vista. The “old gal” recorded a short video to show it is hilly and the view from the top of the lighthouse over the champagne vineyards – which you can view by clicking here:
Before leaving the lighthouse the “old git” purchased a bottle of champagne using his new found knowledge of the different types of the fizz. It’s not just any old champagne you know! Oh no! There are three different grape varieties used in champagne – white Chardonnay grapes and the red Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
The “old git” selected a bottle of blanc de blancs – which is made entirely from the white Chardonnay grapes. The tasting notes said: “With its elegant and lithe style this is the Champagne of choice among serious oenophiles.” After googling oenophile and discovering it meant wine connoisseur – he wholeheartedly agreed!
On leaving the lighthouse we were approached by a photographer, Karine Lhémon. who wanted to take some pictures of me and my crew! Karine introduced herself as being the official photographer for the Office de Tourisme du Grand Reims and was looking to take some shots of visitors to the area for their publicity purposes. Obviously the “old git” was hesitant and had to be persuaded – jokingly saying: “Only if you twist our arm and give us champagne!”
My dynamic crew even had to sign an official form giving permission for the tourist agency to use the photos in their marketing. Given that the “old git” works in communications, he was suggesting some ideas for shots – and cheekily took a photo of Karine taking a photo of Team Tandem Ecosse!
All the photos had le phare in them and after taking some of my dynamic crew, the photographer wanted to get me involved in the photo shoot as well! Well after all as a classic tandem, I am the star of the show! It was all good fun – and produced lots of laughs. After Karine promised to email some of the pictures, we bid farewell with her determined to capture us tandeming off for posterity!
My crew immediately hit another hill but had to battle on to save face as they were still being filmed! One more short climb at Mount Sinia marked the peak – before the road through the vineyards started to go steeply downhill. It was a good long stretch so we were able to pick up speed rapidly.
Unfortunately it was at this very inopportune moment that the “old git’s” phone decided it would have a battery fail – but this wasn’t discovered till a few miles further on. Therefore Strava didn’t record the epic moment when my crew hit a new top speed – as recorded by the good old-fashioned handlebar speedometer – of 38.9 mph. Weeeeeh! It was our Chris Froome moment!
Full of high speed adrenalin my dynamic crew soon arrived at the village of Bouzy, famous for its red wine as well as champagne! Heaven for the “old gal” who has a fondness for both!
Bouzy is a Grand Cru village on the south side of the Montagne de Reims and we found the perfect spot for a tasting at the combined home of Paul Clouet and Bonnair champagne. To celebrate our new record high speed, naturally my crew had to sample both types! In addition the champagne house is famous for its Bouzy Rouge. This is known as the ‘Wine of Kings’ as it historically was served at the Court during the grand banquets of the coronations. The red wine is made exclusively from Pinot Noir grapes from the village. The “old gal” deemed it as living up to its regal reputation! A bottle was bought for the Christmas table and safely stored in my panniers!
After sampling the best of Bouzy – and feeling a teensy bit bouzy themselves! – my crew decided that an ice cold soft drink was required to fuel them for the final hour pedal to our overnight stop in Epernay. Happily for the “old gal” and the “old git” it was downhill to Tour-sur-Marne and on to the cycle path running alongside the Canal latéral à la Marne which took us direct into the city.
Amazingly just as we were pouring over a street map of Epernay, on the edge of the world-famous Avenue de Champagne, a car stopped and asked if we were looking for Les Epecuriens chambres d’hotes. I think the tandem was a bit of a give away – but it was our host Laure and my crew eagerly pedalled after her car to the front door.
I was parked up safely in a very colourful indoor courtyard while my crew were shown to their room – the Noble Equestrian Suite. More about the amazing chambres d’hotes later, but suffice to say for the moment that Laure had thought of everything and there were luxurious touches everywhere.
The “old git” was particularly impressed with a sign which said it was forbidden to drink champagne from a plastic glass! So glad to see standards being maintained! He knew my crew were in the hands of an expert!
Having arrived fairly late my crew enjoyed a welcome glass of fizz from Laure before showers and heading to dinner at the recommended Au Petit Fourneau restaurant for dinner where the speciality was les patates – effectively baked potatoes! But these were rather special – cut into slices and smothered in an amazing array of toppings. The “old git” had the Bretonne with prawns and emmental cheese sauce; while the “old gal” indulged in the Fromages one with reblechon, emmental, blue cheese and goats cheese. Oh and there was a bottle of champagne – just to sample the local produce of course! They told me it was rather yum!
Not surprisingly after a long day on the slopes of the vineyards, sleep wasn’t far away! So a somewhat challenging but still sensational first day of the Champagne leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering an actual total of 35 miles (with only 26 of them recorded on Strava!) As always the route is brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.
Day 2 – KoM climb to Hautvillers – home of Dom Perignon – and whizz back down to tandem along L’Avenue de Champagne in style!
My dynamic crew wakened after a deep recovery sleep to find there had been unexpected heavy rain and thunder overnight! Tell me about it! I was soaked thru as the lovely internal courtyard was open to the elements! All my bits were sopping – including my front panniers which had not been removed!
After a hearty breakfast – including freshly baked bread – my dynamic crew had to reorganise the day as rain stopped play! The original plan was to leave early for a short loop of the scenic villages around Epernay followed by a more relaxing afternoon. A quick look at the weather forecast said heavy rain all morning – suddenly stopping around lunchtime turning to warm bright sunny conditions. So the schedule was turned back to front – as were my panniers in an attempt to dry them out! As for me the “old gal” gave me a good rub down with a towel! She is good that way!
Borrowing big umbrellas, my dynamic crew ventured out to the local food market and had a wonderful morning ooohing and aaahing at all the gorgeous fresh produce on display. The “old gal” was in her element and quickly secured some provisions for today’s picnic – which was going to be an indoor picnic! Funny how there is always one day the picnic has to be inside on these trips!
Amazingly, bang on cue as per the local forecast, the rain clouds rapidly cleared just after lunch and the sun came out to play. So, with more hills on the route, my crew donned their King (and Queen) of the Mountain jerseys and got me kitted up before heading off on today’s loop.
Check out the details of our Day 2 route by clicking on the Strava map below.
With the sun on our backs it was a real joy to be back out on the cycle paths for Team Tandem Ecosse. We weaved our way thru the city heading out along a long flat stretch towards Cumieres before heading uphill to our destination of the pretty village of Hautvillers. My crew had been warned that the climb would get their hearts racing! That was a bit of an understatement!
Well the climb turned out to have two Tour de France category 4-rated climbs (or in our case walks!) – which means it was steep! Very steep! As the “old git” and “old gal” struggled for breath they were at least able to tick off some of the world’s most famous champagne houses as the vineyards were all clearly labelled and were like a who’s who of champagnes.
It was so steep that even when pushing the “old git” thought my brakes were on! But the panoramic views overlooking Epernay and the Marne river were stunning – with champagne vineyards stretching before us as far as our eyes could see. Truly beautiful!
Finally we crawled (almost literally!”) into the village of Hautvillers – causing quite a stir among the tourists who had arrived by car and coach! Can’t think why! A couple of people even asked if they could take pictures of “le doublé vélo” – maybe they thought we were mad arriving by bike!
The charming champagne producing village is recognised as the cradle of champagne as it was here in the ancient Benedictine abbey at Hautvillers that the monk Dom Pérignon discovered the champagne wine-making process in the 18th century.
My crew also discovered (via good tandeming friends Jane and John) that Hautvillers is twinned with the town of Beaulieu which we visited in our Tour de New Forest back in July.
After recovering their breath my crew sought out the sanctuary of the highly recommended Le Cave et Jardin antique shop. It really is a veritable Aladdin’s cave of all things related to champagne! While enjoying a fascinating browse, the owners offer the chance to visitors to indulge by buying a glass of fine local product – which naturally my crew thought would have been rude to refuse!
My dynamic crew sat in the jardin (garden) part while quaffing their bubbly – establishing some kind of equilibrium after their mountain pedalling exertions! They even had a toast to Dom Pérignon before purchasing a Moet Chandom champagne glass set for two as a momento!
We then tandemed along the cobbled streets to find the Saint-Sindulphe abbey church – which houses Dom Pérignon’s black marble tombstone.
At every turn in the village there are links to Dom Pérignon – including a photo opportunity to turn yourself into the champagne inventing monk – which the “old git” obviously couldn’t resist!
Leaving the village my dynamic crew enjoyed a fab whizz back downhill – retracing our pedals to the city with plenty of time to explore the ‘Champs Elysees of Epernay’ – the famous L’Avenue de Champagne which hosts the glitzy headquarters of the main champagne houses.
It offered a fascinating insight into the luxury world of champagne – with the whole avenue simply oozing money and opulence. An interesting fact is that the 19th century buildings sit above some 110 kms of underground cellars, built into the limestone, used for storing the champagne at temperatures of around 10 C.
Moet & Chandon is the most famous champagne firm and honours its links to Dom Pérignon with an impressive statue at the entrance to its headquarters. Each of the champagne houses were trying to outdo each other with eye catching displays – which offered a real spectacle.
Things you never thought you’d ever do! My dynamic crew always had drinking champagne in Champagne on their bucket list! But how many people can say they have tandemed down the glitzy L’Avenue de Champagne in Epernay – the capital of Champagne ?!
Well we did and the “old gal” recorded some video footage for posterity which you can watch here:
It would need to be said that a tandem cycling down the L’Avenue de Champagne with a crew decked out in polka dot cycling jerseys was always going to attract quite a bit of inquisitive attention – and after we had finished we even received a round of applause! After all that fun and frivolity my dynamic crew headed back to the sanctuary of Les Epecuriens chambres d’hotes.
My crew were looking forward to the evening as they had booked a private steam room session in the property’s hamman on their return, and later, a private champagne dinner a deux – home cooked by our host Laure – served in our suite! Told you it was classy!
I was parked back in the internal courtyard, and this time our hosts covered me with a huge plastic sheet – just in case the rain returned. The “old git” and “old gal” thoroughly enjoyed relaxing in the heat of the steam room – ideal to help them get over the tail end of their heavy colds.
The dinner which followed was a culinary delight, as it turns out one of Laure’s main interests is cooking – and has even produced her own cookbook. My crew eagerly ate up their four course dinner – which was naturally accompanied by a fine bottle of champagne from a nearby vineyard.
So two epic category 4 climbs today on another brilliant second day of the Champagne leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering just 8 miles – with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.
Day 3 – Grand finale Euro tour 2017 up mountains to Reims from Epernay as we clocked up 300 miles in 10 days
This was the final ride of our brilliant two week Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017 and the schedule today had us tandeming back to Reims from Epernay – a distance of just over 30 miles. That’ll be easy at this stage in the tour then for my dynamic crew who were now finely tuned athletes! Let’s just say it didn’t turn out that way! …
After another gorgeous and tasty petit dejeuner at Les Epecuriens chambres d’hotes Team Tandem Ecosse were a bit reluctant to leave their luxurious surroundings. We sadly took our leave from the wonderfully hospitable Laure and headed thru Epernay for the last time heading out into the country towards the ancient town of Ay.
Check out the details of our Day 3 route by clicking on the Strava map below.
The “old git” and the “old gal” had both looked at the maps and knew it was hilly so were suitably kitted out in their King and Queen of the Mountain jerseys! But they didn’t realise the emphasis today would be on the word mountains! Mind you, the fact that one of the villages very near our route was called Rilly la Montagne should have been a bit of a clue!
The first few miles were great and we soon picked up speed along the flat roads thru the vineyards. This was giving us a false sense of security … but then it happened! My crew hit the Montagne de Reims like a brick wall! A very high brick wall at that!
Team Tandem Ecosse huffed and puffed their way up the first climb (slowly) before resorting to taking me for a walk on the second – which was the first of another two category 4-rated climbs of the day! Since I was fully laden the “old git” had to use significant effort to push me up what seemed like an almost vertical incline, while the “old gal” – who suffers from asthma and therefore finds hills difficult at the best of times – puffed along behind!
The only break my dynamic crew (who were feeling somewhat less than dynamic at this stage) had from the relentless climbing was ticking off more names of the major champagne brands, including Bollinger and Mercier. Let’s just say that my crew were now acutely aware that the best champagnes need the best grapes and they grow on steep slopes!
A local guide book informed my crew that the term “mountain” is justified for the Montage de Reims by the brutality of the change of relief between the plain at 80 meters above sea level and the slopes where the vines produce the champagne some 200 metres higher. That made them feel so much better … not!
To be honest, we overstretched our ability on this route – and on the next big climb, which was a category 4 between Germaine and Ville-en-Selve it became less than fun for the first time on this trip. With my heavy panniers weighing me down, it was little wonder that the “old git” kept looking to see if my brakes were locked on as he slowly pushed up to the summit. This was by far the toughest route we have ever tackled! … Or ever want to tackle!
After taking an energy sapping 2 hours 45 minutes to travel 14 miles, we finally reached the plateau just after Ville-en-Selve- a fantastic forest area which is part of the Park Naturel Regional de La Montagne de Reims. This gave my crew a bit of respite. The smiles returned as they enjoyed some scenic tree tunnels and the beauty of the leaves changing colours.
The beautiful scenery helped restore spirits as did the sight of the first downhill stretch for some time which saw my dynamic crew whizz down into the village of Ludes. It was Sunday and our experience tells us everywhere is closed – but we came across a patisserie which was open. Coffee and yummy apricot tarts restored energy levels for the “old gal” and “old git”
After a much required stop to restore equilibrium after my crew’s mountain climbing exploits, we headed further downhill and saw a signpost for Chigny-les-Roses famous for its rose champagne – made from the Pinot Meunier grapes. Just at the entrance to the town is an old barrel used in the champagne process – which provided a fun photo stop!
The “old gal” was happy to see the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne ahead of us and we pedalled off – enjoying some welcome freewheeling to reach the canal cycle path at Sillery.
Just before reaching the canal my crew stopped at the impressive Sillery French Military Cemetry which contains graves of over 11,000 soldiers killed in the first World War during the battles of Champagne.
After paying our respects at the war cemetery, my dynamic crew found a nice seat by the canal for our last picnic of this year’s Euro Tour du Tandem. By now readers of my blog will know that the picnic is one of the key points of the day for the “old git” and “old gal” and this one was no exception.
After a late picnic lunch we tandemed along the canal path – again in awe at the fabulous surface and how everyone respects the cycling culture. This for Team Tandem Ecosse is what tandeming is about! My crew were enjoying themselves so much they deliberately pedalled on past the turn off into Reims in order to clock up 75 miles on the Champagne leg – to break the 300 mile total for the 10 days cycling on the three legs of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017.
The magnificent frontage of the Cathedral Notre-Dame in Reims was the official end point of our tour – and the “old gal” purchased a bottle of champagne in one of the gift shops in the square to allow my dynamic crew to celebrate when we we arrived back at Le Clos des Roys, our chambres d’hote.
After I was secure in the inner courtyard, it was time for my dynamic crew to enjoy some end of tour celebrations! And how do you celebrate when in Champagne! Yes in the only way that is possible here – by drinking champagne in Champagne!
As my crew enjoyed the feeling that their legs wouldn’t have to pedal up any more hills, they were buoyed when the “old git” checked Strava on his phone and discovered that they had achieved their highest every placings in the league tables! Amazingly Team Matildas Musings were in third place in the Tandem Club UK table for tandemers in Britain having clocked 154.2 miles over the last seven days; and 14th in the league table for tandmers around the world!
My crew had a most welcome shower and a bit of relaxation before heading out for a celebration end of tour dinner. Our hosts Marie Ann and Gerard came up trumps with a wonderful recommendation – La Paix which is a bustling brasserie known for its fish and seafood specialties. It was a perfect spot for a gala meal and my crew decided to splash out on the menu gourmand which saw them enjoy six fabulous oysters as a starter followed by a sensational meal – and all washed down with a perfectly chilled dry local Rieseling. Quite simply a sensational way to finish!
So although we hit the Montange de Reims like a brick wall – overall it was still another unmissable ride on the final day of the Champagne leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering 30.7 miles, with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.
As a quick overview of the third and final leg of our Euro Tandem Tour 2017, Team Tandem Ecosse again saw some amazing sights and enjoyed fabulous experiences on their cycling trip in the heart of the Champagne region. The total distance covered over the three days was just 75 miles – but it felt most of these were up hills and mountains. We definitely underestimated the terrain which resulted in my crew overstretching their cycling ability in places. But again there are some fantastic memories in the memory bank and the “old git” and “old gal” have ticked off that bucket list item of quaffing champagne in Champagne! The overall conclusion from my dynamic crew is that they wouldn’t have missed it for the world! Would they return – yes, definitely – but probably taking in the views of the vineyards from the luxury of a hot air balloon!
There will be a blog reflecting on Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017 overall. For now our European tandem adventures were over for another year but before the three hour drive to the Eurotunnel service back to the UK, there was time for my crew to sample some of the sights of Reims and pick up a few supplies and presents.
We paid a visit to the magnificent Gothic Cathedral Notre-Dame, which is where French Kings were traditionally crowned. More than 2,300 statues decorate the exterior and one of the key highlights is the 13th Century stained glass rose window. There is also a plaque marking the spot where Clovis, the king of the Franks, was baptised by the Bishop of Reims.
According to legend a dove brought a phial containing holy oil, which was used to anoint Clovis. It was then used for the coronation of every King of France from the 11th Century to 1825 – the most famous being King Charles V11 in 1429 at the height of the Hundred Years War in the presence of Joan of Arc. A real history lesson then for my dynamic crew.
After being steeped in history my crew walked around the market and bought a few presents – while noting the slightly alarming high level security presence of armed police even for a local market, which underlined the high state of alert in France due to recent terrorist atrocities.
Then it was time for the “old git” and the “old gal” to have fun stocking up on supplies of champagne to take back home! My crew carefully selected their bottles which marked key spots on our Tour de Champagne from the more than 700 different varieties on offer at Le Cave des Sacres – a fabulous champagne cellar situated in the shadow of the cathedral. Purchases made, the “old git” then needed to borrow a trolley to get the boxes back to Matilda Transport!
Time for a quick late lunch burger before Team Tandem Ecosse had to head to Calais for our Eurotunnel connection back to the UK and then an overnight drive back to Matildas Rest.
The courtyard of the cathedral provided a fitting setting for my dynamic crew for their final toast of champagne in Champagne – bringing to an end an epic Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017.
These tours are what memories are made of! Cheers!