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Aube en Champagne

Aube en Champage
Isis Basnayaka discovers that sampling the liquid gold is only the start of the adventure!

Medieval Troyes, fromagerie de Chaource, private champagne houses, half-timbered houses, extreme sports and great food are just some of the many qualities on offer at Aube en Champagne. I was excited to sample and explore the making one of the worlds’ most prestigious drinks, and eager to try some great regional food. I was particularly intrigued to try the Rosé des Riceys; especially as only true connoisseurs are aware of its existence and very few have tasted it. Arriving at the medieval city of Troyes after a relaxing and quick journey on the French TGV, I discover that the city is aptly shaped as

a champagne cork. Troyes is the core of the Aube region, the gateway to the Cóte des Bar Champagne route and the rest of the region. The city is also famous for its half timbered houses and stained glass window churches from the 16th century. Meander through the quaint cobbled streets to soak up the history and you will notice shop signs such as a cat wearing glasses. This shows that the street is Cat Alley and the shop is an optician! You could then stop off at one of the many local bars for the renowned cider of Troyes (cidre du pays d’Othe) and cheese (Chaource).
Places of Interest
You cannot visit Troyes without stopping by the Chaource cheese factory. The cheese is made from full fat cow’s milk and its lineage dates back to the 14th century.
Chaource is firm creamy and slightly salty. For a small city, Troyes has its fair share of high end restaurants.Le Valentino is one of these.

The décor manages to combine traditional features with modern elegance. Though an intimate restaurant you still feel as if you are in a private area. The presentation of the food was immaculate and beautiful. The staff are very attentive.
During my stay in Troyes I stayed at the Hôtel Clarion Collection Saint Jean. It is a centrally located 25 room hotel. The staff are friendly and happy to help. They provide free weekday newspapers and wireless internet access. The décor seemed to be in keeping with the medieval city as the style was very dated.
Troyes has a rich textiles history and this is still evident in the number of factories they have. The good news is that they have a large selection of branded discount outlets. There really is something for everyone.
The Champagne Route
From Troyes the drive towards the champagne route takes about an hour. The champagne route is pleasant drive and you are accompanied by fields of bright yellow rapeseed, vineyards and hill after hill after hill. The villages you come upon are quaint and picturesque.
Les Riceys is an absolute must on the Champagne route. Les Riceys boasts to having three Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC): the Rosé des Riceys, Champagne and Côteaux Champenios. The production of Rosé des Riceyss is the most controlled in France, so much so that it is not even produced every year. This is because they only use the ripest grapes grown on the steepest and sunniest hillsides. The grapes are aged in Oak casks for a year which contributes to the delicate bouquet of wild flowers, violets and hazelnuts. The rosé champagne uses a single grape variety (pinot nóir), whereas other champagnes tend to use a blend (Pinot Nóir, Pinot Meunier & Chardonnay). The Riceys region is made up of family run vineyards, and what is unique about this area is that they can only use the grapes from their appellation. What is good to note is that the recession hasn’t affected the producers in the Riceys region. The Riceys region’s clientele are predominantly small purchasers. The Grandes Marques brands such as Moët et Chandon and Pommery only produce 15 percent of the total Champagne but hold 70% of global exportation. In fact it seems it is the age old worry of whether this year’s harvest is going to be a good one still remains.
One of the Riceys champagne houses I visited was Champagne Guy de Forez. A very informative tour in English was given by Elisabeth (who had a fantastic Irish accent and used Irish colloquialisms). Also, a couple of their bottles have been entered into Le Guide Hachette des Vins 2010.

The Drappier Champagne House dates back to the 12th century where the impressive vaulted cellars were built by the Cistercian monks of Clairvaux. They produce champagne on a grand scale, producing 12 varieties and having an output of over a million bottles a year. Drappier also boasts the title of being the only champagne house to make the largest bottle of champagne; the Melchizedec which holds 30 litres of champagne.
Photo Credit: Atelier_Trinité_Photo_Didier_Guy_CDT_Aube

The Drappier family are truly passionate about champagne and though they are a large champagne house and they still manage to maintain a close knit family atmosphere exuding warmth and humour. When walking through the doors of the Drappier house you are always welcomed as friend and whenever possible the 7th & 8th generation of the house will stop for a quick hello and chat.
Extensive tours and tastings are given in English.

After you have experienced the grandeur of the Drappier House it is good comparison to visit a smaller vineyard such Ricardot, where the owner is passionate about the harvests and is still a true farmer at heart. Driving up to the vineyard you are welcomed into a half- timbered house by the owners which is modern and stylish inside. Having just come in from the rain the open log fire was very inviting.
Photo credit: Atelier_Trinité_Photo_Didier_Guy_CDT_Aube

Its lovely to experience a smaller family run vineyard like Ricardot where the latest generation of the family is so passionate about grapes. Monsieur Ricardot explained that he did not want to expand as he wanted to stay as near to the earth as possible. As much as possible pesticides and chemicals are not used. You cannot call the champagne organic as chemicals are needed as and when, but it is always kept to a minimum. As well as providing tours of the production plant and vineyards, Ricardot also provide picnic lunches in the vineyard in order for visitors to appreciate the beautiful panoramic views of the countryside.
It is advisable to book your visit to a champagne house in advance. Tours range from free to priced depending on the experience.

Where to stay
Le Domain de Foolz - Bourguignons

As you drive into Le Domain de Foolz you are welcomed by a small group of animals to your right and 10 beautifully situated chalets alongside the La Seine to your left; its an area where which feels peaceful. Even though quite a few of the chalets were booked it felt like you were the only one there enjoying the La Seine rushing past in the early evening.

The chalets are furnished to a rustic high spec. I thought it funny that the toiletries were all vegetarian based, this keeps with the environmentally friendly surroundings but when anything French comes to mind, vegetarian does not! There is also an indoor swimming pool and sauna.

Le Marius
Le Marius is in the centre of the Les Riceys village and comprises of four buildings dating back to the 16th & 17th century, which is connected by a staircase and is considered a local work of art. There are eleven bedrooms and three suites. Each room is spacious and traditional showing off timbered ceilings, exposed stonework and decorative a fireplace. The bathroom is also spacious, clean and hold all amenities expected. Above all the service was impeccable. The staff are extremely friendly and attentive.
The breakfast room on the first floor is stylish in simple neutral colours and serves the standard continental breakfast. If you are after a cooked breakfast, eggs are available from 830am. Having my breakfast in the bright simple room and watching the villagers starting their day was a lovely start to my morning
Again the service in the Le Marius restaurant was faultless. English menus and explanations of regional dishes were offered. A champagne produced by the owners of the hotel is also available and a nice touch. Having finished the delicious meal we were offered a digestif. Not wanting to stay in the restaurant we were able to have drinks in the ground floor salon where the staff kindly tended bar until we were ready to go to bed.

Things to do in Aube
Quad biking/Off Road Driving
The quadbiking unequivocally matched the best champagne experience. I have been quadbiking a couple of times before and was expecting the usual guided tour around a smallish area or a circuit. My expectations were truly surpassed. The tour is tailored according to your skill and our guide judged ours well. On our two and a half journey our speed gradually increased further and further, and we travelled through villages, vineyards and stunning forests. The panoramic views of the La Cote des Bars Vineyard are beautiful.
Champagne Festival - 24-25 July 2010
Every year villages in the region take it in turn to host the Champagne Route Festival. For an extremely reasonable 8 Euros you purchase a champagne flute which comes with a 20 page brochure providing information on the featured champagne houses, and most importantly vouchers to fill your flute with a free glass of champagne at each house. As well as around 30 cellars opening their doors to the public, street entertainment, exhibitions and gourmet dinner can be experienced as well. Every year the festival is extremely popular and accommodation in the surrounding villages have been known to be fully booked up to 9 months in advance. Thoughts to finding accommodation once there is advised against.

Clairvaux Abbey

Clairaux Abbey is a Cisterian abbey founded at the beginning of the 12 century. It has gone through many change over the centuries. Clairvaux Abbey started out as a monastic abbey where monk lived in silence to one then of ostentation and finally it transformed into a working prison, which was functioning until the early 1970’'s. Today there is actually a working prison adjacent to the abbey holding up to
Photo credit: Abbaye_de_Clairvaux_H__GAUD_CDT_AUBE

150 prisoners. Walking through the old abbey conjours up scenes from an old movies and you can imagine a guard watching from the high watch tower as prisoners walk around the exercise yard.

Du Cote Des Renoir (All about the Renoirs)
Due to open September 2010
Renoir’s wife was from Essoyes who went to Paris to work as a seamstress. She met Renoir, became Renoir’s model and then his wife. He lived there for a short while and had a studio there. He fell in love with the area and many of his paintings are of the local girls and use the surrounding scenery. It now belongs to his great-granddaughter Sophie who used it as a holiday home. The village of Essoyes is getting ready to transform and show how the village played a part in Renoir’s life and painting. There will be exhibitions and personal effects on show.

Champagne Jargon – need to know facts
• Made from three types of grapes;
Pinot Noir – a black grape which has an aroma of red fruit, strength and body
Pinot Meunier – a black grape which makes for “well rounded” assemblages
Chardonnay – a white grape which gives finesse and favours lengthy storage because of it aroma and freshness
• Brut is the amount of sugar which goes into a Champagne
• Cuvee – the blend of grapes
• Appellation – The protected title under which wine can be sold and tells you where the grapes are from.

Getting There
Driving from Paris – 1 hr
Driving from Reims via A26 motorway – 1 hour
From London via Paris Eurostar & TGV (french high speed train) - 4 hours

Executive Traveller 2003