Reims & Lanson Champagne HouseApril 1, 2019 in France ⋅ ☀️ 20 °C
The free aire at Reims isn't as tranquil as our previous stopovers, with a constant daytime drone of vehicles on the nearby dual carriageway, which drops to intermittent at night. However, it does give great access to the city centre, with the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral just 1.3km away.
After a supermarket shop, filling and emptying the van, getting diesel and a drive of 120km, including lunch at motorway services with a huge wild boar statue (see photo), we arrived at Reims. Will had entered a fuel station that sold LPG so we topped up on that before wending our way through city centre streets to find the aire. It is situated behind a utilitarian looking building (apparently a 'digital cultural centre' whatever one of those is), but unusually for France, there was a barrier blocking our entrance with a number to call. Luckily the CamperContact and Park4Night apps had warned us about this, so we were prepared and Will (who has been practicing on the DuoLingo app) made his first phonecall in French, entering the numbers into the keypad as they were read out. We were in! Down a small service road, under a sweep of Weeping Willows, we found 7 side-on-side bays with a low wall dividing them from the small arboretum behind.
It had turned into a warm day (22°C) and after a short rest, Will headed into the city to explore, leaving Vicky to yet more resting. Frequent trams and buses seem to provide a good transport network and keep cars from clogging up the centre. The jewel in Reims' crown is undeniably its gargantuan Gothic cathedral. With the sunshine and blue skies it looked even more impressive, covered with an unfathomable number of stone carvings, depicting gargoyles, royal and religious effigies, punctuated by intricately presented stained glass, with two large rose windows drawing the eye.
The following day, Will showed Vicky a few places he had scouted out for lunch and we chose a hotel bar on a corner just 500m from the cathedral. It was called Le Bon Moine (The Good Monk) and displayed a menu that included veggie cous cous - Vicky's first vegetarian sit down meal in France that wasn't a salad - yey! As you often see in this country, the menu was focused; offering cous cous and a range of burger based meals. The chef concentrated on doing a few dishes well and our food was very tasty as a result. Will chose the lamb cous cous which was the same as Vicky's, but with a huge hunk of meat falling off the bone. There was so much, that he couldn't fit in dessert, but Vicky had delicious tart tatin topped with a scoop creamy vanilla ice cream.
Reims, together with Epernay, a town south of here, are the two centres of Champagne production. We thought it only polite to wash our food down with a glass each. As we did so, we perused the paper maps used as placemats (a nice idea!). Our eyes were drawn to the Champagne bottle icons scattered around the streets, each depicting a Champagne House. Will began to get excited when he saw the Lanson House. His favourite bubbly is produced just 500m from where we'd left Martha Motorhome! A quick check of their website and we found they did cellar tours! With Vicky's birthday approaching, we made the decision to treat ourselves. The aire limited us to a 48 hour stay, so we applied online for a tour that afternoon and heard back shortly via email that there was an English one beginning at 2:30pm - just 50 minute's time. We confirmed and hot footed it over town, arriving with 10 minutes to spare.
The place was like a posh hotel; wrought iron gates, painted black with the golden Lanson script announcing in no uncertain terms the pedigree of the establishment! Entering a high ceilinged white marble hallway, we checked in at the dark wood welcome desk. After payment, we were invited to rest on the rich green Chesterfield suite in the reception area, the centrepiece of which was the end of a mammoth wooden barrel.
Our guide took us and another 3 couples (2 American and one Finnish) to start the tour. After a little history we were shown a map of the company's vinyards, their quality (premier cru, grand cru, cru) and talked about the different types of grapes; chardonay, pinot noir, pinot meunier. The latter two are both black grapes, which is where the 'Lanson Black Label' name was born. These are juiced at stations close to the point of harvest, before being transported to this Champagne House.
Next we went to see Clos Lanson; this 1 hectare, on-site vinyard is planted with chardonay grapes and produces only 8000 bottles a year, approximately one per vine. Back inside, we viewed the fermenting vats and barrels before descending to the cellars, which are kept at a constant 11°C. A special non-UV light emitted an orange glow and dark grey penicillin hung in whisps from the arched tunnel walls.
The tour ended in a comfortable bar, where we were served a flute of Lanson Black Label Brut and left to digest our experience. Others had paid for further glasses of Rosé and Vintage but we'd already had some with lunch, so were happy to trundle our way back to Martha Motorhome.
Before leaving the following morning, we trekked accross the centre of town to the Halles du Boulingrin; Reims' art deco market hall. Even at 10am the shops and cafés were only just coming to life, smells of lunch being prepared wafted through the air, while floors were mopped and terrace tables arranged. We understood from our guide book that the food market was open on Wednesdays, but all we found was a fish stall and one selling vegetables in the entrance. The rest of the space was cordoned off. Peaking past the sellers, then walking round the outside of the aerodrome sized building, we saw it was lit by high, arched windows with orange /yellow glass. The colour of the panes made them look as if they had a serious problem with nicotine stains. All in all the hall was a disappointment, but we enjoyed stretching our legs and taking in the sights, smells and sounds of early morning Reims, which overall was a great city to visit.Read more