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A 5 weeks’ Family Road Trip through French Countryside-May-June 2015

A 5 weeks’ Family Road Trip through French Countryside-May-June 2015

Old Apr 17th, 2020, 01:51 PM
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A 5 weeks’ Family Road Trip through French Countryside-May-June 2015

“Viola” (Waa-La)-here it is!!!


With triple exclamation marks; said my wife when she held my travel diary of my Road trip through countryside France. I had lost it somewhere soon after we came back from our dream adventure in June 2015. She got it while doing the house cleaning. It was stuck in the space between 2 drawers. I had searched all possible places frantically, but in vein. I was so happy to get it back, when I least expected it. I had lost hope. I started reading it and it was re-living all the golden moments, as if it happened yesterday. I decided to convert my travel notes into a travelogue in the Lock-down period in April 2020. “Viola”(Waa-lah)is the word we heard the most in our trip and I had thought that this should be the most apt name of my French travel memoirs, as that’s what France did to us- “to suggest an appearance as if by magic” as per Merriam Webster Dictionary.I am posting it after 4.5 years after my trip, but my memory is fresh. This would be my 1st trip report and also would probably be the 1st posted after 4 years of travel. Please pardon me if I make mistakes. I don't even know if one can post photos on the trip report on Fodors. I used to read trip reports with links to other sites for photos. I guess that has changed. will try some. Some details may be trivial, but may help people planning a road trip and also writing so that we can re-live those wonderful moments. Too bad, real life always has to intervene right after a trip, when we're all wanting to take it easy and bask in the memories.

Every road tells a story. We wanted to explore many of them.
.
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When our flight took off from Mumbai, I was a bit anxious, excited and nervous at the same time.

This was our most coveted, ambitious and longest tour till date. 37 days road trip through French countryside. I had been dreaming of it for last one and a half tear. Spending quality time with the family on a road trip and in one of the most beautiful places, was so exciting and the biggest plus.

ABOUT US:

We are a family bitten by travel bug. My Wife Poonam, 47 and me, 48 years, both architects from Mumbai. My elder daughter Priyanka, 21 is studying medicine 2nd year and will be a doctor in next 2 years. My younger daughter Poorva, 19 is studying architecture 1st year. We have been traveling within India and abroad and have visited 28 countries in Asia, America, Africa and Europe till now. We love Architecture, culture, nature, small villages, picturesque routes, architectural marvels.,
I always research well, plan meticulously and we travel on our own and have achieved an equilibrium within us, between frantic sightseeing and relaxing. Europe remains our most favourite place. We used to travel by Eurail earlier. Since 2010, we have started renting a car for most parts of our trip and fly in between. Driving abroad and that too a left-hand drive car was a big mental block. Overcoming that has created a whole lot of opportunities for us. I also like to live like the locals, buy grocery at local stores, interact with them and be temporary residents of the place. All of it is not possible everywhere. But I look forward to such holidays

After visiting several countries in various continents, I have come to a conclusion that it’s more rewarding to travel to our favourite places, rather than travelling to new countries to get more stamps on our passports.

We used to plan our trips based on the travel brochures of Thomas Cook et al. Have done a “9 West European countries in 35 days” and “8 countries 17 days” Eurail trip to Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. After doing the orientation we became more matured and ambitious and started visiting 2 countries in a 21 to 30 days. This was a much more rewarding experience.

My destination is the journey itself. Small villages and beautiful places on the way on the road trip. This I find is the best way of family bonding. I did not want to leave a lot of France unseen and for the next trip as I do not know if I will come back to France

Our last travel was a 33 days trip to USA and Canada, in 2013, but that was only Poonam and I. Our last family trip together was way back 5 years ago in 2010. Last 5 years were full of rigorous studies for both my daughters as these were the career deciding years. They were also very taxing for us. Both of them could secure admissions in their choice of courses in flying colours. This was the time to reward ourselves.



WHY FRANCE:

Art and architecture, Cultural and historical heritage sites, Prehistoric caves, Religious places, Geological wonders, picturesque villages trails, beautiful Vineyards, Charming towns, Grand cities, Fairy-tale castles, Scenic landscapes, Alpine meadows and snow-capped peaks, beautiful lakes, azure blue coastline, beautiful beaches, floral carpets, fruits, delicious food, Wine tasting, Michelin Star restaurants, great culture and warm people, wonderful climate with 300 days of sunshine; France has it all.

This was one trip which I had in mind since a long time but kept postponing it because of my ignorance. We have seen Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Greece, Spain in small parts in 3 or 4 trips to each of them. Had never studied France much and didn’t know much beyond Paris and Nice. Had been to Paris twice earlier. I always wanted to visit all those Chateaux and Cathedrals that we studied in History of Architecture. The images that captured my fancy were the Lavender fields, picturesque Mont Saint Michel and the magnificent Chateau de Chambord. One thing I was sure about was that I wanted to see the France beyond the tour brochures and off the beaten track.

PLANNING:

Finalizing the itinerary for France was the biggest problem. Such a big and diverse country which has so much to offer in all respects. I started doing my research one and a half year before our travel date.

This for me is the most interesting part of travelling. Sometimes the study and anticipation is even more interesting than the actual travel. I started my planning almost 18 months ago, in Jan 2014. After a bit of web searching, I posted my question on Fodors Forum in Feb. 14 asking suggestions about a 3 weeks itinerary for a perfect road trip in France. It was only a wish list and got some valuable suggestions along with a lot of strong criticism for my ignorance and silly and superfast itinerary. That gave me an inspiration and a certain direction. I did a lot of research and posted another question on Forum for a 30 days Itinerary help. As I studied more, even more fascinating places came up and the choices became harder. I had based my itinerary loosely on Rick Steve’s 21 days itinerary. Added some more days to it to experience the places and their culture. Original plan was to witness Lavender bloom in late June early July. Getting such a big holiday from my work and also from my daughters’ colleges was difficult. May and 1st 10 days of June are holidays for the colleges in India. So we dropped the idea of lavender bloom and decided to travel in mid-May. One main reason also was the excessive heat in Europe in June. It becomes intolerable even for people like us living in hot climate. The more I studied, the more I realized

That's the best part of the trip..planning, sketching, writing, studying culture, history, architecture.
that I needed minimum 30 days, which finally became 37 days. This was going to be my longest and most ambitious travel plan. Also the longest time I rented the car for.

I have been devoting a lot of time on studying places and deciding the perfect itinerary. Have almost reached a conclusion that there is nothing that is perfect and no one can see it all even if one wants to make a number of visits in a lifetime.”
There is also a fear of Deja Vu factor after a while, which we call as ABC syndrome.. Another Bloody Castle/ Church. So we zeroed in on places to stay for 3 to 4 nights and have listed attractions as per priority. Didn’t want to see more than 2 to 3 places a day. Whatever I could see and absorb. Didn’t want to miss the fun while trying to execute a perfect plan. Journey is the destination in itself.


France has an extremely well-developed tourism network. They have designated places like

a, les-plus-beaux-villages-Beatiful villages with history and character and those that have population less than 1000 people./ b.Historical Monuments / c.Natural site / d.Conservation area / e.Cities Art and History / f,Small Towns of Character /g.villages in Bloom- Where they give star rating to the villages that have the best and flowers. 4 flowers is the maximum rating./h. Castles/ i. Religious sites./ j. Geological wonders./ k. Themed scenic routes./ l. Palaces/ m. Big cities

One can select an area and cover the places of interest in a route. It’s a problem of plenty.

1st step was to decide a rough itinerary and to decide the entry and exit points and number of days. We had planned to rent a car as we landed, take a route through our desired destinations to form a circular loop and drop it back after the trip and see Paris on foot and with public transport. The original plan was anticlockwise almost circular route starting from Paris and ending in Paris. Eventually we reversed it to a clockwise loop. We had ruled out an open jaw ticket option as we wanted to cover all the possible locations. I tried to keep distance between 2 bases limited to max 300 km/200 miles, so that I have time to see places on the way. Stu Dudley's(He helped a lot in planning on Fodors) favourite punch line..
“Spend more time being there and less time getting there”


Next was to fine tune the itinerary. This was the toughest part of the entire planning. There is so much to see in every province. What to leave and what to see was a big dilemma. I was charged up now. Used to spend most of my free time reading, surfing internet, interacting on travel forum. Fodors Forum was my best Guru. I followed 4+1+4+1 theory. Stay at one place for 4 days and do day trips to see places around. Take an overnight break for 1 day at an interesting destination to break a long journey to another enchanting place for 4 nights. This worked very well for us. I wanted to see the beautiful countryside, quaint villages, scenic and breath-taking drives. Deliberately avoided staying at big cities except Paris and Nice. I also made a Pictorial Power Point Presentation of our tour itinerary for my family and myself.
OUR FINAL ITINERARY:


CHAMPAGNE 1 N/1D

DAY 1 –Land at CDG, Rent a car n drive to Eperney 1 N

ALSACE- 4 N-3D


Day 2 -Chamapgne route and wine tasting
Drive to Alsace via chalons and Nancy
Beblenheim- Alscae - 4 n

Day 4,5,6 Strasbourg, Konigsberg castle,
Wine route, Colmar
Black forest- lake Titisee

SWITZERLAND- 1 N-2 D


Day 7 -Drive to Switzerland- stay at Krattigen- 1 N
Spiez, Lake Thun, Kandersteg, Lauterbrunnen

RHONE ALPS- 3N/ 2 D


Day 8 -Drive to Doussard- (Lake Annecy)- 3 N
enroute visit Gstaadt and Saanen
plus Yvoire Castle

Day 10. 11 Chamonix, Mont Blanc, Megeve
Lake Annecy, Menthon palace

FRENCH RIVIERA- 5N/4D


Day 12-Drive to Juan Les Pins - 5 N
via "Napolean Route" Grenoble to Gap etc

Day 13, 14, 15, 16 Nice
Eze and menton
Grasse perfume factory
St Tropez, Antebes

PROVENCE 4N/3D

Day 15 -Drive to St Andiol ( Near St. Remy)- 4 N
En route- see Cassis and Marselles
15, 16,17 Gordes, Rossilion ect.

CARCASSONE (
Languedoc-Roussillon) 1N

Day 20-Drive from St Andiol to Carcassone

DORDOGNE (
Aquitaine) 3N/ 2D

Day 21 -Drive to Beynac, via Cahors, Monpazier etc

22,23 Boat Trip at Gogec

SALERS- (
Midi-Pyrenees- Lot )1 N

Day 24 -Drive to Salers - 1 N
Rocamadur, Padirac etc

MASSIF CENTRAL- 1 N


Day 25 Drive to Le Puy – (2 N Planned Originally)
en route- visit some villages
26 Ley Puy Local

LOIRE VALLEY (EAST) 4 N/3 D


Day 26- Drive to Loire vally (Onzain) - 3 N
and see Chambord in d even.
28, 29 Chenoncea and Cheverny, Chaumont
Blois, Amboise
LOIRE VALLEY (W) -1N/1D


28 -Drive to Loire West- near Saumur- 1 N
Visit some more chateau

NORMANDY/BRITNEY- 2 N


Day 29 -Drive to MSM- 2 N
En route- See Fogere's
30 See MSM- Drive to Dinan and back to Mont saint Michel

VERSAILES- 1N


Drive to Versailes
Paris- 4N/ 4D


Day 32

Drive to CDG Paris- drop the car- 4 N
34,35,36 Paris

Day 37 Return to Mumbai by flight



REFERENCES & BOOKS & WEBSITES:

Books I referred are

France DK Eyewitness Guide- Has the best pictorial details and notes. Has architectural details, cross section of important structures, Birds eye view of historical precincts with a walking tour route and much more.

France Lonely planet Guide: It has important details and highlights about regions, sights, local transportation, maps etc. These two books together make the best combination guide.

Michelin Road Maps: I ordered 2 books online from Amazon.com USA. One was a big fat detailed book and a small handbook. This had fantastic maps in detail. Probably the best maps available. Frankly, with the great navigation on phone, we didn’t need this much.

Websites:

https://fr.wikipedia.org/

https://www.les-plus-beaux-villages-de-france.org/fr/

Frommers.com for maps of Walking tours of all the cities

http://www.france-voyage.com/cities-towns/labels.htm

https://www.fodors.com/community/europe/ Fodors Forum has been by far the best guide each and every time.

AIR TRAVEL

2nd step was booking air tickets. I booked our tickets Mumbai-Paris-Mumbai via Doha on Qatar Airways on 24th October 2014. I realised that we could have got some better and cheaper connections in February 2015. 3 to 4 months prior to the departure is a good time to book tickets out of India. Booking tickets on Tuesdays and Wednesdays also can get a good deal sometimes rather than weekends. Now my trip dates were fixed to 15th May 2015 to 21st June 2015.

ACCOMMODATION:

I booked all my apartments and hotels through booking.com, which allowed me to cancel and rebook without any penalty. This process of “quest for the best” continued almost till we left.

We booked self catering apartments with a kitchen at most places. France has a very good system of family run home stays and villas/ apartments. The call it “Gite”. One can rent an excellent place for a week starting from 300 Euros for 4 people for a week upto 7-800, 100 Euros a week. The longer you stay, better it gets for both. There are websites for that.

One does have to see if there is an airconditioner. We didn’t check that and did suffer at one place in the first week of June.

LOCAL TRANSPORT & LOGISTICS:

4th Step was to book the car. I tried various rental options almost for 6 months. Our main requirement was to accommodate 4 bags of 24” size and have a zero excess insurance that covers everything. I have a separate thread on forum about what to look for while booking a car and how to get a better deal. The 2nd best deal was through Autoeurope from Hertz. It was for a Renault Captur for 835 USD plus additional zero excess insurance. This car could take only 2 bags. The best deal I got was long term rentals/ ownership from Renault Eurodrive for 33 days for :Renault Dacia Duster 4x2 petrol Tce 125 cv GPS Europe for 928 €. I also got a free Tank full of Petrol worth 90 Euros as Special Offer when I confirmed before March, 31. This was a plan where I bought a brand new car and sold it back to them after 33 days. (This plan is available for rentals over 17 days period) I pay only the difference which was effectively 838 Euros. I was treated as an expat and the car had a red coloured number plate. This plan covered total zero excess insurance cover, road side assistance, no charges for lost keys, facility of dropping the car anywhere at 40 locations of Renault Eurodrive throughout France and Europe, without any return or pick up charges. (I didn’t need any of these) Free built in GPS, Unlimited kilometers, insurance any number of drivers free of cost.

NAVIGATION:

ViaMichelin.com maps and navigation was much better and realistic than Google Maps.

I planned all the routes in Viamichelin.com. Did a lot of research on Google maps. Saw Street Views several times of several routes.

We bought a Nokia phone for my daughter and downloaded HERE MAPS as in 2015, these maps were the only option for offline navigation, if one doesn’t have a Tomtom or Garmin.

We also had Google maps in each of our Android phones. We had downloaded offline maps of France, Switzerland and Black Forest, Germany.

We eventually got the car with a free built in Navigation, which we used all the time. Many times, HERE MAPS gave us better directions.

In addition to this, I was carrying a TAB which we used for carrying all the route maps, information about places etc. We thought this was a better and eco-friendly way to be traveling light.

ROADS & TOLL:

There are Toll roads which usually bypass the villages and are fast. Tolls are high. As per my calculations on ViaMichelin.com, we would have had to pay close to 200-250 Euros as toll.

Tolls are to be paid either by cash, card or a prepaid Card sticker. Speed limit is usually 90 to 110 km/hr

There are non-toll roads that run parallel to the Toll-roads, which go through the small villages and are more scenic. Speed limit was 50-70-90 km/hr. In the villages it comes to 30km.

Both road quality is great. Didn’t make much difference at all places, as we used to leave early on a long day. We used more of country roads and less of toll roads.

INSURANCE

We bought travel insurance online for 250,000 USD for the entire duration of our travel after comparing on Policybazaar.com. I received the policies on email. This is required to be done before the Visa application.

VISA

We took an online appointment for Schengen Visa with the VFS France in Mumbai. Gathered all the documents and applied around 6th of April 15, about 4o days in advance. Received it in 7 days.

DRIVING LICENCE:

We applied 3 weeks prior for International Driving License valid for 1 year, from Tardeo RTO, Mumbai. Got it in 2 hours. That’s required along with the valid local driving licence.

MONEY:

We bought Euros currency notes in India. Besides this we carried Credit Cards. On the hindsight, we think that we should have carried a Foreign Currency Card with Euros preloaded, as many petrol stations accepted only these cards and no cash. We had Priority Pass for International Lounge Access.

FOOD:

We carried ready to eat Food packets, Tea, Coffee Sachets. Carried an Electric Kettle to make all this. Typically, we used to buy local bread, eggs, cheese, desserts from a local bakery or super market. Made our breakfast and dinners mostly in our apartments. Had lunches outside. We didn’t carry small Thermos for hot tea, coffee during the journey, which we added in our next trip.

PACKING:

Nest stepwas one of the most exiting one. Shopping and packing for the trip. I was working overtime to complete my projects in hand. We were all set for the dream trip of our lifetime. We carried 4 soft luggage bags of 24”+2” of wheels(650mm)+ 2 small strolley haversacks, a small shoulder camera bag. Flat Waist Pouches to be worn inside the trousers to carry cash. Carried Travel jackets with inner pockets and carried Passports and driving licences all the time on body.

Carried layered clothing as the weather in each part was different.

TELEPHONE and DATA:

I had decided that I will buy a LEBARA prepaid Phone and Data card locally when we land at the airport. The shop at the airport wasn’t selling the data card that I needed. I thought we will buy it later. The next day was a Sunday. We postponed the decision of buying the card as we had wifi in every hotel/ apartment. We eventually didn’t buy a card, which we should have. There is an option of pre-ordering the card which should be chosen. We corrected this error in our next trip.

CAMERA:

I CARRIED MY Nikon D 7000 Camera with 17-50mm f 2.8 as walk around lens/ 50mm f 1,4 portrait lens/ 70-200 f 2.8 for details and people / 11-16 f 2.8 super wide for landscapes













Paragkash is offline  
Old Apr 17th, 2020, 02:24 PM
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I remember your planning...looking forward to your photos and descriptions.
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Old Apr 17th, 2020, 03:02 PM
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Dream journey begins...


The adventure begins. The 4 Characters of this story.

Flying over the AlpsDAY 1- Saturday 16th May 2016

Adventure begins- Mumbai Paris flight and Drive to Eparney, Champagne

Left home by 00.45 hrs by Ola cab. Reached by 1.15 am. Check in and security done in 30 min. Boarded by 4 am.

Qatar Airways flight

4.40 am – 5.35 am- (3.30 hours flying time)

2.35 hours layover at Doha, Qatar airport

8.10 am – 14.10 pm Doha – CDG Paris

Qatar airport was very nice.

Boarded flight A 380, the largest aircraft ever, for Doha to CDG Paris journey.

Very spacious. Generous leg space, push back reclining seats.

Good choice of in flight entertainment.

I watched my favourite Classic war movie “Where eagles dare” for the n th time. Poonam watched Mardani and friends. Priyanka studied and slept. Poorva also slept well. Good food and wine on board. We landed at 14.10 hrs. Immigration, getting luggage etc took 1 hour. Wheel of one of our 4 bags was broken. Tourist info at the airport was pathetic and didn’t have any information or brochures. Tried buying a mobile sim card at Relay Shop at the airport but it had a 7.50E calling card without internet (for 9.90 E). Data was a must for us. Thought of buying it elsewhere. (We didn’t eventually buy the card during the trip, as we got WIFI at all the hotels and apartments. It was a mistake but didn’t matter much)
We found a free land line phone and called Renault “TT Cars” He called us to Gate no. 2 on Departure level which was one level below arrival level. Nicholai came there within 5 minutes with a big van. Took us and our luggage to his office which was 5 km away. It was one small structure with a large surrounding area where many cars were parked. My brand new white SUV Renault Dacia Duster (Petrol manual) was ready for us. He copied my passport, I signed a contract document in 5 minutes.

We left at 4.30 pm, took a Toll road (2.10 E) to Eparney and reached by 7.30 pm. Approx. 156 km with 89km on motorways (toll 6.10E) out of the 2 hours drive.

Was a bit careful and slow in the beginning as the car, roads were new and I was driving a left and drive car. In about 15 minutes I was whistling and all knew I was very comfortable.

The car had a very good GPS cum entertainment touch screen system.

I had noted down Google coordinates of all the hotels and apartments. So we never lost our way or had to ask for directions to anyone.
The roadscape became very scenic as we left the toll road and entered Chamapgne region towards Eparney.

Enroute, in Champagne region we saw a Mansion being renovated. Owner Nicholas was proudly explaining us the interiors.


On the right is the 5th and very important character of our story. Our Duster. It was brand new, Done just 90 km run to the yard. We could tell that from the smell inside a new car. It was going to play a lead character in our story.. ..

The owner explained us the details of the renovation of his 300 years old Chateau. He was going to convert it into a "Gite" Holiday Villa.

The proud owner Nicholas with the Chateau.

We took a photo stop at a pretty village Châtillon-sur-Marne lies in the valley of the Marne River, surrounded by the Parc Naturel de la Montagne de Reims. The village stands above sloping vineyards and fields.


Village Centre of Châtillon-sur-Marne. We parked our car here and walked up to the castle.

Statue of Pope Urban II, Châtillon-sur-Marne.
Parked our car and walked 5 minutes up the hill to see the Statue of Pope Urban II. Beautiful view of vineyards and villages from there. That was our first glimpse of rural France. I knew we were in for a great trip.

View of the Marne river valley from top of the hill.

View of the Marne river valley from top of the hill.

We covered 160 km. Drove for about 3 hours including photo stops. Reached Eparney by 7pm. Just about a perfect time to drive just after landing. I wasn't tired.

Bought grocery ar Carrefour Eparney.
Reached hotel Premiere Classe Eparney. Compact room with a double bed and a bunk bed and very compact toilet.
Watched a glorious sunset over Eparney from our 2nd floor room window. Had dinner in the room & slept by 10 pm.

1st day was exactly as planned. I was happy.
Paragkash is offline  
Old Apr 17th, 2020, 08:39 PM
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Looking forward to reading your adventure. It sounds wonderful!
cafegoddess is online now  
Old Apr 18th, 2020, 05:24 AM
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I remember when you were planning this trip and I figured you would write a great trip report for us. So what if it took five years? I'm glad your wife found the notebook. Reading about your planning and your successful first day has been a real treat. Looking forward to more.
Coquelicot is online now  
Old Apr 18th, 2020, 08:21 AM
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Paragkash, IMO misplacing your notebook was
quite providential! We’re all in travel withdrawal and look forward to going along with you on your journey...😃
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Old Apr 18th, 2020, 12:46 PM
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DAY 2- Sunday 17th May 2016- Taste of Champagne and Drive to Alsace

Weather: 18 C- A Perfect Sunny day

Eparney was meticulously chosen as our overnight stop to break the journey between Paris and Alsace. It is just 2 hours’ drive from Paris. We wanted to stay away from big cities and towns. It is popular yet a small town that is home to many of the world’s most celebrated Champagne houses. It is the best place for touring cellars and sampling bubbly and also makes an ideal base for exploring the scenic Champagne Routes.

We got up at 7 am. Quite fresh now and didn’t feel any fatigue of travel on the earlier day. Had breakfast in the hotel. Cleaned the car and left by 9 am. Drove about 1.5 km to Eparney centre. Parked the car in the by lane just off the main Avenue. It was a lazy Sunday morning. Not many people around. Tourist buses from Paris were yet to arrive for a day trip.

Avenue de Champagne is the most glamorous but quaint street that has the big wineries like Moet and Chandon, Pol Roger, Tattinger, Mercier, Laurent-Perrier, Bollinger and Dom Perignon occupying palatial buildings on either side. This is where all the grapes on the surrounding hills come to be elevated into Champagne.

Walking on this quiet tree lined street, you will not realize what lies beneath. Millions of bottles of champagne! There are miles long tunnels & large cellars built into the chalk rock, beneath the streets, in which the wines which are bottled and stored and processed to mature. Above ground, it looks like any other town. Underground however is another story. Covering 110 km, underground tunnels and caves dug out of chalk are part of everyday life for the Champagne Houses. At about 30 m under the Avenue de Champagne, staff can be seen driving little buggies, checking on wine, riddling (turning) the bottles and taking visitors on tours. France produces close to 300 Million bottles of Champagne every year.

Moet & Chandon (which alone produces 28 million bottles/year) tour was on my itinerary but it was closed for renovation.

It's an easy stroll down the street to the centre of town. Visited the City hall neoclassical “Hotel De Ville” beautiful gardens.

Eparney has a long and turbulent history that dates back to Roman times since 5th century. Having to endure more than most towns ever would, Epernay, has been completely destroyed and plundered around 20 times in its history. Last ones were the 2 world wars. It has been painstakingly rebuilt and what looks traditional and old is actually built in 19th and 20th Century.

We clicked a few photos and left at 11.30 to explore the most beautiful countryside.


The scenic Route du Champagne goes across the “Grande Montagne” (large mountain), realm of Pinot noir, and follows the edge of the “Parc Naturel Régional de la Montagne de Reims” (a protected natural area) with the remarkable village of Verzenay and Verzy, a very ancient wine growers village.

Paragkash is offline  
Old Apr 18th, 2020, 01:38 PM
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Great report! Worth the wait, so glad you found your notebook. I’m along for the trip as, of course, mine’s been cancelled.
schnauzer is offline  
Old Apr 18th, 2020, 03:18 PM
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Enjoying your report. Looking forward to reading more.
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Old Apr 18th, 2020, 10:10 PM
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Hi cafegoddess, Coquelicot, geetika, schnauzer, travlsolo2
I am glad that you guys are following the trip report.
Actually, i did think that writing a report for the first time and that too after 5 years was a weird idea.
But it is surely giving me a pleasure of re-living those moments.
Trying to make a constructive use of the lock-down period.
As an added benefit, it has also given me some positivity in the otherwise gloomy period.
Thanks all for the encouragement.
Paragkash is offline  
Old Apr 19th, 2020, 01:37 AM
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Yes, Paragkash, we need the positivity too. Thanks for continuing.
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Old Apr 19th, 2020, 08:33 AM
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Beautiful streets of Eparney.

I realized it after coming here that Hotel De Ville is not a hotel but a Town hall and is usually one of the most opulent building in the town/city. This one is no exception. Ornate with lot of statues and handsome architecture. Has a beautiful garden attached at the back. We got some good photo ops.

This is the reason for Eparney to be called as the self proclaimed capital of the Champagne. The Superstars of Champagne makers are here. Moet & Chandon owns huge estates and hundreds of acres of vineyards around. It alone makes 28 million bottles of Champagne every year.
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Old Apr 19th, 2020, 11:35 AM
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Unhurried and relaxed Absorbing the surroundings rather than trying to see

Route goes through some picture post card villages

Lessons in French learnt on day 1- Vegetables are called Legumes and bread is called Pain Buying grocery and local produce from the local "boulangerie" bakery shop is what we love when we are on a vacation. We try to speak a few words in the local language and that breaks the ice. It also gives us the feeling of being temporary residents of the place and not tourists.

Route touristique du Champagne
Goes through one of the most scenic landscapes
Route touristique du Champagne,,,
The scenic route passes through beautiful green landscapes and picture postcard villages. All very well signposted

These could easily pass off as windows Wallpaper Best Scenery. Beautiful sunny day

Beautiful

Eglise Du Mutigny.. The church on a hill has a beautiful setting. Its surrounded with vineyards

That's the slide I made in my presentation to show the location of Champagne region in the North East of France and the best thing it produces.
villages
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Old Apr 19th, 2020, 12:46 PM
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You've take some great photos but the scenery makes it easy. Nice to see the four of you smiling and happy. Do the women in your family know how much pre-trip work you did?
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Old Apr 19th, 2020, 12:48 PM
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DAY 2- Sunday 17th May 2016- Taste of Champagne and Drive to Alsace ( Continued)

We went on a scenic route through Champagne villages and vineyards, drove East to Ay. Took a photo stop. We had great views and drove in the middle of the well known vineyards of Pommery , Moet-Chandon , Veuve Clicquot The villages are delightful and we had a lovely drive. We stopped at Mutigny Church up the hill. It has good views of the surrounding vineyards all around. We were slightly hungry and thought of having some waffles that we had picked up from Eparney and some snacks that we were carrying. It was nice to view the countryside from Mutigny Eglise (Church)

This region has some of the best champagnes in the world! Especially the small and unknown champagne houses are the best and what makes the champagne region that amazing! We wanted to find out how the champagne was discovered at the birthplace of Champagne.

Our next customary halt was a well-researched small family owned Champagne maker called “Champagne Zimmerlin Flamant” at Mutigny. This was really the highlight of the day's trip! It is run by Philippe and his wife. It is a very small set up. He probably doesn’t have his own vineyards. Not knowing French can be a problem in the small villages. They had a Dutch artist and his wife with them who knew English, as he lives in New York for some moths of the year. The owner lady and the artist took us on a small tour and explained us the art of making of Champagne. The tour is free. You pay for the tasting per glass. We already knew a few things and learnt a lot more about the history and the process.

1. A unique stand for the bottles. The are always stored inclined.
2. Philippe showing us how the Champagne bottle is rotated slightly every day. to reduce the buildup of bubbles in the unopened bottles, This procedure, called "riddling," is still done today by hand in the most prestigious champagne houses.
3. Their vessels where the grapes are crushed
4. The small set up of the cellar.


1. In the courtyard of the small winery. 2. Method of corking the bottles. They are always inclined till they come to the shop.
2. We tasted 3 of their best collections and picked up one bottle. They tasted better after knowing how much of history and technology goes behind it.


A procedure called "disgorgement." This involves uncorking the bottles during the second fermentation

What we understood after the informative tour that had a personal touch.

“Champagne is a light sparkling wine which is made only in the Champagne region of north-eastern France.
It is different from all other sparkling wines in the world for three major reasons:

1. a wine can only be labeled as "champagne" if is made in the Champagne region of France.

2. to be called "champagne," it must be made only from the Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, or Chardonnay grapes which grow in that region.

3.true champagne, as opposed to other sparkling wines has to have gotten its bubbles by undergoing the fermentation process twice: once in barrels and again in bottles. Champagne can be produced elsewhere, as long as credit it given to the "methode champenoise" on the label.

A near-blind Benedictine monk named Dom Pierre Perignon was given the job of being its chief treasurer and cellar master. When he first took over in 1688, the wine being produced by the abbey was adequate but pale. Perignon feared that the deep red wine from the neighboring region of "Bourgogne" (Burgundy), was gaining favor with the King . The lighter red of the wine produced in Champagne was becoming a problem but was unavoidable due to the cooler climate of the region.

In this northern region of France the grapes had to be harvested early and the wine barrels became too cold during winter months. Unfortunately, even though it had not reached peak fermentation, the pinkish juice had to be bottled. After all, there was a royal demand for the product, and it was up to the monks at the abbey to deliver. But while the chilly winter had temporarily halted the fermentation process, the warmer spring climate "reawakened" the fermentation after the wine had been bottled. The result, of course, were bubbles!

Because Perignon and his abbey brothers were frustrated by the presence of the "bulles" (French for "bubbles"), they began altering the wine's chemistry by blending several types of grapes and removing the skins. What resulted was the art of blending, and the first white wine ever produced! Yet, unfortunately, this new elegant pale wine persisted in fermenting after it was bottled!

The bubbles were considered by the monks to be a serious defect in the wine, and the cause of production disasters: bottles were exploding all over the cellars! Nevertheless, Dom Perignon did not give up; and legend says that when he tasted the new lighter bubbly wine he was pleasantly surprised, and exclaimed "Come quickly, brothers! I'm tasting stars!" If the elegant bubbly could just be bottled without exploding, the monks could introduce a truly exciting new wine. Dom Perignon began by changing the shape of the bottle and using heavier glass. The stronger bottle eliminated the explosion problem, but now the effervescence of the bubbly wine persisted in blowing out the hemp and oil stoppers. Perignon turned to Spain for stoppers made of cork, and Voilà . . . the cork did it! The king's court was delighted with this new effervescent pale colored wine. The abbey's reputation was saved!

Nearly a century passed before a young woman named Nicole Clicquot would implement ways to enhance bottle fermentation of sparkling wine. The "Veuve (Widow) Clicquot" took over her husband's champagne "house" at the age of 27 when he died unexpectedly, thus becoming one of the "grandes dames" of champagne, as well as a business woman far ahead of her time. In an attempt to reduce the buildup of bubbles in the unopened bottles, her cellar master began rotating the bottles slightly every day. Tah-dah!! This procedure, called "riddling," is still done today by hand in the most prestigious champagne houses.

The House of Clicquot also perfected a procedure called "disgorgement." This involves uncorking the bottles during the second fermentation to dislodge the yeast sediment that had accumulated. The bottles were stored at an angle so that sediment would settle in the neck . Upon releasing the cork, pressure forced sediment to be expelled from the bottle. An expert "disgorger" could then quickly re-cork the bottle before losing any of the precious bubbly.

The true French way to make champagne still relies on blending grapes, fermenting the wine in bottles, riddling the bottles to reduce pressure, and disgorging the sediment from the neck. Any current producer of sparkling wine who strictly follows these procedures can legally use the expression on their label.”



There are approximately 58 million bubbles in one bottle of champagne.

A carved water fountain , Ingenious equipment that can only be seen in a small scale winery...... Signature cork


We paid 2 Euros per glass each for the 2 varieties of Champagne Blend and one of Chardonnay. We also bought a bottle Zimmerlin-Flamant Cuvee Prestige Brut. We were slightly richer in our knowledge of the divine magic potion, at least for the time being.
A unique wine bottle

Campaign tasting done, winery visit done. One box ticked. We loved it. We continued the Scenic route.

We have resolved the problem of driving after wine testing. Only one of us tastes the wine and the other one drives after that. So Poonam drove after that. We drove till Verzeney. A beautiful little village. Drive all the way was extremely scenic at every turn. Saw the windmill. Kids were sleeping at the back. Clicked some photos and cut short our route by 2 pm and drove towards Nancy.

We loved Champagne and were glad that we chose to stay and spend one and a half day there. Two-three days in Champagne would be wonderful and relaxing. But to think of it, it would have been the same beautiful landscape for some more time. Looking back, I think it was just right.

We stopped along the motorway at Rest area food plaza at 2.30 pm. Had some light snacks and hot coffee. Whenever we are on the move and have to drive long distances, we don’t eat heavy meals, but eat small portions after some intervals. That keeps us alert. Another rule that we follow is that, we change drivers between the two of us after every 2 hours or after the first yawn by the driver, whichever comes earlier, generally, try and take at least a 5 minutes halt n stretch after every 2 hours. Strictly avoid driving after sunset.


NANCY:

We took the fast toll road and reached Nancy by 5 pm. It took us about 30 minutes to find a parking space. We could not locate the underground parking places. We finally found a place on a road side near the centre, as it was a Sunday; we could park there for free. (We try and plan our visits to big cities on Sundays and try and reach there early in the morning, as there is less traffic and parking laws are relaxed)


We had a long drive. 50+20 km in Champagne and 330 km from Champagne to Beblenheim in Alsace almost on Germany Border. 400 km in a day with sightseeing and Champagne tasting was just as we planned.

Along the road to Nancy

Stanislas Square... One of the best in Europe. Its bursting with locals and tourists. Very Opulent and lively place.

Fountains of Neptune and Amphitrite
Generous use of gold plating and ornamentation on the splendid wrought-iron gates

We chose Nancy as our halt, as the former capital of the Duchy of Lorraine has architectural marvels around every corner, from UNESCO-listed 18th-century squares to baroque palaces and elegant art nouveau villas., It was built by Stanislas Leszczynski, father-in-law of Louis XV, king of France, and unhappy pretender to the Polish throne. Its main pedestrian square “the Place Stanislas” is one of the most opulent of the royal squares in Europe and is one of the best urban spaces or plazas in France.
It looked more opulent in the golden sunlight in the evening because of the richness of its architecture and ornamentation.

The place is plush with generous use of gold plating and ornamentation on the splendid wrought-iron gates that decorate the open corners, the Fountains of Neptune and Amphitrite of the sculptor Guibal, the Fountain of the Place d’Alliance by Paul-Louis Cyfflé. All this makes this ensemble a veritable masterpiece.
Cafes full of tourists, musicians were making it more vibrant. We soaked ourselves in the atmosphere for some time. We had to still go a long way. so left by 6 pm.

DRIVE TO ALSACE:


Entrance to the 7 km long Maurice Lemaire tunnel through Vosges Mountains. Great feat of engineering. Winding mountain road after we crossed the tunnel.

1.Toll Road from Nancy to the tunnel. Road-scape and sunlight were fantastic thoughout 2. A 7 km long Maurice Lemaire tunnel through Vosges Mountains. Great feat of engineering. Speed limit 80 km 3. Interesting tall sculpture to welcome us to Alsace on the other side of the tunnel

1. Beautiful landscape that was totally different from Champagne. Sheeps grazing at the foot of the Vosgage Mountain. 2. We had reached Beblenheim, Alsace; well within time. It was still daylight at 8 pm.


We wanted to reach our apartment in Alsace well before the sunset. We took N333 and then the toll road N59, converging into N159. Passed through a 7 km long Maurice Lemaire tunnel through Vosges Mountains. Great feat of engineering. We emerged on the other side of the mountain in Alscae and the scenery changed drastically. It was much cooler too. We drove down through winding mountain roads. Beautiful scenery around. We reached on the planes below and reached Beblenheim after driving for 135 km from Nancy by 8 pm. Total driving on the day was about 380 km. We paid 8 Euros- toll till Beblenheim. There was still twilight in the sky. We manged to reach before dark.

A very small village. Our apartment “Gite Du Vignoble” on the 1st floor was a part of an old family home where the landlord’s family lived. Small family run place with an entrance courtyard. Place had a Character, central location, close to all important villages. Village is small and quaint. Has well equipped kitchen, washing machine. Value for money. We loved it at that price. Apartment is on the 1st floor with a small flight of steps. We had to take the bags up the stairs but that was ok.

We parked our car outside on the road outside the Apartment. The apartment was large, with one Bedroom, Living cum bedroom, kitchen, dining, bath and wc. Had free wifi, TV and an equipped kitchen, washing machine. We could see the church spire through our window. The landlord was a very humble old man. Could speak only German and French. We somehow managed to communicate. His teenage granddaughter also helped us by conversing in English. He had kept a complimentary local Reisling wine bottle for us. We had dinner at home and slept by 11 pm.

We had a long drive. 50+20 km in Champagne and 330 km from Champagne to Beblenheim in Alsace almost on Germany Border. We were carrying our luggage right from the time we checked out at 9. We stopped at minimum 5 places, including 2 big cities, with the luggage in the boot. We had to take the risk against the advice of many veterans. Luckily, we were safe. 400 km in a day with Eparney and Nancy sightseeing and Champagne tasting was just as we planned.
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Old Apr 19th, 2020, 01:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Coquelicot View Post
You've take some great photos but the scenery makes it easy. Nice to see the four of you smiling and happy. Do the women in your family know how much pre-trip work you did?
Coquelicot, Thanks, Yes, You are right. the scenery is so good that the photos look better, even by an armature photographer by a simple phone camera.
Having said that, I do research on the photography of a particular place, which place (especially monuments) gets better light at which time. I also carry a calendar with sunset and sunrise timings. Try to click in the Golden hour for particular places. If possible, see sunrises or sunsets. It becomes difficult in Europe, as sunrises are at 5 and sunsets are after 9-9.30 pm in the summers. Burning the candle from both sides isn't possible every time. I also study and carry the required heavy lenses and an SLR camera. Study frames and angles. It just gives a slight edge. After all I accept that I am not a professional photographer but a hobby photographer.

Yes, we all in the family enjoy travelling to new and sometimes offbeat places. Though the extent of passion cannot be the same. Road trips are the best for family bonding.

"Do the women in your family know how much pre-trip work you did?"

I am amazed that you thought of this question. It always is at the back of my mind. But never spoke to my family about it.
The women do see me reading and researching. They somewhat know but do not probably know to what extent and how much thinking, meticulous planning and efforts go into it.
If the trip goes well as planned and everything falls in place, it is a combination of Hard work, luck and God's grace finally.
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Old Apr 19th, 2020, 01:15 PM
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Wow what a trip! Some great details.

You have a lovely family.
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Old Apr 19th, 2020, 05:06 PM
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What lovely photos . This is a pleasure to read as so many of us are suffering withdrawal at the moment. I am looking forward to travelling along with you and your lovely family. Perhaps we will see places we have visited as well as new places to add to the ever growing list.
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Old Apr 19th, 2020, 10:23 PM
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Originally Posted by patandhank View Post
Wow what a trip! Some great details.

You have a lovely family.
Paragkash, am so enjoying your travels and stunning pictures, especially the ones from the champagne region. We spent an extended weekend there in 2017 and loved every moment, reading your experiences brought back those memories. We drove to to the Loire area from there and then back to Paris.

Your family probably knows how much planning you do even though they may not talk about it. Usually one person handles this part and the others come along. And from personal experience half the fun is in researching and working out your itinerary...😊
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Old Apr 20th, 2020, 12:41 AM
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Originally Posted by patandhank View Post
Wow what a trip! Some great details.

You have a lovely family.
Hi Patandhank, Thanks a lot. Touch wood.
I am really happy to know that you people like it.
I have read your trip report a few months ago. Am not going beyond.
Probably will do only Romania and Bulgaria. Am following almost the same route as yours. May add more days in Transylvania.
Thanks again.
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