CHAMPAGNE CONFIDENTIAL (Pt. 2) | Champagne-Ardenne
OF RENOIR AND RESONANCE
Sleep and early morning have brought with it the rare environs of the Hotel Le Marius, nestled cosily in the heart of Champagne’s picturesque vineyards. My attic-room and then breakfast in the tiny parlour come filled with views to the towering cathedral lying no more than an audible gasp away. Le Marius, crisp in its turquoise and stone visage that comes accentuated with Madame Josselin’s warmth, deserves its place as a favourite haunt for those in the know. While discovering Les Riceys through its vast collection of vineyards – bereft of grapes since harvest season has just passed but abundant with green prosperity nonetheless, its charming cobblestone lanes that open up often to bridges and carefree rivers, and its vistas scented with the remnants of Champagne, Coteaux and Rosé des Riceys, a strange restlessness continues to tug away at me. This restlessness only abates once we reach the village of Essoyes, an unhurried drive away. Because now we’re in Renoir country, and my heart is wide awake to every moment
A HEADY BONSOIR TO REIMS
After a few sunshine-dappled sips of Renoir-inspired cuvées and a leisurely stroll through the village of Aÿ, the headquarters of the champagne collective – La Cojevi – and its flagship brand – Champagne Collet – make for interesting pitstops. This is the significant birthplace of champagne, and history makes its presence felt in unexpected ways. The Maison Cojevi is a beautifully conceived champagne museum that pairs the sparkling stuff with haute couture, the roaring ’20s, gem artisanship, and, but naturally, gastronomy across four exquisitely designed parlours. After sampling some of their heady Brut Art Deco, I’m now in the city of Reims. For a minute I think I’ve landed in Colaba because everywhere I look, wide avenues and sheltered boulevards come graced with stunning art deco buildings, homes, and hotels. It’s as though the entire town is out celebrating and eating their way through an endless parade of pavement cafés and bars. But I only have time to check into the old-world charms of the Grand Continental and a quick drink, because I’m off to a party of my own. And this one’s no ordinary affair. To celebrate the end of this journey filled with stories, aromas, and already-entrenched memories, my hosts have invited me and a few select others to a Gala Evening at the Palais du Tau – the enormous palace residence of the bishops and then the archbishops of Reims, and now the museum representing the architectural construction of the cathedral. My hosts have outdone even themselves this time, because a 5-course meal of caviar, salmon, meat, and duck has been paired with a 7-course selection of some of the region’s most acclaimed, note-perfect champagnes.
It’s all very heady, it’s all very luxurious, it’s all quite unforgettable. And only now, as I’m being driven by Adeline Martin in her bumblebee-inspired Citroën Deux Chevaux Vintage through her family vineyards the next morning, am I able to process all of it. Adeline is the heiress to the Champagne Philippe Martin estate in the village of Cumières, inclusive of two flourishing vineyards, a home rich with history, and a remarkable cellar. I’ve chosen to bid adieu to this particular journey, appropriately enough, with champagne.
As we relax in the estate’s tasting-room, I take a minute to gather my thoughts about the voyage. I’ve quaffed about forty glasses of champagne in the past few days, and my love affair with the spirit has only grown with every flute. I’ve come to understand that for the French, especially for those from this region, champagne isn’t a drink reserved for celebrations or occasions alone, but an everyday drink meant to complement life much as wine does in the regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux. I’ve come to know the warmth of some truly wonderful people. And I’ve come to realise that France’s Champagne region, often overlooked for the romance of Paris, the glitz of the Riviera, or the poetry of Provence, is just as charming if not more so than its cousins and deserves your undivided attentions. Having said that, it falls on me to tell you that after this journey, I do drop in to Paris for a few nights filled with another kind of magic. But perhaps that’s best saved for another story.
The second part a 2-part series. This Lead Feature appeared, in full, in Travel + Leisure (January, 2016), and in slighlty abridged form in Travel + Leisure Online http://travelandleisureindia.in/medieval-magic-in-champagne/