After we watched the start of the Tour we headed north, the start of our home run.
First stop was Lyon where we stayed a night at Chateau Lonsgard, a B&B we stayed in 2007 and again in 2012 with 9 other MGs on our drive from Cape Town to Cairo (and then across Europe). Owned by Olivier and Alex (actually the Count and Countess du Mesnil du Buisson) it is an old 1600s chateau that they have been renovating. They welcome guests into their lounge room with a glass of their very own Beaujolais wine. If you are lucky Alex will provide an outstanding dinner as well. A walk around the grounds highlights the centuries old trees and manicured garden.
Unfortunately, these two days driving coincided with a heatwave in France as well as across much else of Europe and England. The temperatures were over 40 degrees C and we somewhat suffered, drinking gallons of water. Ros got to pouring water down her front and letting the wind through the car attempt to cool down, a rather hopeless attempt! And the milage turned over a new 00000 – When I get home I’ll need to work out how far we have travelled on these trips!
Both evenings we arrived extremely hot and weary: not so Goldie who purred along with the thermoset never getting above 180 degrees F. Thank heavens for the larger radiator and bigger fan! It was also harvest time, with many combines in the fields of wheat.
Next, on to Reims, primarily to visit Charles Heidsieck champagne house. With a morning to spare we found a car museum! So, a museum seemed a good idea, perhaps it would be air-conditioned; it wasn’t!
We are in France, so it was unsurprising that this small, but excellent museum should focus its attention on French manufacturers. What did astound and fascinate us was the huge variety of French manufacturers I had simply never heard of and which have obviously disappeared or been absorbed by other manufacturers. So Citroen, Renault, Peugeot, yes. And, of course there are often race car manufacturers who do not manufacture for the on road market. But Mochet, Centaure, Thevenin, Fournier-Marcadier, La Licorne, Cime, Michet Irat, Rosengart, Chenard et Walcker, Suere, Amilcar, Genestin and Salmson to name a few? And if you go into Google and look at the list of former manufacturers it is seemingly endless (23 listed under the letter R alone) with some companies only in existence for a year or less. The dates beside the manufacturers are the dates they were in operation, according to Wikipedia. So, I could get a bit carried away here but will keep this particular bit of personal research for another time. We might lament the loss of manufacturers in the British industry however the French industry has experienced the same.
This was a rather delightful museum as quite a bit of trouble had been taken with the limited layout and space available. Often, particularly with either the very old or unique car, trouble had been taken to put dummies dressed in period costume next to or inside the cars so that the whole period of the car’s manufacture and use became more obvious and alive.
I have picked a few of my favourites for the blog, including a few technical details for those who are interested.
There was also a section of the museum devoted to child-sized replicas, some for very little littlies, some which could have been ‘driven’ by someone aged up to 10 or 12. Again there was a range of vehicle types on display.
But even a French motor museum is not complete with out a couple of MGs, albeit hidden in a corner, but there next to the Renaults, Peugeots and Citroens! One thing we noticed was that almost a third of the French cars were right hand drive: is that because pre war and early 1950s it was not important, or were these cars originally sold in the UK and later returned to France?
Then we quickly visited the Reims Cathedral, interesting for two reasons: first, no entrance fee and second, no chapels around the sides and other than some very beautiful stained glass windows, not overly ornate or decorated – hardly any gold insight.
Charles Heidsieck is a limited production champagne house in the centre of Reims, with 2,000 year old underground cellars. We were able to arrange a tour through a golf friend in Sydney who is the local agent. Otherwise a tour is not available to the public.
As well as the champagne itself, Charles Heidsieck has access to Roman built cellars under the city.
These chalk cellars were excavated by the Romans to provide material to build the city walls and and extend across the city with 5 champagne houses sharing eight kilometres of chambers and connecting tunnels.
There are 40 ‘rooms’ and they remain at a constant temperature of around 10 degrees C throughout the year. Although it was 39 degrees C in the garden, we were issued with beautifully warm and soft wraps for our visit to the cellars!
Charles Heidsieck itself sells one million bottles of champagne a year and holds four million bottles in its cellars at any one time. This is a tiny champagne house when you consider that 300 plus million bottles of champagne are sold each year. Please remember that only champagne from the Champagne region can be labelled ‘Champagne’. Moet and Chandon sells 30 million bottles each year.
During our tour of the cellars we learnt about the unique shape of the Charles Heidsieck bottles. These bottle are almost pyramidal in shape, but with a very gentle and elegant curve as the bottle height increases. Down in the cellars the inspiration for the bottle shape becomes visually and dramatically apparent.
We tasted four of the champagnes including a very aromatic, yet dry rose. These champagnes are very elegant with the tiniest beads which drift lazily, mesmerically but surely to the surface as you enjoy the taste sensation and the lingering palate.
This was a really delightful afternoon and having cooled off in the magnificent cellars we were able to stay cool in the delightful tasting room which looked out over the beautiful gardens with the caps of the cellars dotted among the trees.
After enjoying the tasting, we set off for Calais for an over night stop before catching Eurotunnel in the morning and driving to London, where we are fortunate to be lent a fantastic flat just off Fleet Street. As it was the weekend we were able to park outside the door and did not need to ask the nearby hotel if we could park on their forecourt (bit down market actually!).
On Monday we delivered Goldie to the shippers for the journey home.
A few days in London: watching the Wallabies play Argentina;
seeing The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Globe;
dinner with Clive, Jenny and Kate and a few sights. Some photos of things you expect in London to finish.
And so ends this year’s adventure in Goldie.
We do have plans for next year – so we will be continuing this blog for a bit longer, but not till 2020.
John & Ros