The Independent Traveler's Newsletter                                      PAGE THREE
Our Readers Write about France continued . . .

We spent the mornings in the gleeful throng of the local marchés or driving through the countryside.  After filling up on tiny flavor-packed strawberries or having lunch, we would splash around in the pool, savoring the cool relief until the sun-drenched stucco on the buildings changed from pale pink to rose with the early evening light.

Then, after dinner of pasta, olive oil and freshly grated cheese, crunchy baguette and lemon tarts from a local patisserie, we would linger on the porch to watch the colors change on our living painting of Mt. Ventoux.   The shutters on the farmhouse, closed all day to keep the heat out, opened to the evening breeze in preparation for sleeping.  Time slowed down as we relished the scene, tummies and taste buds satisfied with the flavors of France, leisurely talking over the day's events and mulling over plans for the next. 

Ah, France.  We learned to slow down, savoring the moments, delighting in the nuances of the beauty around us and in the company of each other.  Vacations are to be refreshing, renewing.  And while there are many ways to accomplish that for different personalities, for us, seeking to escape the busy pace of our lives for a few weeks, times like these in France truly renewed our vision. 


How can one visit France without eating crêpes?  Particularly in the north, the savory galettes (crêpes salées) containing meat, eggs and cheese, for example, and sweet crêpes, containing anything from a simple sprinkling of powdered sugar to fruit to chocolate.  We made it our business to check out several crêperies ~ feeling more and more French as we searched to find the best, and determining, also like the French, not to waste calories on something less. 

Paris Crêperie
While we found savory galettes an interesting but not so rewarding concept, we loved the sweet ones, made up on the spot by a crêpe master, folded into a cone shape that kept the chosen filling warm, helping to intensify its flavor.  We decided that the perfect crêpe was thin but moist, and heavy enough to have body, with the noticeable flavor of sweet cream.  This seemed to complement a light jam filling as well as to be sturdy enough to stand up to heavier fruit or chocolate. 

While walking back to our apartment in the Latin Quarter of Paris one chilly evening, we saw a small crowd in front of a crêperie, people raising tiny paper cups in the air and joking with the crêpe master.  Coming closer, we saw that the crêpe master's assistant was handing out little cups of flavorful warm tea to everyone within reach.  Whether this was to sell tea or as a small compensation to the crowd for their wait we didn't learn.  However, the result was goodwill and a cheery attitude among everyone as we watched the master at work. 

When it was our turn, we ordered chocolate hazelnut (Nutella) and banana crêpes and watched as they were spread generously with the chocolate.  He then sliced a whole banana ~ a WHOLE BANANA ~ on each, deftly folded it and gave it a sprinkle of powder before handing it over to us eager American tourists.  "Uhmmmm" is all we could say to each other through the mouthfuls of perfect crêpes, melted chocolate, hazelnut and bananas-at-their-peak.  This, we decided, was going to be OUR crêperie.

 Perhaps you have fond memories of a French travel experience
that you would like to see appear in FRANCE On Your Own.
Please contact us for submission requirements and to ask any
  questions you may have.  Email:

Daily Life in Sixteenth Century Paris . . . as portrayed by the 'Plan de Bâle' - Part 1 of 2

                                                                                                                               by Arthur Gillette
                                                                                                                               (Photos: Clara Dudezert)

We are pleased to bring the first of a two-part series of short illustrated vignettes on 16th century Paris.
About 1550, two Paris cartographer/engravers ~ Olivier Truschet and Germain Hoyau ~ 
carved on wooden blocks and published a map of their city and its suburbs, 
some 1 by 1.25 meters in size, showing main monuments and little scenes of daily life of the time. 
This was not just a scientific and technological achievement, but also ~ with its brightly colored illustrations ~
an attempt to enhance Paris' reputation and also, according to some specialists, to lure tourists! 
Only one copy has survived which was discovered about 1875, strangely uncatalogued,
at the Library of the University of Basel, Switzerland, hence its modern title, the 'Plan de Bâle.' 
Arthur Gillette accessed a replica and has been studying its vignettes of (not always charming) 
daily life and surroundings.  In this feature he shares with our readers a few striking literary descriptions.

By the time of the Plan de Bâle's production, the cartographic norm was to display maps subjects thus: 

Plan de Bâle.  Photo by Clara Dudezert.  All rights reserved.

But a mere glance at the Plan de Bâle curiously shows Paris with the East at the top, North to the left, South to the right and the West at the bottom. Why? One explanation of this distortion points out that the usual display method would have deprived viewers of the splendid façades of Paris’ main churches, all facing the setting sun, symbolic of afterlife. Can you imagine 16th or 21st century tourists being beguiled by a mere side view of, say, Notre Dame Cathedral? 

Originally dating back to the sixth century, St. Germain des Prés Church had to be completely rebuilt after the destruction of the ninth century Viking invasions. Although somewhat revamped in the seventeenth century, and losing its walls after being incorporated into Paris intra muros, it still today retains very much of its early eleventh century appearance as portrayed by the Plan de Bâle four hundred plus years later.

Plan de Bâle.  Photo by Clara Dudezert.  All rights reserved.

A few steps from St. Germain des Prés there is still a street named rue du Pré aux Clercs, literally 'Students' Meadow Street'.  From the Middle Ages creation of the Paris University until well after the 17th century, students were forbidden to play sports inside the city walls. So they ventured extra muros for example to engage as here in the jeu de paume, an ancestor of tennis.

Plan de Bâle.  Photo by Clara Dudezert.  All rights reserved.

As is evident by the revelations in this article, Arthur Gillette
is a wealth of information about his beloved Paris.
Several of Arthur's guided strolls to discover Paris Through the Ages
~ including his 'Naughty Marais' itinerary taking in the Place des Vosges ~ 
compare today's reality with the Plan de Bâle's imagery. 
Sign up for his 'Medieval Sampler' stroll, which covers St. Germain des Prés,  or
any of his other fascinating historic walks listed on our web site's MARKETPLACE page.
Contact Arthur by email at

Look for Part 2 in our Spring edition . . .

FEATURING:  Champagne-Ardenne - the département of La Marne

"Champagne makes you feel like it's Sunday, and better days are just around the corner." (Marlene Dietrich)

The département of the Marne (51) is considered France's most floral.  In June the 'Rendez vous aux Jardins' is held so that visitors can meet the owners of private gardens...this also takes place on occasional weekends throughout the year to give people the rare opportunity to see these spectacular gardens for themselves.  Open all year 'round are the gardens de la Presle (Nanteuil la Forêt), the Clos Saint Saturnin, the Petit Clos (Villers aux Bois), Entre Cour et Jardin (Sézanne), the museum of the Pays du Der  (Sainte-Marie-du-Lac) and the Parc de Champagne (Reims).  So, you thought the region was all about Champagne!

Map of La Marne, Champagne.  Courtesy of La Marne Discovery Guide
The Marne is very rural, covered in a patchwork quilt of green vineyards as far as the eye can see, and offering a wide variety of accommodations for visitors.  There are many fine restaurants offering local dishes, drenched in the local drink:  Champagne.  The hosts are hospitable whether in a bed and breakfast, a hotel or at one of the inviting restaurants.

But, what if your interest lies in the outdoors?  The Marne offers a network of 2000 kilometers of marked walking routes and 121 walkers' tours.  The regional parks of the Montagne de Reims, where routes cross throughout the vineyards in the Argonne Champenoise, offer you a chance to walk in the footsteps of history.  Enjoy walks around the flower villages; discover nature around Epernay along the bicycle routes, and cycle around the Lac du Der. 

The Montagne de Reims (the mountain of Reims) is very special and located at the easternmost edge of the Ile de France.  First surprise: it dates back about 70 million years, its geology is represented in layers of chalk, sand, clay and limestone, and its fossils tell a story of climate and vegetation through the millennia.  The Montagne de Reims, the very birthplace of the wines of Champagne, has over 9000 hectares of vineyards. Then there is the 'Faux de Verzy' ~ a region of 'twisted beeches' ~ a forest rising to 288 meters.  See the Romanesque churches, washing places, crosses mounted along the routes, farmhouses, and even that odd lighthouse. 

History of the Marne

Let's talk about history.  On Christmas Eve in 496, Clovis, first King of the Franks, gave the Saint-Thierry Massif to Saint Remi as thanks for his baptism.  Since that time, the region has been associated with the city of Reims and the coronation there of French kings.  A statue of Joan of Arc stands across the street from the cathedral at Reims, a reminder of her influence on the coronation here of King Charles VII.  The year was 1429, and Joan persuaded Charles VII to move northeast towards Reims from Chinon, about 150 miles away, where he would be officially crowned the King of France.  Despite the fact that Reims was in English or Burgundian hands at this time, invitations to the coronation were sent on June 25th.  As Joan and the party passed through village after village, they were met with open arms.  The one exception was Burgundy's Troyes, the place of the treaty of 1420 putting the town in English hands.  As Joan lead an attack on Troyes, the townspeople became her allies.  Reims was reached on July 16th, and the coronation was held the next day.  Charles VII officially became the King of France, and Joan of Arc knelt at his feet.

The City of Reims - the City of Kings

Reims can surprisingly boast amazing chalk cellars from Gallo-Roman times.  The Romans excavated the chalk quarries to build the city of Reims in the period known as Durocortorum.  When weather became an issue, it was decided to extract the chalk rock in underground tunnels, later known as 'cathedrals' for the shape they took.  For many years they stayed unused, until the mid-19th century when the city of Reims decided to expand upon them.  When visiting this fascinating city, be sure to visit the Cathédrale de Notre-Dame de Reims, a 13th century masterpiece of France's own Gothic architecture.  A main attraction is the statue of the 'Smiling Angel' which is among some 2300 sculptures decorating the cathedral. 

There are some outstanding UNESCO World Heritage sites in Reims:  the aforementioned cathedral and the Palais du Tau, a museum in charge of the art treasures from the cathedral, the basilica and the Abbaye museum of Saint-Remi.  The city has treasures from the Gallo-Roman period to Art Deco and through to present times.  Visit the Eglise Saint-Nicaise, a church from the 1920s that houses Art Deco paintings by Gustave Jaulmes and Maurice Denis and stained glass windows by René Lalique.  Rare plants and trees can be found at the Jardin d'Horticulture Pierre Schneiter with its English garden on the eastern side and a French garden on the western side.

Some will be interested in the Reims-Champagne Automobile Museum at 53, rue Simon, or the Abbey Museum of Saint-Remi, including its Romanesque Chapter House from the 12th century.  Reims also offers a planetarium, guided Flower Walks, and coach rides through the city in July and August.

All about Champagne

Despite its fame for the only beverage in the world that can be called 'Champagne', as you have read the département of the Marne is more than just a producer of bubbly.  But the statistics about Champagne are well worth mentioning before we move on.  For example, in the year 2007 338.7 million bottles were produced, 9716 Champagne labels were printed, and 284 merchants with 4,500 employees sold Champagne.  The industry that year supported 30,000 people!

One of the most recognizable Champagne names is Dom Pérignon, the person who came up with the idea of bottling and corking various grape varieties.  He was the cellar master at the Benedictine Abbey of Hautvillers, and today Dom Pérignon Champagne is still considered the best there is.

Champagne vineyards as far as the eye can seeAnother region of La Marne is the Côte de Blancs, home to Oger, one of the 'Most Beautiful Villages of France' and the medieval town of Sézanne with its shaded walkways along the old town wall and the church of Saint-Denis.  Plan your visit to this region carefully to enable yourself to take in the harvest.  In times past the harvest was strictly scheduled so that all grapes were picked at the same time.  Since 1970, however, a better plan was put into place to pick grapes at their optimum ripeness.  The AVC (Association Viticole Champenoise) established 440 test sites, and now specific dates have been set for each cru and each grape variety.

The Champagne glass has evolved over time.  Up until the 17th century, the glass was conical in shape, but it gradually began to become taller and finer with a flute-shape emerging.  This shape was taken to an extreme, and restaurants and waiters refused to use it.  This glass was replaced by the coupe, remaining popular through the Belle Epoque and World War I.   The flute never really went away, and flutes in simple forms are still used.  Today, however, the preferred glass in Champagne is the 'tulip' to allow the aromas to become more concentrated, with the effervescence encouraged by the pointed shape at the bottom and the height of the glass.

                                                       Champagne Coupe                      Champagne Flutes                Champagne  Tulip 

Non-sparkling wines of the the Champagne region are also available, of course.  These are called Côteaux champenois and bear an AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) label like other wines.  They come in red, white and rosé, and are produced primarily in Bouzy, Cumières, Aÿ, Ambonnay, Sillery and Ludes.  Speaking of Ludes, please read more about this village and Domaine de Ployez-Jacquemart below.

Windmills and . . . Lighthouses?

The Lighthouse Museum of the Vines at Verzenay - Photo courtesy of  All rights reserved.Throughout France visitors will see windmills, and, today, wind turbines as well.  But, lighthouses are structures found on the rocky coasts of places like Brittany.  Or, are they?  The landlocked town of Verzenay, southeast of Reims, is the location for a 'lighthouse' conceived by the Champagne producer J. Goulet as an advertising gimmick in 1909.  It was built, and people came to the organized dances held at its base on pleasant afternoons.  Its beam reached as far as the city of Reims!  During World War I, shell fire struck the lighthouse, and it soon fell into disrepair.  When, many decades later, the idea to turn it into a tourist attraction took hold,  it was beautifully restored as a vineyard museum.  It is well worth a visit!

For those who want to visit the Champagne-Ardenne mostly for the Champagne, you will not be disappointed.  The area's economy revolves around vineyards and Champagne production.  Tastings and visits to Champagne houses abound.  The tourist office of the Marne suggests that you discover the vineyards by 'following the meandering Marne River from Epernay to Dormans'.   The vineyards are on both sides of the river and the color palette goes from bright green in the spring to gold and russet in the fall.  Tastings are held in the cool cellars of Champagne producers.

"Champagne is the wine of civilization and the oil of government."   (Winston Churchill)

Epernay is the center of the famous wine houses along the avenue de Champagne.  Each has been built in its own architectural style, offering the visitor quite a range of experiences.  This is always a good starting point for any visit to the region.  Epernay was founded in the 5th century by leather tanners who worked along the stream in nearby Cubry.  Six hundred years later in 1024, the town came under the jurisdiction of the Counts of Champagne.  It has endured destruction and being set afire some 25 times throughout its history.  It suffered damaged in World War I and again in 1940, so it has few historical reminders of its past.  But, it does have its Saint-Martin gateway and the entrance to the Maison Louise de Savoie from the 16th century and many lovely 19th century houses.  Chocolate lovers will delight in the Ecole du Chocolat where they can take lessons every Wednesday and Thursday afternoons in the art of patisserie and chocolate (by advance appointment, please).

Some time in Ludes . . .

Domaine Ployez-Jacquemart.  Photo ©2009-2010 Cold Spring Press   All Rights Reserved
Spend a few days and nights at Domaine Ployez-Jacquemart in Ludes.  In addition to lovely spacious en suite guest rooms, you can take full advantage of the sun room to perhaps sip a glass of the renowned Champagne produced on the estate.  Breakfasts are excellent comprising a lovely variety of pastries, breads, confiture, cereals, and more.  A highlight of your stay will be to tour the caves of the Domaine and learn about the production of Champagne by the family Ployez.

Step-by-step you can follow the process as you are guided from the deep caves beneath the château to the final amazing feat of putting those huge Champagne corks into the bottles.  Domaine Ployez-Jacquemart prides itself in quality over quantity, so you won't be surprised that Wine Spectator rated its Champagnes as follows:  Brut Champagne NV [89], Brut Champagne L. d'Harbonville 1996 [93], Brut Rosé Champagne Sélection NV [91], Brut Champagne L. d'Harbonville 1998 [90], and Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne 2000 [90].  End your tour with a walk out into the vineyards. 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               continued on page 4

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