La-Ferté-sous-Jouarre to Mareuil-sur-Ay via Epernay, revisited. 

Saturday July 15. We departed La Ferté-sous-Jouarre at 8am. It was a pleasant day for cruising, warm but not too hot. We had a couple of locks that weren’t working, the first one of the day and the last. Both had VNF staff in to operate them manually so we didn’t have to wait long, arriving at Chateau Thierry at 1pm.

Chateau Thierry was much nicer now that the carnival had packed up and gone to their next venue. We found, quite by chance on a walk up to the fortress site, a medieval fair with sword fighting, displays of rope making, carving and lots of stalls, everyone dressed in medieval costume. I love it when you stumble across something fun like that. Unexpectedly.

I found the history of the area very interesting. The site of the chateau of Chateau Thierry, 2.6 hectares, had slow beginnings. In the 4th century it was first a fortified habitat on the natural spur of this part of the Marne. In the 9th-10th century the Counts of Vermandois had a castle erected out of wood and stone. Thibault II, count of Champagne, extending the fortifications again in the 12th century by adding a new outer bailey of stone. Thibault IV continued the work in the 13th century. By then there were 17 towers and two doors, one to the south and the other to the east.

More innovations continued when Chateau Thierry entered the royal domain in 1285 with King Philippe IV ‘Le Bel’, nicknamed as such for his apparent good looks, adding in great kitchens to the seigniorial home. The 15th-16th centuries saw dry ditches dug and a double bridge added. By then it was a residential palace. Blanche d’Artois, Antoine the Great Bastard of Bourgogne (quite a title), François d’Orleans and cardinal Richelieu all added civilian and religious buildings.

However it was destroyed for the most part in the 18th century, presumably during the French Revolution, turning back into its former military function and became a citadel for Napoleon’s troops. By the middle of the 19th century the fortification was turned into woodland park, although in 1918 a mounting for the infamous Paris Gun was found near the castle grounds, the gun apparently having been moved elsewhere.

So there it is. The rise and fall of a Chateau. Left standing are parts of the old wall and the Saint-Pierre and Saint-Jean Gates. It’s an interesting place to visit.

Sunday July 16th. Leaving Chateau Thierry at 8am we were hoping to find a space on the small quays at either Damery or Cumières but after a long day’s cruising we found they were both full. It was disappointing but we decided to risk carrying on up to Epernay in the hopes of finding a spot. The river to Epernay is a five kilometre one way branch of the Marne and luckily there was a perfect Silver Fern sized gap. Hurrah! After seven hours and 55kms we were very happy to settle down for a three day stay.

In the early evening we walked into the town (it’s a long walk) to the Champagne Tasting Bar CComm to sample six champagnes from small producers. My favourite was a 100% Pinot noir. Delicious.

Monday July 16th. We took a taxi up to Hautvilliers to show Georgie around one of our favourite villages. It is the birthplace of Dom Perignon (1639-1715) who ‘discovered’ the following, as a cellier at the Abbey. He founded the major elements of making Champagne wine:

1. The gathering of grapes of different origins to make a vintage

2. The quick and fragmented pressing of the grape

3. The use of bottles made of thick glass to preserve the wine and maintain the bubbles

4. The use of a cork wrapped in a seal bearing the arms of the Abbey

5. A cellar dug in the chalk so as to assure the ageing of the wine at a constant temperature.

Clever old him. I bet there were a few injuries before item 3 came into play.

The Abbey at Hautvilliers was founded in the late VIIth century by St Nivard, Rheims’s bishop, apparently inspired in a dream by the ‘dove of the devine spirit’. Voilà.
We stopped for lunch at the Cafe in the square which was very good,especially the frites, and later on took a taxi back to Epernay.

Tuesday July 17th Georgie did the cave tours at Moët et Chandon and Mercier and enjoyed them as much as we did last month. It was a stiflingly hot day, mid 30s and we all had swims at some point to cool off. Later on we had drinks on the Aussie boat, Le Piglet, with Melbournians Peter and Amanda.

Wednesday July 19th Georgie headed off on the train to Paris and on to Barcelona while we cruised back onto the canal Lateral à la Marne to Mareuil-sur-Ay. It was a cool day, in total contrast to the last few days and I was very happy about that. Love the cooler temperatures. We really like Mareuil, it has finger pontoons, power and water (€22 for three days) and an excellent boulangerie.

Thursday July 20th We woke this morning to hear our very good friend, and Best Man at our wedding, Mike Williams passed away this morning after a long illness. Although it was expected it still hits hard. He was a good guy and will be sadly missed. We drank a toast to him with a good red wine. I’m sure he would approve. I could almost hear him say, “Just get on with it”.

RIP Mike.

Friday July 21st. Today we did all our washing (have I mentioned how great it is to have our on-board washing machine?). The sheets dried in about half an hour. It’s another warm one but not outrageously so which is nice. We discovered a taste delight at the boulangerie/pâtisserie. La ficelle is a smaller thinner type of baguette and ours was filled with bacon and cheese. Yum. Maybe we’ve been in a baguette ‘traditional’ rut! 😳

Tomorrow we plan to turn off the Canal Lateral à la Marne at Condé-sur-Marne and head north again along the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne to Sillery where hopefully we will find a mooring from which we can visit Reims by bus. It will be a very long day, 39 kms, 13 locks and the 2.3km tunnel de Billy.

This week in numbers:

La Ferté-sous-Jouarre to Chateau Thierry

Engine hours: 4.8

Kms: 39

Locks: 4

Chateau Thierry to Epernay

Engine hours: 6.7

Kms: 55

Locks: 5
Epernay to Mareuil-sur-Ay

Engine hours: 1.8

Kms: 12

Locks: 2

This seasons totals, after 2 months:

Engine hours: 118.7

Kms: 737

Locks: 172

Tunnels: 5

Chateau Thierry

View of the town

The remnants of the Chateau/fortifications

Remaining gate, St Jean door (1285-1306), Actually a true standalone small fortress

You can see why this site was used as a fortress

Medieval madness

This massive owl stunned us. Enormous and beautiful.

Fascinating stuff

The beautiful Marne

Three beers.

Backgammon battles in the twilight.

Isn’t this an inviting entrance.

Million dollar grapes

Louis Nicaise rows

Pinot noir grapes down to the Marne

Hautvilliers view to the Abbey church.


A beautiful evening in Epernay

I’m pretty happy with my duck dish.

This ones for you, Mike.

Mooring in Mareuil-sur-Ay

I should have taken a photo much earlier! La ficelle est yum!

Posted in Canal Lateral à la Marne, France, French Canal boating, French fauna, Holiday 2017, Marne, Marne River | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Paris, au revoir. The return up the Marne. 

Friday July 7th. Paris. We were loving being in the heart of Paris and sharing it with family. Alan and Georgie took a hop-on hop-off Batobus boat, checking out the sights along the Seine and in the evening we caught the boat again then walked down the Champs Élysées, stopping for some very expensive drinks and Georgie checked out H&M, still open at 10.30pm. It’s always humming down there, a great atmosphere.

Saturday July 8th. The All Blacks were playing the third Lions test in Eden Park, Auckland, that morning and would you believe it there is a bar on the Left Bank called Eden Park Bar (I found it on the Internet and confirmed they would be open at 9.30am to show the game) so Alan and Georgie headed down to watch. A draw surprisingly!
In the evening we ate out at a restaurant in the Bastille area. The Steak frites were excellent. Thanks Georgie 🙂

Sunday July 9th. The Bastille market was on today, always bustling, then Alan took Georgie over to the Opera Area where they checked out the Gallérie Lafayette, the Madelaine and of course the Opera.

Monday July 10th. Today we were planning on leaving the Arsenal and cruising down the Seine but woke at 7am to a big storm, loud cracks of thunder and lots of torrential rain. The storm started the night before and inundated some of the Metro stations including the one closest to our mooring. Not a great day to travel so we all stayed in bed and later topped up the groceries at the local supermarché, between showers.

Tuesday July 11th we woke to a cloudy sky and a hint of rain but decided we were leaving regardless so once out of the lock we turned right for a scenic jaunt down the Seine, under the beautiful bridges, past the Notre Dame (waiting for a green light first as it’s one way), the Museé d’Orsay, the Tuileries and Place de la Concorde. Finally we came to the Tour Eiffel. C’est magnifique! A little further on we arrived at the mini Statue of Liberty and turned around, heading back.
It was such a big moment for us, a bucket list item, and even though there were a few raindrops the cloudy skies made for some very atmospheric photos.

Back past the Arsenal and we continued up the Seine, turning left onto the Marne and into a lock. From then on we saw a lot of traffic, large commercial barges coming towards us and we had to give way a number of times. At one lock as we departed there were 2 big commercials and 2 small cruisers waiting and it took a bit of clever manoeuvring by our captain to get past them, especially as the lock entrance was on an awkward angle and the large boats needed plenty of room to turn. Those guys are clever! Our guy’s pretty clever too.

Towards the end of the day things slowed down as we caught up to a commercial barge going the same way as us, and in between was another cruiser, on a 9km stretch of canal. We were almost at idle speed so as not to rear end the boat in front which made for a rather slow end to the day as we finally reached Lagny-sur-Marne. We celebrated our arrival with apéro beersies in the square.

Wednesday July 12. A long day’s cruise up river to La-Ferté-sous-Jouarre, 70kms but only 5 locks. At the last lock we were reunited with a lovely télécommande remote so no more lockeepers for a while. In theory, anyway.

Thursday 13th-Saturday 15th July. La-Ferté-sous-Jouarre. The locks are closed on French National Day, Quatorze Juillet as it’s known here or Bastille Day to foreigners , so we stayed for three nights. It’s so peaceful and treed, one of my favourite stops. Being free helps! We walked down to the war memorial and I noticed a Frank Woolley (Woolley is my maiden name) listed from the Royal Field Artillery unit. I wonder if we are related.

On the 14th we watched the parade in the morning, including some old USA vehicles, marching girls and band. Again in the evening, at 10.30pm, another parade followed by an excellent fireworks display. It’s great seeing how many people turn out for the celebrations. We were surprised to see all the shops and bars open and doing a roaring trade during the day. I really like this town.

Tomorrow we head off again towards Chateau Thierry. Our plan is to show Georgie some of the Champagne region before we take her to Epernay to catch a train next Wednesday.

This week’s stats:

Paris Arsenal, a jaunt down the Seine then back up the Marne to Lagny-sur-Marne:
7.3 engine hours, 50kms, 5 locks

Lagny-sur-Marne to La Ferté-sous-Jouarre:
7.4 engine hours
5 locks
1 short tunnel

Total for the year so far:
Engine hours: 105.4
Kms: 631
Locks: 161
Tunnels: 5

Eden Park Bar, Rive Gauche, Paris

Cruising down the Seine on Silver Fern.

Cruising down the Seine on Silver Fern.

Museé d’Orsay

Mini Statue of Liberty

Bridge detail

Bridge detail

Shameless selfie

Notre Dame

Busy Seine river

Busy commercial barge

Recycling barge turning around behind us.

Georgie enjoying the sights

Mooring in Lagny-sur-Marne

Enjoying an Apéro in Lagny

What to choose, what to choose? Fromagerie in Lagny.

Matching wine to cheese

Brie de Meaux with matching Bordeaux

Brie de Meaux matched with Chateau La Capelle Bordeaux Superier 2014

Short tunnel de Chalifert

Through the tunnel

July 14th celebration parade

July 14th celebration parade

July 14th celebration parade

July 14th celebration parade

July 14th celebration parade

14 July celebrations La-Ferté-sous-Jouarre

Feu d’artifice 14 July

Posted in Canal Lateral à la Marne, France, French Canal boating, Holiday 2017, La-Ferte-Sous-Jouarre, Lagny-sur-Marne, Marne, Marne River, Paris, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lagny-sur-Marne to Paris. We made it!

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Posted in France, French Canal boating, Holiday 2017, Marne River, Paris, Paris | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

La-Ferté-sous-Jouarre to Lagny-sur-Marne. 

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Posted in Coypu, French Canal boating, French fauna, French markets, Holiday 2017, Marne, Meaux | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Cumières to La-Ferte-Sous-Jouarre. Vineyards and heatwaves. 

Monday June 19. Cumières was an excellent stop for us. The beautiful wine village of Hautvillier a highlight of the season so far. But it was time to move on so we cast off and headed downstream. The engine water started to overheat again so after a few locks we tied up and let it cool down. Alan added more water and is becoming increasingly confident that the problem is a leaky radiateur cap. After a cool down and water top up we continued towards Dormans, 25 kms west of Cumières. The weather is again stunning. 30° and the odd puff of breeze. A swim may be on the cards this week. While we are moving the breeze created is blissful! We are cruising through endless slopes of vine covered hills on both sides of the river, in places extending all the way down to the water. Dotted through out are the ubiquitous little white vans of the workers, tending to the vines. They must get very hot!

We moored at Dormans and visited the impressive World War 1 memorial behind the town on the grounds of Chateau de Dormans. The memorial is massive and encompasses a chapel, a crypt, a small museum of weapons and uniforms, and a 100 step spiral staircase to a magnificent view over the vineyards. Truly stunning and well worth the climb.

The mooring is ok, €9.90 for mooring, power and water. The downside is the very loud and busy train line and church bells that ring every 15 minutes. So not a peaceful stay but we swam twice, the temperature at 33°C was stifling. We encountered a psycho swan. He pecked at our boat, tried to mate with the fenders and generally made a nuisance of himself consistently all day. We later saw a pair of swans with five cygnets so he was probably protecting his territory.

Tuesday June 20th. Another hot day, temperatures are forecasted for 36°C this week and there is little breeze to cut through it. The Marne river is beautiful here. Twisting and turning between the vine covered slopes.

We moored in Chateau-Thierry on a small pontoon, room for 3 boats. Parked on the adjacent road were lots of circus caravans. They were setting up for a fete at the weekend which will make the mooring very noisy so we didnt want to stay here long. The heat was oppressive during the afternoon, hitting the forecasted 36° or more. Alan traipsed off to find a bricolage and mechanic, on the hunt for a new radiator seal or cap but no luck. He did however find the right tool to clear the weed from the electric toilet so job well done, pun intended. Later we found a restaurant in town with a water mister, spraying a fine mist of water over the patrons to keep us cool. So delicious.

Wednesday June 21. Yet again a scorcher, (are you sick of hearing about the weather yet?) The French authorities have declared an orange alert for almost all of France. After the national disaster in 2003 when 15,000 mainly elderly died in a heatwave, they take it very seriously.

We set off at 8.30am and enjoyed the breeze created by our movement. After a while the engine needed a cool down so we moored in Charly and did our grocery shopping at the nearby Super U, a good size supermarket not far from the river. Very convenient. Later we cruised on down to La-Ferte-Sous-Jouarre (that’s a mouthful!), a lovely mooring behind a small island so some shade in the evening. Hurrah! The temperature crept up and up to 37°C. We swam off the back of the boat and it was lovely. It was hard to sleep that night as the cabin temperature was stifling.

Thursday June 22nd. Yet another 37°C day, the last for a while I hope. We explored the town with its pretty Hôtel de Ville built in 1886. We tried to check out the church but couldn’t find a way in, a metaphor if ever I wrote one. The boulangerie closest to the bridge does a very acceptable baguette. We spent the afternoon moving from the deck to the river and back. The air was stifling.

Friday June 23rd. We were planning on heading the 40kms down to Meaux today until we read on the VNF iPhone app that there is going to be a water festival this weekend and the port would be closed. So we stayed put and instead, since the weather has finally cooled off, walked to the WW1 War Memorial commemorating the 3,888 British soldiers who lost their lives in the 1914 battles of Mons, Le Cateau, the Marne and the Aisne rivers. Sobering stuff. The heatwave has finally calmed down and it was only 27°. Much more pleasant.

Saturday June 24th. Another cooler day today. Yay! A very quiet day, grocery shopping at the local Carrefour and some housework. It’s lovely to stay in one spot for a while, especially one so pretty. Being free helps of course. We’ll probably head off on Monday although if all the boats here are going to Meaux there may be a problem with space but we’ll see what happens.

We are only about 50km west of Paris now and have over a week until our booking at the Arsenal port.
Here is the week in stats:

Cumières to Dormans, 3 engine hours, 24kms, 3 locks

Dormans to Chateau Thierry, 2.8 engine hours, 25kms, 2 locks

Chateau Thierry to La Ferte-Sous-Jouarre, 4.8 engine hours, 39kms, 4 locks.

Now we are on the Marne river and not on canals there are less locks and consequently we are travelling further, more quickly.

Totals Week 6

77 engine hours, 429kms, 142 locks and 2 tunnels.

High on the hill you can see the famous Veuve Clicquot chateau, 1848.

Lock in front with the vines of Champagne surrounding.

Nice spot. Bet they have a nice view.

Crazy swan

Mooring in Dormans

War memorial in Dormans

A beautiful and substantial memorial

The tiny museum inside the memorial


Panorama from the top.

My favourite photo of the day.

Chapel in memorial.

37°C Yes, don’t mind if I do.

Instructed the captain we NEED one of these on our boat!

Unusual architecture for this area.

Another gorgeous chateau

Lovely day for a cruise.

Passing hotel barge

La Ferte sous Jouarre. View from Charles de Gaulle bridge.

Memorial to 3888 British soldiers who died during the WW1 battles in this area.

La Ferte sous Jouarre Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall)

Posted in French Canal boating, Holiday 2017 | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

From deja vu to Beaucoup de bubbly. Champagne!

Tuesday June 13th.
Talk about been there, done that. It was not a great morning for us. Things started off fine. I walked to the Best Boulangerie almost ever, picked up a delicious baguette for lunch while Alan paid the Capitain and organised for the lock to be ready for us.

Off we went at 8.30, a perfect day for travelling, sunny but not too hot. We waved at a friendly fisherman. 45 minutes later guess what happened? The engine light came on. Alan said he’d noticed the temperature gauge was creeping up quite quickly so was keeping an eye on it. Bugger! We floated around with the engine off for a while then turned around and headed back the way we had come. We waved again at our friendly fisherman who looked confused.

Deciding to cool the engine off we staked up on the bank and I made coffee (always a good idea) while Alan checked a few things and topped up the coolant tank which he thought looked ok but took 3 litres of water. Hmmm. Engine back on and the gauge stayed in the cool zone. Ok, maybe that’s it? So we turned around, again, and headed off, again. Friendly fisherman (by now I felt we were friends) just laughed at us and shook his head. Yup.
So off we went, two hours after we left Chalons, our eyes glued to the temp gauge. It was ok. Must have been the coffee.
We arrived in Mareuil-sur-Ay (try pronouncing that one), a perfect little mooring in the Champagne region not far from Epernay. There was a choice of mooring on the bank with no power/water or on the pontoons, €23 for 3 nights. There is a boulangerie, a tabac, bar and mini supermarket, all open now and then. We had a wander around the village with its Champagne Houses including the famous Billiecart-Salmon then aperos with our British friends on Arwen.

The next day we rode our bikes up the very steep hill (ok we pushed them up the last bit) to Mutigny, a small village amongst the Premier Cru vineyards and had the best tour we’ve had with Doris Huet from Sentier du Vigneron who walked us through the many parcels of land, giving us insights into the long and very regulated processes of Champagne producing. She has great English and a lovely easy to understand manner. If you are ever in the region I highly recommend adding this experience to your itinerary. Afterwards we tasted their own brand bubbly which was delicious. Next we stopped in at the Zimmerlin-Flament Winery in Mutigny for a tasting and purchased a couple of bottles.  Then a very fast downhill bike ride into Ay where, recommended by Doris, we tried a café gourmand in lieu of lunch followed by a ride along the towpath back to Mareuil-sur-Ay.
The following day I needed a rest after all that exercise yesterday so we pottered around the village, visiting the beautiful gardens at Billecart-Salmon, another famous brand. The boulangerie was open and worth the wait. Later on a big storm passed through, deafening thunder claps and torrential rain but it blew through quickly.
On Friday we left Mareuil hoping to stop at Ay to visit the museum but the mooring wasn’t great so we pushed on to Epernay, up an embranchement of the Marne. The mooring is right at the end of the embranchement, about 5 kms, and is run by the local tennis and rowing club. A delightful Capitain took €44 for 2 nights which is horribly expensive, but it’s Epernay and they have the Avenue de Champagne so I can see why they charge so much. (Alan had welcome drinks later with the Capitain and some French boaters who were complaining  about the high charges).

So we headed out for a wander and ended up at Moët et Chandon’s spectacular Champagne House, taking their English language tour, €24 each including one tasting. Fun facts: They have 1000 hectares of their own vines which produce 25% of their requirements and they buy in the rest from contract growers. All their Champagne is made with varying amounts of the three grape types, Pinot Noir, Meurnier and Chardonnay, they don’t just blend 2 like some other houses do, for example Blanc de Blanc or Blanc de Noir. This gives them their signature citrus notes and “thin bubbles”.

There are 34,000 hectares of vines in the Champagne AOC région, (they are not allowed to increase the size) and so price per hectare ranges from €1.2mill to €1.7mill for parcels in the Grand Cru areas. Vines are not allowed to be more than 1.3 metres tall, 300 million bottles are produced every year and grapes can’t be harvested until the AOC boffins give the go ahead. The harvest generally takes 3 weeks using 150,000 pickers who descend on the area for the vendage and the picking must be done by hand. Every aspect is regulated very strictly so you know when you buy a bottle of Champagne it will be good!

After Moët we dropped in to one of the Champagne bars and tried a couple of the smaller houses bubbly. Because we’re equal opportunity tasters.
Saturday was another hot day. We walked to the Carrefour hypermarket to stock up but in the afternoon it was back to business, this time walking up to Mercier Champagne House for their excellent cellar tour. They have 18km of cellars underground cut into the chalk, all in one level, luckily for us they have a train that takes you through and an audio guide for all the different languages. Very helpful. Monsieur Mercier started his empire at 20 years old in 1858, with a desire to bring good quality Champagne to the masses and what a quirky man he was. For the Paris Exposition of 1889 he conceived and then built an oak barrel large enough to hold 200,000 bottles of wine, weighing 20 tonnes. Only problem was getting it from Epernay to Paris. 24 oxen were used, along with 18 horses for the steep bits. 5 adjoined houses had to be demolished, 2 bridges collapsed and trees were cut down to squeeze the procession through. Minor details though for M Mercier It took 3 weeks. He won second prize at the Exposition, overshadowed by a little building called the Eiffel Tower.

Mercier cellars were the first to be built to a rational plan which i guess allows access by the little train.

After the tour we tasted the Brut and Blanc de Noir, preferring the second so we made a small purchase! Hoping to taste one when we have family staying soon and one to take home. Maybe.

That evening we invited Don and Agnes off Moonshadow for aperos.
The next morning we moved a massive 45 minutes down the Marne to Cumières where there is a lovely mooring with free electricity and water. From there we rode our bikes up another very steep hill to the stunning wine village of Hautvilliers where the famous Dom Pérignon lived, invented the first Champagne and is buried in the Abbey. He was born in 1638 and died in 1715. He was a monk and cellarmaster at the Benedictine Abbey in Hautvilliers. He perfected amongst other things the art of producing clear white wines from black grapes by clever manipulation of the presses, started using corks instead of wood and also used thicker glass for the bottles which often exploded!

Both the Abbey and the village are stunning and well worth the exhausting ride. It was about 30°C so we stopped at the local cafe for a cold Paniche (shandy to us). Blissful!

So that’s where we are today. It’s hot and very windy and we are sitting on the deck admiring the vine-covered slopes above the village of Cumières thinking how lucky we are to be in this beautiful area. We are now on the River Marne and steadily getting closer to Paris!

This weeks stats:

Chalons-sur-Champagne to Mareuils-sur-Ay,

4.3 engine hours, 27kms, 5 locks.

Mareuils-sur-Ay to Epernay, 2.2 engine hours, 12kms, 2 locks.

Epernay to Cumières, 0.7 engine hours, 7kms and 0 locks (hurrah!).
Totals 5 weeks, 66.4 engine hours, 341 kms, 133 locks and 2 tunnels.

Back in the road

We turned around a corner and, Voila, vines vines everywhere.

Mareuil-sur-Au mooring

Bolly darling?

In the lock.

Vineyards for miles. Great views up the hill to Mutigny

Mutigny church surrounded by Premier Cru vines. I saw a few famous names in the graveyard including Plantagenet.

A Deutz vineyard

This shows a contracter’s tag

Moët et Chandon

Gorgeous views

Our lovely tour guide, Doris.

A pheromone tag to confuse the butterflies.

Tasting after our walking tour.

The unassuming Champagne house of Zimmerlin-Flament

Stunning views of the Champagne region from Mutigny.

Pink water lilies

Café gourmand in Ay


Lovely place in Ay

A very unassuming producer, A. Charbaut of Mareuil

Carnage after a swan squabble

Stunning chateau on the Marne river in Mareuil

Champagne de Castillane Tower in Epernay

Mooring in Mareuil

Stormy afternoon

The Dom (Pérignon) at Moët et Chandon

Caves at Moët et Chandon

Cellars at Mercier

The Riddler

Theatre in Epernay


Moët for miles

Champagne Bar

A small purchase at Mercier

That big barrel!

Mooring in Epernay

View of the river Marne and Silver Fern in the distance from Hautvilliers

Abbey of Hautvilliers where Dom Pérignon is buried

Dom Pérignon’s Abbey

Dom Pérignon grave

Cafe in Hautvillier

Evening mooring in Cumières. Just beautiful and all on our own.

Posted in Canal Lateral à la Marne, French Canal boating, Holiday 2017, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 14 Comments

St Dizier to Chalons-en-Champagne. 

Week 4. Sunday June 4th. We walked around some of the sights of St Dizier, including the château. The weather was wet and grey which can taint your opinions of a town and we were happy to move on.

Monday June 5th. Leaving St Dizier we cruised down the canal, past the Robinson Airforce Base to Orconte a mooring with power at €8 per night. Only one automatic lock not functioning today but again a VNF guy sorted it out. There were lots of biting bugs in the locks and I received more than my share of bites. The weather was lovely in the evening and we took the opportunity to go for a bike ride around Orconte (took about 30 seconds) and then along the towpath for a while. Very pleasant.

Tuesday June 6th As forecasted the weather was foul, the ropes creaking and groaning all night. Rain, hail, thunder and lightening and extremely windy. Not a day to attack the locks so we stayed indoors securely tied to the little quay. One of my pot plants was blown into the canal but I managed to fish most of it out with a boat hook. I’m hoping it will survive.
We waited for a break in the weather to go to the boulangerie (the only shop in Orconte) but the bread was disappointing, tasting like supermarket bread. Gasp!

Wednesday June 7th We woke to grey skies and a cold wind but decided to move on anyway, leaving Orconte at 8.30am. It was a bit of a hard slog in the cold, Alan commented I looked like I was going skiing I had so many layers on, but the weather mainly stayed dry and we continued on all day until reaching Châlons-en-Champagne at 5pm after 45km and 14 locks. We handed back the lock door remote at Vitry and from then on there were hanging cables over the canal to pull to start the process. One lock was broken but luckily for us a commercial barge had called VNF and he locked us through manually after them.
We have seen very few pleasure boats but quite a few large commercial barges lately. Some French, some Belgian, usually with a car on deck. They all give cheerful waves as we pass.

We moored on the stone quay rather than the finger pontoons in Châlons-en-Champagne as the weed was terrible. The Capitain told Alan they had cut it all out only a month ago. That stuff grows fast and it seems to have taken hold everywhere we’ve been lately. We put in two stakes as there were no bollards to tie up to, paid for five nights (€49) and settled down for a relaxing stay.

Thursday June 8 It was a hot day, the weather has been hugely variable. VNF have started grouping boats together through the locks up in canals north of us which means water levels are running low. That’s not good news for us as we are planning to use those routes on our way home later in the season. We will be keeping an eye on that. Our neighbours from Christchurch, Jacqui and Martin on Akaroa, pulled up that afternoon. It’s great to catch up with them over here! We had aperos on our boat with Martin , Jacqui plus Barbara on Kingfisher joined us.
Châlon en Champagne is a beautiful city, full of stunning architecture and interesting history. The Battle of Châlons was fought here in AD274 between Emperor Aurelian of Rome and Emperor Tetricus I of the Gallic Empire. In 451AD another battle of Châlon saw Attila turn back his westward advances. Châlon was also on the Pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella during the Middle Ages. The Notre-Dame-en-Vaux (1157-1217) is now a Unesco World Heritage site due to its importance as a pilgrimage stop on the way to Spain. The church is incredible, inside and out as is St Etienne cathedral, a stunning building. Built between 1120-1634 due to financing problems and damage along the way it shows a mix of Romajnesque Gothic and even Baroque styles.

Both churches are gobsmackingly impressive with soaring gothic arches and huge stained glass windows. We spent the afternoon exploring St Etienne and Notre Dame and strolling through the Grand and Petit Jardin parks. The city feels well maintained and vibrant. Arguably the best place we’ve been this year so far.

Friday June 10th. It rained during the night and on and off all day. We had a quiet day. Later on we enjoyed aperos on Akaroa with a Dutch couple on Nanniguy (probably the wrong spelling!).
Saturday June 11. A hot day today. We visited the excellent Marche this morning and in the afternoon took the boat tour of Chalons, 45 mins along the small canal that runs through the town. Well worth taking. The commentary was in French and just a bit too fast for me but we were given a pamphlet in English so that helped. Very impressive light displays inside the tunnels.
Drinks hosted by Barbara under the trees was lovely that evening and at 9.30pm Alan and the others walked into the main square to see a light show and an amazing circus display including a grand piano hoisted up high by a tethered hot air balloon. A man played the piano while a woman stood on top singing! There were also ribbon dancers and amazing lights projected onto the Notre Dame church. The festival called The Furies has been on all week with music and circus displays all over town. That night the music didn’t stop until 6am but it didn’t bother us in the marina area although we did wake to find a smashed beer bottle on our deck.

Sunday June 12th was another hot day. 31°. We caught up on our washing and later on met with the usual suspects plus Alan and Di, Brits on Arwen, for aperos under the shady trees.

Monday June 13th Martin and Jacqui departed back towards Vitry this morning. We did a big supermarket run and then relaxed as we have a reasonably big day tomorrow heading up to Mareuil-sur-Ay, deep in the heart of Champagne.
We have absolutely loved Chalons-en-Champagne and highly recommend it. By the way, the best baguettes are in the boulangerie in the Place de la Republic. A-maz-ing.
So here are this weeks stats:
St Dizier to Orconte 2.8 engine hrs, 17kms, 8 locks
Orconte to Chalons-en-Champagne 7.7 hrs engine hours, 45kms, 14 locks.

In total: 4 weeks, 59.2 engine hours, 295kms, 126 locks, 2 tunnels.

Robinson Airforce base St Dizier

Passing commercial barge complete with car on board

Officially leaving one canal and onto Canal Lateral à la Marne

Chalons-en-Champagne has some stunning buildings

Hôtel de Ville

Inside Hôtel de Ville

Notre Dame de Vaux

I kid you not, the full Stations of the Cross in Lego takes Pride of place in this church!

Cathedral St Etienne



Marché deciousness

Part of the light display inside one of the tunnels. Music also played. Very clever!

Boat trip

Chalons has many timbered buildings

Light projections onto Notre Dame

A very sociable time! Martin and Jacqui from ‘Akaroa’, Alan and Di from ‘Arwen’ and Barbara from ‘Kingfisher’. Oh and me from ‘Silver Fern’.

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Posted in Canal Entre Champagne et Bourgogne, Canal Lateral à la Marne, France, French Canal boating, French markets, Holiday 2017 | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments