Pigs in court – bizarre tales from Chateauvillain

Isabel Conway hears tales of the unexpected on an arts and crafts themed tour of southern Champagne.

Bobbins at the 17th century watermill and machinery that still operates the Moulin de la Fleuristerie in Orges, outside Chaumont

Most of us have gone there sometime in our travels. Assailed by an endless monologue of forgettable useless information we feign interest hoping the local guide will soon stop.

Enter the double act of sisters Marie Rose and Catherine on their offbeat entertaining Medieval version of Ripley’s’ Believe it or Not’ in Chateauvillain. Labelled a ‘Petite Cité de Caractère’ (little town of character) the castellated village of 60 towers and ancient laneways sits snuggly among the gentle wooded hills and sloped vineyards of southern Champagne.

Guiding us through the cobbled lanes they point out landmarks like its former red light district, whose prostitutes were obliged to wear stripes on their gowns marking them out as ‘dangerous’. Residents didn’t get off lightly either, being required to keep their little fingers scrupulously clean at all times for touching spices. On the subject of food the more affluent ate fowl because birds were nearer to heaven. Food for talk as we sampled memorable gastronomic pleasures. We dined and wined in style on local specialities and extraordinarily good Champagne whose names I’d never heard of at Les Remparts in Chaumont, Hotel Le Marius in Les Riceys-Bas and – as a finale – the superb, cosy La Mignardise in Troyes.

Church of St Pierre es Liens in Les Riceys

To return to Chateauvillain, pigs there were dragged before the courts for insubordination -and for attacking children – while grasshoppers received death sentences, unsurprisingly for destroying crops. My favourite ‘animal crackers’ tale was of the cockerel that had its neck rung for laying an egg. Digesting such bizarre facts we repaired for lunch to the English owned La Belle Epoque restaurant where some of us bravely chose a hearty pork dish for lunch.

In search of arts and crafts we visited the new National Centre of Graphic Arts. It houses over 50,000 posters – a unique collection featuring the work of Toulouse-Lautrec, Cappiello, Bouisset and others. But sadly all we saw were blank walls, having come between exhibitions. Tip: check at www.cig-chaumont.com that there is an exhibition before detouring here.

We had more luck next morning indulging our artistic talent at Moulin de La Fleuristerie , whose passionate owner Emmanuel Geoffroy taught us how to assemble artificial flowers. I christened mine’ squashed violet posy’. Here in Orges, on the fringes of a future national park, the ancient water mill – in perfect working order – is the power behind an artisan craft that has disappeared elsewhere in France. It is the only production centre left making and supplying artificial flower parts for the high fashion industry.

The village of Essoyes and its hinterland is Pierre Auguste Renoir territory. The great master of impressionism was captivated by this picturesque village, home of his model Aline, who became his wife. The Renoir visitor centre captures their lives and times in film and exhibits. Strolling by the river and through the village we come on familiar backdrops to his oeuvre while his spirit is ever present in the Renoir studio that’s open to the public.

The Renoir house where the painter, his wife, their three children, extended family and friends spent every summer for over 30 years is not far from where they are laid to rest. But it was a work in progress and off limits to us. It is due to open to the public next June and promises to be a vital tourism attraction. (see www.renoir.aube-champagne.com). “Our aim with the house once fully restored is to give visitors the feeling that Renoir just stepped out for 5 minutes and he could return at any moment”, said our guide Coralie.

Arnaud Gallimard, 26 years old scion of a six generation wine producing family in Les Riceys, might have stepped out from a Renoir café scene. We follow him down into the cellars at Champagne Gallimard later tasting the special ‘Rose des Riceys’. The wine’s origins go back to the building of Versailles. During a site inspection the King felt like a tipple so decided to taste his labourers wine. The rest as they say is history. It would have been churlish of us not to follow the Royal lead.

Most of us have gone there sometime in our travels. Assailed by an endless monologue of forgettable useless information we feign interest hoping the local guide will soon stop.

Enter the double act of sisters Marie Rose and Catherine on their offbeat entertaining Medieval version of Ripley’s’ Believe it or Not’ in Chateauvillain. Labelled a ‘Petite Cite de Caractere’ (little town of character) the castellated village of 60 towers and ancient laneways sits snuggly among the gentle wooded hills and sloped vineyards of southern Champagne.

Guiding us through ancient cobbled laneways they point out landmarks like its former Red light district whose prostitutes were obliged to wear stripes on their gowns signalling them out as ‘dangerous’. Residents didn’t get off lightly either required to keep their little fingers scrupulously clean at all times for touching spices. On the subject of food the more affluent ate fowl because birds were nearer to Heaven.

Food for talk as we sampled memorable gastronomic pleasures in our small group guided by charming Maxime Lacquit of Haute-Marne Tourism and his colleagues. We dined and wined in style on local specialities and extraordinarily good champagne whose names I’d never heard of at Les Remparts in Chaumont, Hotel Le Marius in Les Riceys-Bas and as a finale superb cosy La Mignardise in Troyes.

Back to Chateauvillain, believe it or not pigs were dragged before the Courts for insubordination and attacking children while grasshoppers received death sentences unsurprisingly for destroying crops. My favourite ‘animal crackers’ tale was of the cockerel who had its neck rung for laying an egg. Digesting such bizarre facts we repaired for lunch to English owned cosy La Belle Epoque restaurant where some of us bravely chose a hearty pork dish for lunch.

Our interesting Arts and Craft tour included Chaumont former residence of the Counts of Champagne for a look at its fortifications and a visit to the new National Centre of Graphic Arts. The centre houses over 50,000 posters – a unique collection featuring the work of Toulouse-Lautrec, Cappiello, Bouisset and others. But sadly all we saw were blank walls having come between exhibitions. Tip: check that there is an exhibition before detouring here: (www.cig-chaumont.com).

Emmanuel Geoffroy shows Guild members the skills of making flower parts for the fashion industry

We had more luck next morning indulging our artistic talent at Moulin de La Fleuristerie ((www.artamin.fr) whose passionate owner Emmanuel Geoffroy taught us how to assemble artificial flowers. I christened mine’ squashed violet posy’. Here in Orges on the fringes of a future national park a fairy tale the ancient water mill in perfect working order is the power behind an artisan craft that has disappeared elsewhere in France. It is the only production centre left making and supplying artificial flower parts for the high fashion industry.

The village of Essoyes and hinterland is Pierre Auguste Renoir territory. The great master of impressionism was captivated by this picturesque village where his former model Aline became his wife. The Renoir visitor centre captures their lie and times in film and exhibits. Strolling by the river and through the village we come on familiar backdrops to his oeuvre while his spirit is ever present in the Renoir studio that’s open to the public.

The Renoir house where the painter his wife their 3 children and extended family and friends spent every summer for over 30 years not far from where they are laid to rest was a work in progress and off limits to us. It is due to open to the public next June becoming a vital tourism attraction. Our aim with the house once fully restored is to give visitors the feeling that Renoir just stepped out for 5 minutes and he could return at any moment”, said our guide Coralie.

Champagne cellar at Les Riceys<

Handsome 26 year old Arnaud Gallimard of a 6th generation wine producing family in Les Riceys might have stepped out from a Renoir café scene. We follow him down into the cellars at Champagne Gallimard later tasting the special ‘Rose des Riceys’. The wine’s origins go back to the building of Versailles. During a site inspection the King felt like a tipple so decided to taste his labourers wine. The rest as they say is history. It would have been churlish of us not to follow the Royal lead .

Further information see www.champagne-ardenne-tourism.co.uk     

 

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