Imagine if you will, fields of golden canola glistening in the late afternoon light, a long table dressed for dinner in a sun-drenched courtyard, the buzzing of bees as they flit from blossom to blossom, aperitifs in amongst the birches. Now take that image and pop it into a quintessentially French village in Champagne on a sunny Saturday afternoon in spring and you have dinner at Aupres de L’Eglise.
But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Aupres de L’Eglise is in Oyes, Champagne. Oyes is a village – or commune – near Sezanne and about 29 kms from Epernay. It’s perfectly situated for all that Champagne has to offer. We stayed here for two very comfortable nights. Our hosts – Kiwi expats Glenis and Mike.
To get here we drove through acre after acre of sprawling canola fields – or colza as they call it in France. From a distance, it appears as though the yellow has been painted into the green. When we get out of the car to take a photo it’s almost as tall as me – which, admittedly, probably doesn’t mean a whole lot…
The property itself is full of surprises – a wall left unpainted except for the mason’s scribbles, a dividing wall comprised solely of bookcases, an arrangement of daffodils beside a publication from the late 1960’s titled “The New Zealand Gown of the Year.”
The four of us had the run of the big house – which was way larger than what we needed, but a treat indeed.
Downstairs is a large double room, a smaller room with two single beds, a bathroom and a large open plan kitchen, dining and living space. All of us said we’d have loved to be there when it was cool enough to have the log fires going. As it was the weather was so great we were in t-shirts and thongsjandalsflip-flops.
Hubby and I had the upstairs rooms.
A large space divided by a clever wall of bookcases, an alcove -for tea and coffee making, and a well-designed bathroom overlooking the church.
The church over the back fence only has services once a month, so the bells don’t chime – the only noise in the morning being cockerels in neighbouring yards.
The highlight of a stay at Aupres de l’Eglise – as an aside, the literal translation of the name is “near the church” – is the evening meal.
What we ate…
We started with an aperitif of local champagne drunk in the courtyard under the birches.
To go with this Glenis had made a “cake” of cheese, peppers, eggs and herbs. It was sort of like a cross between a frittata and a loaf cake. I’ve asked her for the recipe, so watch this space.
Also on offer were bowls of pink radishes and butter mixed with salt flakes. Radishes served with butter and salt is apparently a very French hors-d’oeuvre – and one that I’m borrowing for a scene in my current novel. It’s simple, but really tasty – and perfect with champagne…although isn’t anything?
We moved across to the table and then the food arrived. So much food – all of it home-cooked and from produce that’s as local as possible.
First out was a quiche made with local cheese, perfect pastry – I really must practice making pastry – served with sun-dried tomatoes and rocket.
Mike and Glenis joined us for our main course – served platter style. There was a Moroccan style lamb surrounded by broccoli and peppers spiced with chilli, bowls of oil-brushed potatoes roasted in their skins, carrots glazed in ginger and coriander, and a celery, walnut and cauliflower salad with pomegranate molasses dressing.
Cheese followed, and to finish was a baked cheesecake that Glenis had covered in cream and scattered with plump blueberries. Sadly I’d given up trying to fit anything else in my tummy after the cheese!
It was a fabulous dinner, with great food, great company and lots of conversation. Speaking of which, I need to email one of the other guests with the recipe for Annabel Langbein’s Strawberry Cloud Cake (if you’re interested you’ll find the recipe here). I also need to ask Mike for the details of Careme’s banquet that took place in one of the villages near to here. I think it was Montmort-Lucy…although I could be wrong.
Then there was the story about how thousands of taxis in Paris were commandeered to bring soldiers to reinforce the army facing the Germans in what became known later as the Battle of the Marne. France needed troops brought in – and they needed them fast. The trains were already full, but the taxis weren’t.
It’s a fabulous story that I really must research a tad more. Like most great stories, I suspect there’s a reasonable amount of myth interspersed with the facts, but isn’t that what makes a great story?
Anyways, where was I? About to tell you how you can find Glenis and Mike if ever you’re looking for great accommodation in Champagne.
Around the village…
We wandered around the village and through the canola fields before brekky – speaking of which, if it’s in season you must try the tomato and basil compote on a fresh baguette. The village is small but pretty, and worth the stroll.
A few kms out of town is Mondemont- Montgivroux and the monument to the Battle of the Marne. At over 35 m tall it can be seen for miles.
Ok, I get that this was a very important battle, but the best that can be said about this monument – locally referred to as La Carotte, on account of its colour and shape – is that it’s large and ummm more than a tad phallic.
It is, however in a gloriously photogenic spot, so all other visual offences are forgiven.
Next time – Another 24 hours in Champagne: Ruinart, Reims, and a treehouse bar.