Raise your glass

From Cham­pagne to Co­gnac, we ex­plore four places fa­mous for their tip­ples

Living France - - Contents -

Wine is un­doubt­edy France’s most pop­u­lar al­co­holic drink, but the coun­try has count­less more fa­mous tip­ples to its name. Af­ter all, the so­cial get-to­geth­ers in France are end­less and they of­ten call for some­thing other than a glass of red, white or rosé. Whether it’s an apéri­tif with friends or a late-night ren­dezvous, there is some­thing for ev­ery oc­ca­sion.

If you love the idea of start­ing a new life among the pic­turesque vine­yards of Cham­pagne-Ar­denne, or you could see your­self in the vi­brant city of Mar­seille watch­ing the world go by while en­joy­ing a pastis on a sun-lit café ter­race, we’ve picked out four very dif­fer­ent places in France which are fa­mous for pro­duc­ing an al­co­holic drink. Read on to find out why liv­ing in these towns, cities and vil­lages is worth cel­e­brat­ing.

CHAM­PAGNE

Many peo­ple move to France to em­brace the coun­try’s famed joie de vivre, and where bet­ter to en­joy the good things in life than in the part of France where cel­e­brat­ing with a glass of fizz couldn’t be eas­ier? While the re­gion may be best known for its bot­tled glam­our, life in Cham­pagne is all about ap­pre­ci­at­ing the small things: pop­ping open a bot­tle with friends, trekking through a vine­yard­cov­ered hill­side or pot­ter­ing around one of the re­gion’s en­dear­ingly sleepy vil­lages.

In the flower-filled vil­lage of Hautvillers in the Marne depart­ment lies the tomb of Dom Pérignon. Here, wrought-iron signs of lo­cal trades­peo­ple hang out­side houses and shop fronts and painted cham­pagne bar­rels sit along nar­row streets, where leg­end has it that cats jump be­tween rooftops be­cause the al­ley­ways are so nar­row. A sim­i­lar old-world charm can be found in Oger and Troyes, a town of cob­bled streets, tim­ber-framed build­ings, a 13th-cen­tury cathe­dral and a daily cov­ered mar­ket where lo­cals shop for cheese, fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles, fish and char­cu­terie.

Those look­ing for a bit of glitz and glam­our will find it in Éper­nay, the self­pro­claimed cap­i­tal of cham­pagne. Win­ston Churchill once called its Av­enue de Cham­pagne “The world’s most drink­able ad­dress” thanks to the num­ber of cham­pagne head­quar­ters lo­cated there. Éper­nay is said to be the best place for sam­pling cham­pagne, per­haps be­cause of the 200 mil­lion bot­tles stored be­neath the town’s streets in its sub­ter­ranean cel­lars. The town is also a pop­u­lar base for ex­plor­ing Cham­pagne’s vine­yards and so it could be ideal if you are con­sid­er­ing mak­ing a liv­ing by run­ning English­s­peak­ing tours. While in the UK a bot­tle of cham­pagne is seen as a splurge, here it is sim­ply the lo­cal brew so you can or­der a bot­tle of the restau­rant’s finest, with­out break­ing into a cold sweat when the bill ar­rives. But even if you’re a tee­to­taller, Cham­pagne has lots to of­fer. The re­gion has over 5,000km of sign­posted foot­paths, in ad­di­tion to parks in­clud­ing the Mon­tagne de Reims na­ture park and the Faux de Verzy, home to hun­dreds of dwarf beech trees. The Forêt d’Ori­ent in Piney pro­vides lots of op­por­tu­ni­ties for sail­ing and wind­surf­ing, while those with a head for heights can take on the high canopy walk­ways, mon­key bridges and zip wires at Parc Ar­boxygène near the vil­lage of Verzy. There is also a cham­pagne bar in the tree­tops that you can en­joy, nat­u­rally. And if you re­ally want to get hands-on with the process of pro­duc­ing cham­pagne, why not join the 15,000 wine-pro­duc­ers in the re­gion and start mak­ing your own brand of bub­bly? Now that would cer­tainly be some­thing to raise a glass to.

ANGERS

En­cir­cled by the vine­yards that pro­duce many fa­mous Loire Val­ley wines, Angers evokes vi­sions of a crisp Sancerre or a smooth glass of Pouilly-Fumé. But the city it­self has been pro­duc­ing the or­ange­flavoured liqueur Coin­treau since the broth­ers of the same name founded the dis­tillery in 1849. Ever since, the drink has been served as both an apéri­tif, di­ges­tif and more re­cently mixed into a cos­mopoli­tan all over the world. The drink ap­peals to both young and old, much like Angers it­self.

As a univer­sity city with 30,000 stu­dents, Angers has a lively, vi­brant feel. Streets of shops, bars and restau­rants lead onto the cen­tral meet-up point of Place du Ral­liement where peo­ple of all ages make the square come alive: cou­ples drink­ing cof­fee in the sun, chil­dren hav­ing a spin on the tra­di­tional carousel, peo­ple dressed up for an evening of opera at the 19th-cen­tury Grand Théâtre.

The city is open to peo­ple of all ages, and to those from all walks of life. “Angers is con­scious of be­ing ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­one,” my guide Olivier tells me on a tour of Angers. Strolling about the city, you will no­tice a num­ber of ramps and smoothed pave­ments run­ning along­side cob­ble­stone streets. Sim­ple, prac­ti­cal ad­just­ments like these across the city make a dif­fer­ence get­ting around whether you’re in a wheel­chair, push­ing a pram or tot­ter­ing around town in heels.

Many peo­ple move to Angers be­cause of its eco-friendly cre­den­tials and in 2017 it was voted the green­est city in France by Ob­ser­va­toire des villes vertes. Walk­ing around the city, it’s easy to see why it won the ac­co­lade. There are few cars around Angers’ roads; peo­ple cy­cle, walk, or take the tram to get around the com­pact city. Pub­lic green spa­ces take up 14% of the city and there is on av­er­age 40m2 of green space for each res­i­dent who lives here. The lo­cal theme parks have na­ture in mind too, like the Terra Botan­ica that is en­tirely de­voted to plants, and where you can float through the rose gardens by boat, and see it all from the air on a hot-air bal­loon.

Set along the River Maine, the city makes for great, easy-go­ing bik­ing. Set off from the cen­tre and fol­low the path along the river to one of the nearby vil­lage vine­yards. Do­maine du Closel in Saven­nières is a pleas­ant two-hour cy­cle away and they hap­pily re­plen­ish vis­i­tors with a taste of their lo­cal Sancerre. On your way back to town, you can stop for a ca­sual din­ner at a guinguette. These river­side restau­rants are very pop­u­lar in Angers mainly for their de­li­cious, sim­ple food, live mu­sic and rol­lick­ing at­mos­phere.

CO­GNAC

“It is the liquor of the gods,” Vic­tor Hugo once said about co­gnac. Cen­turies later and in the lit­tle town of the same name on the banks of the River Char­ente, the dou­ble-dis­tilled spirit is still as revered as it was in Hugo’s day.

Sit­u­ated in south-west France, Co­gnac is qui­etly busy mak­ing the fa­mous brandy all year round. Trac­tors bum­ble through the cen­turies-old vine­yards, crafts­peo­ple make the bot­tle’s corks and lo­cals work in the dis­til­leries. The town is home to some of the big­gest brandy names in­clud­ing Hennessy, Cour­voisier and Martell and the lo­cal econ­omy thrives on its star prod­uct. Most of the co­gnac houses of­fer tours and free tast­ings and you can also dis­cover the his­tory of the drink at the Musée des Arts du Co­gnac. Prob­a­bly best to make the museum your first stop though.

But while it can seem that the town lives and breathes co­gnac, you don’t have to work in the brandy busi­ness to en­joy Co­gnac’s pride and joy. An­cient thor­ough­fares and medieval streets with tim­ber-framed houses are home to a busy so­cial scene and pro­vide the per­fect back­drop for savour­ing a taster of the lo­cal drink, known as eau de vie. Swirl a tum­bler around, and take in your new sur­round­ings.

The Char­ente depart­ment is the sec­ond sun­ni­est corner in France, so you can’t spend all your time tast­ing brandy. The gen­tle land­scape around Co­gnac is per­fect for walk­ing and cy­cling and there are lots of paths to fol­low for those who want to ex­plore the area on two wheels. Cy­cling along the river to the vil­lage of Jarnac is an idyl­lic day out and it also of­fers spec­tac­u­lar views of the Hen­nessey es­tate. Al­ter­na­tively, you could take a cruise down the river on a tra­di­tional gabare boat. Once used to trans­port co­gnac and salt, it’s now one of the best ways to sit back, re­lax and dis­cover Char­ente.

MAR­SEILLE

“For me the most im­por­tant in­gre­di­ent in pastis is not the aniseed or the al­co­hol but the am­bi­ence,” says Peter Mayle in his book Tou­jours Provence. “I can’t imag­ine drink­ing it in a hurry.”

It’s lit­tle won­der, then that pastis hails from Mar­seille, the Provençal cap­i­tal where azure Mediter­ranean wa­ters and year-round sun­shine com­pel res­i­dents in France’s sec­ond largest city to take life at a slower pace.

Many lo­cals like to en­joy the tra­di­tional tip­ple at the Vieux Port where views of boats bob­bing up and down and fish­er­men emp­ty­ing their catch from the quay­side bars en­cour­age drinkers to take their time. There are also many seafood restau­rants in this part of town to choose from. The lo­cals’ favourite dish re­mains bouil­l­abaisse, a tra­di­tional seafood stew typ­i­cally served with rouille, a spicy may­on­naise spread on thickly sliced bread. If you want to cook the dish your­self, you’ll get all you need for it at the Vieux Port’s colour­ful fish mar­ket that takes place ev­ery day from eight in the morn­ing.

Since its year as Euro­pean Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture in 2013, Mar­seille has se­ri­ously smartened it­self up and across its 15 ar­rondisse­ments, the city sparkles with a re­newed sense of pos­i­tiv­ity. New Zealan­der Rowan Gide moved to Mar­seille three years ago and says in that time, he has seen a real change. “I’ve wit­nessed the city evolve over the last three years with the in­tro­duc­tion of new in­fra­struc­ture and it’s clear both the lo­cal coun­cil and its in­flu­encers wish Mar­seille to be a south­ern hub for both France and Europe,” he says. This new en­ergy can be seen in Cours Julien in the sixth ar­rondisse­ment. Its graf­fiti-cov­ered streets that are filled with book­shops, pave­ment cafés and quirky bou­tiques are ever-pop­u­lar with the bohemian crowd.

A sim­i­lar artsy vibe can be found at Le Panier, the city’s old­est quartier where dock­ers, sailors and fish­er­men lived un­til the 60s. Nowa­days, the labyrinth of nar­row streets is home to colour­ful houses, beau­ti­fully re­stored apart­ments, gal­leries, restau­rants and shops. It’s where Rowan lives and it’s clear he feels right at home. “It’s se­ri­ously a cool place to be,” he says. “It’s full of taste­ful street art, artists and their work­shops and plenty of lo­cal ar­ti­sans who ply their trade by cre­at­ing all sorts of ob­jects and prod­ucts, no­tably Savon de Mar­seille.”

Yet while Mar­seille has hung onto its heritage, it is also home to vi­brant, mod­ern quar­ters, such as the Euromediter­ranée zone. A favourite among city slick­ers, the com­plex fea­tures swish new of­fices, apart­ments, a re­tail cen­tre and the city’s only skyscraper.

Re­gard­less of where in Mar­seille you live, the city of­fers a more dy­namic lifestyle along France’s sun-drenched south­ern coast and at a much more af­ford­able cost, too. While res­i­dents here can spend the af­ter­noon soak­ing up the city’s thriv­ing cul­tural scene, they can just as eas­ily cy­cle to the nearby beaches of Prado or Prophète or walk along the lime­stone calanque creeks by the coast. There is also a clus­ter of is­lands close by, from the charm­ing port of Cas­sis where re­stored vil­lage houses look out to a golden beach and Ban­dol, fa­mous for its lo­cal wine.

For Rowan, Mar­seille is now home. “Peo­ple al­ways ask me ‘Why do you live in Mar­seille when you could live in New Zealand?’ How­ever I’m a firm believer that if you love where you live and you feel like you’re a part of a larger com­mu­nity, then keep liv­ing there for as long as that feel­ing re­mains.”

Above: The vil­lage of Oger in Cham­pagne is sur­rounded by vine­yards

The River Maine runs through Angers

St-Mau­rice cathe­dral over­looks Angers city cen­tre

The Pont-Neuf bridge over the River Char­ente in Co­gnac

Le Panier is the old­est quar­ter in Mar­seille

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