Cumières (ready to turn about)


We stayed put at Mareuil-sur-Aÿ on Monday and went for a circular walk starting beside the river Marne and returning along the canal.  We loved the spot where we were moored even though it was popular with locals out for an amble or walking their dogs.  It did mean that when we were outside most of them stopped to pass the time of day with the usual flattering comments about the boat.  These would then be followed by the standard questions such as how we got it here, where have we been, where are we going and how long have we been in France.?  Quite often the subject of Brexit would arise and how mad it is that it happened even though it was perceived the Brits didn’t want it.

Swan hiding at sunrise at our mooring in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ

We were inside having a cuppa in the afternoon when suddenly Karen started laughing and made the comment that I was an old woman.  She’d been reading the previous blog update where I’d mentioned I'd taken a couple of days to adjust to the one-hour time zone difference between France and the UK let alone the start of daylight savings three days later.  She can’t get used to the fact that it affects me whereas it just passes her by.

The main activity in the village while we were there was the delivery of the bottles required for this year’s bottling.  It seemed that the yards of every champagne house were stacked with crates of new bottles waiting to be taken inside.

Yard full of new champagne bottles

I found an old postcard of the village and took a picture of the same view; the single-decker tram and horse and carts have gone but the buildings look the same.

Mareuil-sur-Aÿ centre

Men were working in the road next to us and couldn’t understand what we were doing as I stood in the middle of the road to take a picture and then returned to the pavement to compare it with the postcard one that Karen had.  We repeated the process at least half a dozen times before we were happy which must have made our antics even more odd looking.


After breakfast on Tuesday, we set off on the next step of our journey to join the river Marne while waiting to return to Châlons for Karen’s appointment at the préfecture.  As we left our mooring, we passed an 18th century château that for much of its history was the headquarters of the Montebello champagne family who owned 300 hectares of vineyards in the area.  It is now owned privately by a Swiss businessman who sold the champagne rights to Bollinger but at least is keeping the house and gardens well maintained.

Château de Mareuil

We only had a short distance to travel, and we were soon mooring up at Dizy, a modern suburb of Épernay.  Dizy is quaintly referred to as ‘Dizy, porte du vignoble’ which reminded us of 'Skipton, the gateway to the Dales'.  The mooring wasn’t particularly pleasant, and boaters often complain that it is taken up with boats that haven’t moved for a long time.  One had obviously been moved as we managed to squeeze in at the end and noticed that the other boats didn’t look too bad. In fact, one was in the latter stages of being repainted.

Less than salubrious mooring at Dizy

As it was only just over a two kilometre walk to the centre of Épernay we were happy to stay there and use it as a base while we explored the capital of Champagne which, although we’ve visited it a couple of times previously, had never really investigated.  As it was still morning when we arrived at the gateway to the vineyards, we had an early lunch and then set off to Épernay in search of the tourist office and a town trail to follow.

As soon as we crossed over the canal we were in Magenta, another modern suburb of Épernay, and followed the main road down to a bridge over the river Marne which marks the northern boundary of Épernay.  The tourist office was next to the hôtel de ville which was a grand building having been built as a private house in 1858 and becoming the hôtel de ville in 1916.

Hôtel de ville

At the tourist office we were given a town trail to follow and to be honest they should also have supplied a magnifying glass to help us read it properly; even younger people would have found it difficult.  Not only were the street names almost indecipherable but the numbers depicting each site of interest were incredibly hard to read.  There was a key with a text summarising what could be seen at each number but, unlike most trails, half of them didn’t have a picture so we didn’t always know what we were looking for.

The start of the trail was a trip up and down the Avenue de Champagne, the home of the most prestigious and well-known champagne brands, but we didn’t bother with that as we did it in 2018.  Most of the houses are modern and therefore bland like the Moët & Chandon building opposite the tourist office.  Little would you realise that the building houses the entrance to 28 km of wine cellars.

Moët & Chandon

To be fair, not all the champagne houses are characterless like the one above and some are really quite magnificent as befits the champagne capital.

Great play was made in the guide of the fact the town was fortified from the 15th century and there were three gateways through the walls.  Unfortunately, there was nothing to be seen as all evidence has been completely destroyed.  In fact, much redevelopment has occurred over the last century and even some monuments were re-sited such as the Portail Saint-Martin.  This was the main doorway into the church of Saint-Martin built in 1540.  The church was destroyed for redevelopment around 1910 but the doorway saved and moved to its present spot.

Portail Saint-Martin

None of the sights were particular impressive considering the importance and size of the town.  The château de la lune and the town theatre probably stood out more than anything else, but I do realise this is a subjective view.

Art nouveau style of the château de la lune

We spent a while looking at the wrong building for what was described as a renaissance style façade, and we somehow knew it wasn’t quite right.  We were just about to carry on when we spotted it in the courtyard of a large house.  This 16th century artefact had been moved three times during its life with the final move from the site of the former hôtel de ville occurring in 1925  

16th century renaissance style façade

The railway arrived in the town in 1848 as a stop on the Paris-Strasbourg line and this of course improved champagne distribution and thus the importance of the town.  As with most French railway stations it looks very much the same now as it did when first built.

Our view is that Épernay is worth a visit if you want to pay over the top for champagne tasting and cellar tours compared with those we have been to in villages in Champagne.  As with most French towns there are plenty of restaurants and bars in the many squares but beware that judging by our visit in 2018 it is packed with tourists in the summer.  In fact, there were quite a few tourists around when we did our tour, the first we have noticed this year.  As for the town tour, we’re probably being overly generous giving it 2/10.  Deciding that enough was enough, we walked back through Magenta and were glad to get back to the boat and stay in for the evening.

On Tuesday we cruised five km down one lock.


In 2019 we travelled up the full 183 km length of the navigable river Marne from Paris to Épernay and, apart from an issue at Paris, loved every minute and every kilometre.  The turquoise green of the water is particularly attractive, and we have fond memories of swimming in it even when I struggled to keep ahead of the current.  The issue in Paris was when we were moored at Créteil, a southern suburb, and went for a walk around the area.  When we returned to the boat Karen immediately noticed our two favourite ceramic plant pots had been stolen along with the petunias that were in full bloom.  It upset us so much that we left straight away to find another mooring further upstream.  Fortunately, we have had no other issues whilst boating in France.

We even returned to the Marne at the end of the summer in 2019, travelling the upper one third down to Château-Thierry and back and were now looking forward to spending a few more days on it while we waited to get back to Châlons.  So, Wednesday was back to the Marne day. 

Karen and Buddy set off to run to Cumières where we planned to moor, and I set off for the lock that drops us onto the river. Soon after setting off, Karen called and said two red lights were on at the lock indicating it was out of service.  She tried using the lock intercom to tell the control centre that we needed help, but it didn’t seem to be working so I rang the call centre and drifted to the side to await the arrival of an éclusier. It’s rare to wait more than five or ten minutes when we call VNF out but this time it was about 20 minutes before a guy arrived, but he soon sorted things out and got us through.  Karen had returned from her run by then so she and Buddy got on board for the stretch on the river.

Back on the Marne

Arriving in Cumières we passed the trip boat that moors in the centre and operates lunch and dinner cruises from 15 March to 15 December each year but only if there are at least 20 passengers.  Although it was a mild day, it was very grey so it didn’t look like there would be that number of tourists around, but the crew were ready and waiting and waved madly as we went past.

Le bateau Champagne Vallée

A 30-metre floating pontoon is provided at the downstream end of the village and was clear of boats, so we swung the boat around to face upstream and moored up.  After making the boat secure, I checked the borne and found that both the water and electricity were on and, like our last stay here, were still free so immediately took advantage and hooked up.

On the pontoon at Cumières

We will stay here for two or three days and then turn around and slowly make our way back to Châlons-en-Champagne getting through Tours-sur-Marne before the canal closes for six weeks' for repairs on 15 April. 

The warm weather is due to return at the weekend, but the next two days are looking like they will be very windy and quite wet.  As we’re on a river we’ll have to keep an eye on the level and make an early exit back to the canal if it starts rising.

The weather brightened up by the evening and as we set out for a late stroll the trip boat came past.  I was clearly wrong about it not going out as the downstairs was packed with diners although only a couple were outside.

On Wednesday we travelled four km down one lock.

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