A Biker's Reverie

Marne River - Route Description
  |  Gorp.com
Marne River Route

Total Distance: 185 miles.

Terrain: A little bit of everything. If you are careful to stick to the water's edge, it is no worse than rolling hills. However, the delights are almost always a short climb up from the river bank in the villages amidst the vineyards. The smaller roads through the villages, especially along the"Route Touristique du Champagne", can present some serious challenges.

Season: The spring is exceptionally green and reveals flowers in full bloom and viticulteurs in full work grind. Temperatures are chilly. Summers (June and July) see many tourists taking advantage of village festivals, although August is a confusing time (everyone is on vacation, but many things are closed... since even the shopkeepers are on vacation). It can sometimes be very, very hot. The September/October fall harvest is a time of celebration and consumption as temperatures are returning to moderate levels and life is returning to "normal."

 

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What follows is a seven-day tour that can, of course, be tackled in parts.

Chblons-sur-Marne - Epernay (25 miles). Chblons-sur-Marne, sometimes also known as Chblons-en-Champagne, while charming, is not the reason why you are starting here. Rather, it is so that you can get a feel for your wheels on a pleasant stretch of country road paralleling the Marne on its northern bank. It is also so that you can enjoy a full afternoon in Eperany, whose Avenue de Champagne has the headquarters of, among others, Mokt & Chandon, DeCastellane and Mercier. If you are fond of history, try to remember that this area all the way west to Chbteau-Thierry and beyond was devastated in both World Wars. Reims, which you will see tomorrow, had only 16 buildings left intact when liberating forces finally arrived.

Epernay - Reims (20 miles). Rising from the northern edge of the Marne at Epernay, the Montagne de Reims is a far cry from being a mountain. It is, however, the most imposing geographic feature in the area. It is also the rise whose slopes give grape vines the angle for sun-loving and water run-off they need to become juicy fruits before pressing and fermentation. This is the hill you must tackle sometimes no easy trick to get to the Parc Rigional de la Montagne de Reims (Regional Park of the Mountain of Reims). The area is well covered with thin ribbons of roads weaving across some challenging terrain. From Epernay, climb up through Ay and Avenay-Val-d'Or to Germaine. In the early afternoon, drop down the back side at Rilly-la-Montagne and roll into Reims.

Leave yourself time in Reims. There is wine and history not to be missed. The Gothic Notre-Dame Cathedral has seen the crowning of twenty-five French kings from Clovis I to Charles X in 1825; it is one of France's most magnificent churches, with a rose window considered one of the finest in the world. For champagne, what isn't in Epernay is in Reims: Mumm, Taittinger, Pommery, Veuve-Clicquot.

Reims - Epernay (35 miles). There is one road to follow today and it is a joy. The"Route Touristque du Champagne" slides up and down the sides of the Montagne de Reims, hitting every champagne village all the way to Epernay. In other words, what you climbed yesterday, you skirt today. That said, today's ride is probably harder than yesterday's. You are covering a greater distance, you are rarely on level ground, you are out in the vast (but shadeless) vineyards, and you have to contend with the desire to taste some bubbly at every opportunity (of which there are plenty, so please be temperate). Still, this is a magnificent day of riding on little roads, speeding past lumbering vineyard tractors, learning a little about the champagne method of sparkling wine production, and smiling at friendly locals.

Epernay - Chbteau-Thierry (35 miles). You begin in vineyards and end in enchanting rural country replete with the de rigeur quaint riverside villages. You may elect to be challenged by the early miles and take a short detour up the vineyard slopes to Hautvilliers, renowned as the home town of Dom Pirignon, the 17th-century Benedictine monk who is credited with having "discovered" the champagne method. Whatever you do, stick to the lovely scenic and rolling road north of the river. Further to the west, the vineyards disappear, but the terrain is basically the same. Climb a random road up and down any hillside for peeks at real countryside and a chance to sweat. Chbteau-Thierry is named after the ruins of a castle rising above town.

Chateau-Thierry - Meaux (35 miles). Stay with the wiggles of the river or dart overland to make your day shorter. Today's cycling is a lot like yesterday's. Is it mundane? Not in the least. Take a moment to climb (steeply) up to Jouarre (above la-Ferti-sous-Jouarre) and appreciate a town tracing history through preserved archaeological remains. Your destination, Meaux, is a subtle reminder that great things can come in small packages. Brie is produced in Meaux. So is France's second-most-famous mustard.

Meaux - Paris (35 miles). Long expanses of trees finally give way to larger and larger clusters of buildings. You are approaching the suburbs of Paris, but you aren't there yet. And there is some fine riverside cycling and a nice village or two. Disneyland Paris is along the way, as are some cool castles. At the outskirts of Paris, you hit one of this capital city's two large parks, the Bois de Vincennes. If you slip around its southern reaches, you pass well-lit waterside verandah restaurants. These are the"guingettes" where, in the evening, there is music and dancing. But, usually, the draw of the City of Lights itself is just too much to deny.


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