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Champagne-Ardenne

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Champagne-Ardenne: 48.959302, 4.456055

Getting Cheesy in Langres

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If there’s one thing France is known for other than wine, it is cheese. Near the town of Langres on the plateau of the same name hails a stinky but milder cheese that looks like a fluffy roll. This cow’s milk cheese has specific requirements to be considered Langres cheese, mostly revolving around the type of breed used and at least six months of grazing. As is sometimes seen in wine growing regions, this cheese features an indentation on top, called a fontaine, in which to pour and enjoy with your local Champagne. I’ve never thought to pour wine or Champagne directly over cheese to soak through but it’s just another French specialty to try. The AOC is relatively young, being accredited in 1991 and production is fairly limited at about 450 tons each year by three producers. Nevertheless, this cheese is at its best between May and August, just in time to provide a Tour de France sampling.

Remembering Petit Breton

The early days of the Tour de France are legendary and so are its champions. I can’t even imagine what it was like for these men. With the Tour making its inaugural run in 1903, Lucien Georges Mazan was the first to win the race in consecutive years, 1907 and 1908. He was also one of three Tour winners to die in efforts associated with World War I. It is not his groundbreaking career, however, that draws us to Troyes, but his radiant life. Lucien Georges Mazan was born in the Loire town of Plessé before moving to Brittany where he spent two years living with his Aunt before immigrating to Buenos Aires two years later. It was in Argentina that Lucien became enthralled with cycling. But in order to enter races without tipping his hand to a disapproving father, Lucien registered under the name “Breton.” Before long, Breton was Argentina’s track champion and his path was set. Following his heart, Breton moved to Paris in 1902 in order to train for the expanding track and road circuit. To differentiate himself, Breton soon becomes “Petit-Breton” although the public grabs hold of his South American roots and calls him “the Argentine.” After making a name for himself after two Tour victories and winning the first Milan-San Remo, Petit-Breton diversifies and tries to start selling the same Peugeot bikes that delivered him to the top of the podium while also racing select events. Successive failures and injuries cause Lucien to quit in 1914. With the outbreak of World War I, Petit-Breton joined the 20th Train (or logistical) Squadron. It was near Troyes that on December 20, 1917 that Petit-Breton was involved in an accident shuttling military vehicles between the front and headquarters. Petit-Breton was only 35 years old and one of the great champions of his sport.

Maisons à Colombages

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Troyes is one of those surreal kind of medieval cities. The old town, in fact, features five Gothic Cathedrals in only a 1 square kilometer area. The cathedrals are complimented by a beautifully rustic and charming display of half-timber houses, which gives us an opportunity to explore this historically prevalent but currently rare style. Known as maisons à colombages in French, these types of structures were first erected in the late 15th century although those in Troyes date to the 16th century, the result of a massive fire in 1524 that destroyed much of the city. The city was located along a prosperous trade route and so gained much wealth. Ultimately, a half-timbered house is simply a building with a strong wood timber frame filled with plaster or masonry cavities. The essence, though, is that the timber framing is visible on the exterior. In later years, this timber frame would be covered by some other material and/or style cladding to diminish the rustic feel that is now called “charming.” The word “half-timbered” refers to the half of a log that could be used per post. Hence, this was a half-log piece of wood, or timber. In France, half-timber houses are prominent where wood was in abundance, namely eastern France but also portions of Normandy and Brittany. Troyes, along with Strasbourg, happens to be one of the pre-eminent examples in France.

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