Ever since our very first trip to Europe, we’ve been obsessed with churches. Wait…Stop, If you have not traveled abroad yet you don’t have the right picture in your mind because these are probably nothing, and I mean nothing like the place you go to worship on Saturday nights or Sunday mornings. Nope, these places are amazing!
Take for example the Duomo of Orvieto, Italy. Duomo is the term for a church that is either a present or former cathedral. If there is no bishop currently at the location it is not called a Cathedral, but still can be a Duomo. Get It? The Duomo of Orvieto is a 14th century cathedral in Umbria, central Italy which actually sits on a volcanic plug (a volcanic landform created when magma hardens within the vent of an active volcano)! But that is not what makes it special; the façade of the Duomo is one of the greatest masterpieces of the Late Middle Ages. Most impressive is the beautiful mosaic of the Coronation of the Virgin Mary on the top gable of the cathedral. If you can get past the absolutely phenomenal front and walk inside you’ll find 2 frescoed chapels depicting the Judgment Day.
No trip to Tuscany is complete without a stop to see this beautiful Duomo.
Websters defines spelunking as “the hobby or practice of exploring caves”.
Well, we are adventurous, but also a bit soft.
So for our soft spelunking adventure, we explored the chalk caves at Domaine Pommery in Rheims, France. Jeanne Alexandrine Louise Melin was born in the Ardennes area of France in 1819. She married Alexandre Pommery in 1839. When Alexandre passed away in 1860 she assumed full control of their wine business. Madame Pommery went about establishing the reputation of Pommery as a force to be reckoned with. She commissioned a grand property in Rheims with an eclectic mix of architectural styles. Built in 1863 the estate covers 120 acres and sits on top of 11 miles of Gallo-Roman chalk caves.
Pommery Champagne House
The entrance hall is also where the tasting room and gift shop is located.
Known as “le Grand Foudre”, the Pommery blending barrel in the tasting room is one of the largest in the world and holds the equivalent of 100,000 bottles. The barrel was made to celebrate the friendship by Pommery between France and America and was sent to St. Louis for exhibition at the World’s Fair of 1904. The sculptures represent France in the form of a young woman offering a glass of Pommery to America (yeah!). She is astride a sphinx like creature with the head of an Indian. On the top is the Statue of Liberty (also a gift from France).
le Grand Foudre
Detail on le Grand Foudre
You didn’t drink too much yet – it is an elephant standing on its nose at Pommery.
The ancient chalk caves became a unique cellar which allowed Pommery to story over 20 million bottles in a temperature controlled environment.
No ropes needed for our spelunking adventure, we simply walk down the stairs.
Entrance (and exit) stairs to Champagne caves
OK, we are getting just a bit thirsty, but these bottles are not ready
We selected our bottles, but realize there will be some problems getting them in our suitcases without going over the airlines weight limit. Probably best to just drink them here.
Chalk wall carving
Pommery is well-known for hosting on-going art exhibits. You will find temporary art installations everywhere on the property. Also there are these amazing wall carvings which are etched directly into the walls of the caves.
Louise Pommery ran the wine house after Madame Pommery died.
Behind a locked gate and easy to see why – amazing stuff!
Just a small fraction of the millions of bottles aging in the cellars.
Our most artistic shot
It’s art – the boots actually move, sorry did not have video going.
The signature “Louise”
Thanks for joining us on our spelunking adventure in Champagne!
When you are done with your Champagne tastings, have some dinner and then walk over to the Rheims Cathedral for a night-time spectacular.
Notre-Dame de Reims is built on the site where Clovis, the first Christian king to rule Gaul (France) was baptized by Remi the bishop of Reims in AD 496.
Now certainly one great reason to come to Reims is to visit all of the more modern Champagne houses. However, another good reason is to visit the Cathedral. There are many historic and important works in the Cathedral, but let’s take a look at some more modern additions today.
There is now a nightly light show which is not to be missed. The Cathedral literally comes alive in a symphony of sound and color.
And the highlight at least for me is the stunningly beautiful Marc Chagall windows added in 1974 at the axis of the apse. Now it is time to go taste more Champagne!