For us, one of the joys of visiting France is the discovery of special places – Château de Boursault was one of these special experiences – a divine Champagne House just near the Route de Champagne.
We arrived in Paris at Charles de Gaulle airport, at 6am and took our Europcar along the Route de Champagne to Toul, which is the permanent home of our barge, the Betty B. After a delicious lunch at Dormans we continued driving along the scenic ‘Route de Champagne’ tourist drive, with vineyards of pinot nior and chardonnay grapes each side of the road and up the hillsides. I had just said to Michael, how surprised I was that we have not seen any chateaux, when we saw this magnificent chateau, high on the top of a hill, surrounded by fields and a forest, with a large stone fence, running along the side of our road. It turned out to be Château de Boursault in the village of Boursault. I was desperate to take a closer look and to find what it was called.
We turned into the next small road, drove some distance so we could have a closer look and discovered it was a château vineyard…with a cellar door, sitting atop the hill with the tiny village of Boursault nestled around it, downstream of the Marne from Epernay. Surprisingly, Michael was not interested in going in for the tasting, but I thought it would be lovely to see what their cellar was like, so we decided to just take a look – without the tasting…can you believe that?
Well we stumble into this very old, divine cellar tasting room, full of fabulous paintings, pictures, books and champagne accessories. Above the cellar entrance doorway was this very large portrait of Madame Veuve Clicquot, who we were told had built the chateau in 1843. How amazing and how exciting; we had discovered a treasure with a fascinating history.
We were greeted at the cellar door by a lovely young, dark, tall and handsome Frenchman, André, who led us into the tasting room. André spoke English as well as I speak French and so it was an interesting conversation; however, we both did quite well actually! I understood as he explained the history of the chateau, the connection with Madame Clicquot, the hence the portrait, plus all about the connection between Château de Boursault, Michel Roux and Le Manoir. All quite fascinating.
I was thrilled to be told that one of the champagnes of Chateau de Boursault is the ‘house’ Champagne at Michael Roux’s ‘Le Manoir de Quatre Saisons’, a divine and very famous three star restaurant and country house hotel in England.. On display in the cellar or ‘cave’ as they are called here in France, there were pictures of Le manoir’s 25th anniversary celebration with John Burton Race, another top English chef and so I was in seventh heaven!! At the Manoir, their wine list also features the other older Boursault champagnes a vintage Boursault and so – yes – of course, we did have a tasting!
André presented our tasting; we selected their best two champagnes, plus the house wine of Le Manoir, priced at just 17.50euros a bottle at the cellar door, so Michael Roux probably buys it for 10euros. This ‘house’ champagne was very nice with a good nose and those tiny bubbles of French champagne; the other two were fabulous….the chateau’s two best and so we bought 6 of each – for 24 and 25euros each, plus a dozen of Michel Roux’s house champagne. As I write, we are about to open and enjoy one…after all, it is nearly 4.30pm on Sunday.
The Château or Castle de Boursault was built by Mme Veuve Clicquot between 1843 and 1847 on the site of an ancient fortified 16th century castle, which had been built by the Barons of Boursault. Mme Clicquot commissioned the architect, Jean-Jacques-Arveuf Fransquin, to build the chateau, which he designed in the neo-renaissance style, and was inspired by the Chateau de Chambord in the Loire. Château Chambord apparently has 365 chimneys, whereas Château Boursault has 365 openings – doors and windows. The château has towers which look like pepper shakers, the pinnacles, the lookout and tall chimneys.
On the facade facing the valley, there is a sealed plate above the pediment of the central window which bears the inscription natis mater which is translated as ‘mother to her children’ recalling the gift of the home by the Mme Clicquot to her daughter, Clémentine and her great grand-daughter. The great grand-daughter received Château Boursault as a wedding present; she is the famous Duchess d’Uzès. This property it still a company asset today.
After our chat and champagne purchase, and as a special favour, he allowed us a visit to the chateau and its gardens, which is usually not permitted, so we were thrilled. The château park covers 11 hectares, all designed by the architect, with extensive gardens, sweeping paths and a very long driveway; there are numerous statues and an enormous greenhouse the size of a tennis court, which would have been magnificent in its heyday when the chateau was occupied; unfortunately no-one lives there anymore. There are a few other lovely buildings still in use, one for the Champagne tasting room and the office, plus the actual wine pressing buildings. Fortunately all are in exceptionally good order and look wonderful.
This visit was a perfect beginning to our time in France and so unexpected – which made it even better.
We now visit Château de Boursault each time we go over to the barge. The handsome young man is usually there and, as well as the delight in seeing him, we need to restock our supply of champagne! We love the Boursault champagne, the château and the story. This year, our friends, Theresa and Greg, are visiting us on the barge and going to Champagne and so we have asked them to visit Château de Boursault on our behalf to buy some champagne, to re-stock our barge cellar. Hopefully, they will also have time for a Champagne tasting and lunch at the tiny bar in the village, where the local champagne growers also meet for lunch and a chat!