12 October 2011

Haciendas on an island

When you walk around in Bouzy — a famous wine village in the Champagne region of France — you are struck by the many big houses hidden behind walls and huge gates. Well, not hidden, exactly, because during the day the gates are often open and you can get a glimpse inside the courtyards.

Often what you see is purely residential. The houses are big with big divided-light windows. Or closed shutters. In France, a lot of people seem to leave most of the shutters on their windows closed, opening the shutters only in rooms where they need or want a little light. It must be mostly gloomy inside their houses.

One of the entrances to Bouzy

If you go to Bouzy and hear the noise of trucks, tractors, and rattling bottles, you'll understand why people would want to live on courtyards behind tall walls and gates, rather than right on the street. The gîte we rented in Bouzy was certainly a lot noisier than our house here in Saint-Aignan — even though we do get the occasional tractor rumbling by.

Grand lodgings behind an enormous gate, with closed shutters

In Bouzy, trucks (and I mean big rigs), tractors, cars, and even forklifts disturbed the peace starting early in the morning. Also, the neighbors were not visible, but they were audible, sawing and drilling and hammering during the day right on the other side of our walls.

This one has been turned into chambres d'hôtes — a B&B.

On the east side of Bouzy there's a very different kind of neighborhood. It's made up of several streets lined with what you'd have to call suburban houses (but distinctively French in style) with front and back yards. The middle-class people probably live there. There's even a small supermarket, which happened to be closed for renovations while we were in town. I didn't take pictures in that part of Bouzy.

Sometimes you look through a gate in Bouzy
and you see old farm buildings

From our gîte, we could walk to the town's only bakery for fresh bread and pastries, and we could walk to the town's only other shop, a place that sold wine and wine paraphernalia, postcards, and some fancy grocery items. It is more a gift shop than anything else, and it is run by a champagne wine producer. You can taste and buy his wine in the boutique. One other business in town is a bank, and it is of course a branch of the Crédit Agricole.

The Bandock Mangin champagne house
was just next to our gîte.

Remember, the population of Bouzy is, at most, about a thousand. It's a microcosm, I suppose, with several very well-off families in the champagne business living behind walls and gates, a prosperous middle class of employees and professionals living in suburbia, and then a big working class made up of people who earn a living in the wine warehouses and bottling facilities. I'm not sure where they live, but somebody has to drive all the trucks and tractors.

The town ends right down there.

From the gîte, we could walk just a short distance and be out in the vineyard. Bouzy reminded me of small towns I knew back when I lived out on the prairie in central Illinois. There, little towns that we hesitated to call villages ended abruptly at the edges of fields of corn, with no transition zone of vacant lots or scrub land or wooded patches. You went from town to field the way you'd go from town to water if you lived on a densely populated island.

Another champagne house — Brice

Bouzy is an island surrounded by grape vines. The town ends abruptly all around and the vines, more obviously geometrical than cornfields or waves, dominate the landscape. Callie the collie felt at home there, even though she didn't especially enjoy having to be on a leash for the few blocks of town streets that we had to walk through to get "out in the country" — avoiding tractors, trucks, cars, and big rigs.


  1. I made it safe and sound to S.C. in SoCal. It's hot and dry. Love it!trecsd

  2. You're right about the shutters. Since they always close shutters at night, they might not get around to opening them in rooms they don't use. Another explanation could be that you were visiting during those very hot weeks, I think, and they may have closed shutters on the sunny side of the house to keep out the heat.
    Still, it looks like an interesting, rich, little village!

  3. Bonjour Cousin,

    Enjoy your hot and dry desert location.

  4. Ken

    Bouzy sounds a bit like the little village that we stayed in near Nuits Saint Georges. Huge houses surrounded by walls and gates mixed with smaller ones or dependancies right on those small streets.

  5. Your last paragraph makes Bouzy seem like a very busy place.

  6. Glad to hear from you in S.C., CHM. Hope your weather is good. We had sunshine today for the first time in about a week. It's been warm, however, by our standards.

    Yes, Starman, Bouzy was busy while we were there. The period right after the grape harvest is full of activity.

    Ellen, you are right. And yes, the hot spell was just ending, so maybe that's why the shutters were shut.


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