My two favourite things for July: Veterans & Veuve Cliquot

I was lucky enough, a few weeks ago, to be over in Normandy for the 75th D-Day celebrations and to meet many of the veterans. D-Day was June 6th 1944 and every year the liberation of France by the allied forces is celebrated along the Normandy coast.

The reason why I came to be there is my husband has a great interest in military history and his friend just happens to have a lovely holiday home in ‘Arromanche les Bains’, a beautiful seaside town on the Normandy coast not far from Bayeaux. The other reason I was there it was my birthday on June 7th, so I’m often referred to by my husband as D-Day + 1!!

U.S. Jeep from WWII
U.S. Jeep

I had a wonderful time, far better than I anticipated. The turnout by ex- military, current military, dignitaries and enthusiasts was unbelievable. There were so many heroic stories to be heard about the landings 75 years ago by veterans still alive. They all looked amazingly smart in their uniforms and military blazer’s embellished with so many medals.

It was actually quite a humbling experience when you listened to their stories. You realised how much we owe to them and how very spoilt we are today. One told me how, after he landed and his rations ran out (they weren’t meant to live long after landing!!), he lived on grass and potato tubers until the French resistance picked him up!

Harry Billinge and Lesley chatting from post - My two favourite things for July: Veterans & Veuve Cliquot
Harry Billinge chatting to Lesley

The highlight of my trip though was one day walking around the village on my own when I sat next to an old ex-military veteran in a bar. He had his medals and cap on and I asked him what they were for.

Then proceeded one of the most interesting and fascinating stories I have ever had with a stranger. What an amazing man he was.

The next day he was emblazoned all over the BBC news. His name was “Harry Billinge”. He was 40 years older than me but we really did hit it off and even though the tales he told me were very sombre and sad we actually laughed about life and his sense of humour was incredible.

I felt very privileged to spend the afternoon with Harry, just the two of us chatting about life. Encounters like that are very rare and I shall cherish the time I spent with him and the wisdom he passed on to me.

Arromanches-les-Bains from post - My two favourite things for July: Veterans & Veuve Cliquot

The other thing that made my stay in Arromanches-les-Bains so special is the transplanted garden from RHS Chelsea Flower Show.  It’s been placed on to the cliff top next to Arromanches-les-Bains. It was a steep walk up to the top but so worth it. The garden is so poignant and the sculptures in it look like ghosts from the past, of veterans fighting on D Day, all those years ago.

If you ever get the chance to visit the Normandy coast you must. It’s extremely pretty, the food is amazing and the history and tales it holds are unbelievable!

Cellars at Veuve-Cliquot
Veuve-Cliquot underground cellars

So Veuve Cliquot, where does that fit in? Well we were fortunate enough to win a trip to Reims to visit the Veuve Cliquot-Ponsardin, wine cellars. So as it was my birthday on 7th June we set off on a bit of a road trip to Reims. That was such a treat, a fantastic experience. The cellars are huge and go on for miles, or kilometres !! They were developed by the widow Cliquot in 1772. After the untimely early death of her husband she carried on the business, the word VEUVE actually means widow! She was the widow Cliquot, and Ponsardin in case you wondered, was her maiden name.

We toured the underground cellars and listened to a very interesting lecture on the different procedures of Champagne making.

A pyramid display of Veuve-Cliquot from post - My two favourite things for July: Veterans & Veuve Cliquot

At the end we where led into the most wonderful tasting room and given a taste of the different champagnes they make including the Grand Cru. My favourite has always been the Vueve Cliquot Rose!!! It’s just so smooth and delicious.

Our guide explained to us that every day should be a Champagne day, and I couldn’t agree more!

Reims Cathedral stained glass window from post - My two favourite things for July: Veterans & Veuve Cliquot
Reims Cathedral

If you do go to Reims visit the exquisite cathedral. It’s a magnificent structure not to be missed. Although we weren’t that struck with the rest of Reims, but maybe we missed some of the best bits – I’m not sure.

So I hope you all have a fantastic July, and remember as Madame Veuve Cliquot-Ponsardin said:

Every Day should be a Champagne Day!!! Interpret that as you wish!

Madame Veuve Cliquot-Ponsardin

Best wishes, Lesley

Read Lesley’s post on Yoga and Yoghurt here