Alsace Wine District

October 10-19 2016 

Who wouldn't want to visit the "Prettiest Towns in France"? Alsace has several, with flowers from every window and floral displays in front of several of the medieval buildings. Besides, the towns are just a short drive or train ride from Strasbourg.

Riquewhir Clock Tower

Click Riquewhir to see a Google Photo album of our first drive, then close the window to return to this page.

We rented a car twice and took a train another day, to visit towns south of Strasbourg along the Alsace Wine Route. Our first car exploration of the Alsace region began in Riquewihr, a favourite of tourists with its flower bedecked half-timbered houses surrounded by vineyards. We bought three bottles of local wine and had them with our meals back in Strasbourg.

Hunawihr, our second stop, was founded in the 7th C by Hunon, whose wife, Hune, is the saint of washerwomen. The small church, surrounded by fortified walls, had old murals on the walls of a small side chapel.

We made it to Ribeauvillé for lunch in an old wine cave. I had good rabbit stew. In the Middle Ages, Ribeauvillé was the seat of the Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre who built 3 castles, the largest, Saint Ulrich, can be seen from the main street in town.

After lunch, it was up into the hills to visit Chateau Haut-Konigsburg. The castle is first mentioned in 1147 documents when the monks complained to King Louis VII of France about its unlawful construction by the Hohenstaufen duke. By the middle of the 17th C the castle was left in ruins after changing hands and being burnt several times. The castle came into the hands of the Germans as a result of the Franco-Prussian war in the 19th C and the German Emperor Willhem II contracted to restore the castle to its Alsatian grandeur of the Middle Ages. He completed the restoration in 1908 and it is now a popular tourist location. The site, at the top of high pinnacle overlooking the villages below, is spectacular, even shrouded in mist as it was the day we were there. We spent quite a long time exploring the many rooms and views.

Our last stop on the route back to Strasbourg was Dambach-la-ville, another pretty Alsatian town.

Colmar

Click Colmar to see a Google Photo album, then close the window to return to this page.

Colmar, one of the largest and prettiest towns in the area, is a direct train ride from Strasbourg. We planned to spend the day exploring just one town so we wouldn’t need a car. It was an easy half-hour that landed us within a short walk to the center of the historic town. We wandered the streets, admiring the many large Alsatian buildings, churches and museums. A band from another town arrived and set up a corner in the center and treated us to a selection of marching and waltz tunes. Other musicians entertained us on a corner by the canal and beside an outdoor patio where we were enjoyed our afternoon refreshment. Boat tours are always fun and the canal running through Colmar was no exception. The slow ride along the waterway gave us a different view of the towns many half-timbered Medieval and Early Renaissance buildings. We skipped the museums but did visit the interior of some of the many churches, each with something unique to entice us in.

Mont St Odile

Click Mittlebergheim to see a Google Photo album of our second day, then close the window to return to this page

Our second car trip started in Mittlebergheim, which claims to have been wine producers for 4 centuries. We had our only wine tasting and ended up buying a bottle to drink that night in our apartment and two bottles of the local Cremant, their version of Champagne to bring back to Paris. The architecture was different. Instead of half-timbering, many houses a high steep pitched roof and gateways opening to central courtyards.

Andlau, not far away, was the home of Andlau Abbey, founded in 880 AD for women after Richardis, later Saint Richardis, saw a she-bear scratching at the soil; a bear is one of her emblems in reference to this. The former abbey church survives as the parish church of Saints Peterand Paul. There are several carvings dating from the 12th C next to one of the entrances to the church.

As we did on our first drive a few days before, we headed up into the hills, on our way to Mont Ste Odile. It was lunch time when we reached a small village, more popular as a ski resort. We lucked out as the only restaurant open in town provided an excellent three course meal, one of the best we had.

Mont Ste Odile Abbey, also known as Hohenburg Abbey,is a popular pilgrimage spot, built on a 760M high peak in the Vosges mountains. The abbey was founded about 690 by Saint Odile, daughter of the Frankish Duke Adalrich of Alsace at Obernai, who was its first abbess. On the eastern slope of the Mont Sainte-Odile she built a hospice called Niedermünster or Nieder-Hohenburg, which afterwards became a house for ladies of nobility until it was destroyed by lightning in 1572.

We parked and took a path at the base of cliffs beneath the main building. Stations of the Cross were carved into the cliffs, along with a grotto commemorating Saint Odile. At the last station we followed a path up to the gardens of the abbey. Two small chapels had beautiful mosaics on the ceiling and walls. The Abbey itself is very large and as well as accommodation for the few remaining nuns, includes a restaurant and rooms for pilgrims to stay.

Down the narrow twisting road we drove to the town of Obernai, the birthplace of Ste Odile, who would become the Patron Saint of Alsace. Obernai is in an importance wine district and the town is full of half-timbered houses festooned with flowers. There were nice walking paths alongside the old walls of the city. On our way back to Strasbourg we stopped briefly to admire yet another “prettiest towns” Rosheim.

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