Travel | 7 comments
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Our holidays in France
After we left Basel (Switzerland) Vera and I headed towards France’s Alsace region to spend one day visiting town of Colmar and ending the day in the city of Strasbourg. We didn’t know what to expect, but once there we were pleasantly surprised!! We spent only one day in the region but I felt we explored the area quite nicely. You could easily spend a week here especially at all the little B&Bs available everywhere. Note that none of the towns are more than 5 km apart and frankly it does not matter where you stay you will not be far from anything.
The villages of Alsace, in the northeast corner of France, compete to see who can out-flower the other. A sign at the entrance to the village will tell you how many flowers (like stars, one to five) the village received in the contest. Competition is fierce – fiercely floral.
As you drive along the Route des Vins from Strassbourg in the north to Colmar about midway south, there is a lot to see and taste. Wine tastings (degustations) are free and plentiful, so don’t be shy. My experience has been that the vintners are happy to see you. If you’re driving, you might want to wait until you’ve parked the car for the day… or not. It’s your choice. In Alsace, with its over 37,000 acres of vineyards, there’s a tasting waiting behind almost every door.
The region is not only known for its extremely conservative politicians; Alsace is also famous for producing world-class Gewurztraminer, a spicy, honey-gold wine with a dry finish. Don’t call it sweet; you might get a slap in the face. Bad Gewurztraminer is sweet; the good stuff has been fully fermented to be dry. It’s much more complex – like a voluptuous woman with a dry sense of humor.
Start your tasting with a light wine like a Sylvaner or a Pinot blanc – or even a Muscat, which in Alsace is a dry, floral wine. Then move on to the Rieslings and then to the bigger varietals: the Pinot Gris (formerly known as Tokay Pinot Gris), our full-figured friend the Gewurztraminer, and then finally a Pinot noir, which in Alsace is a rosé and the only red varietal approved in the region.
Colmar: When we arrived we drove straight to Colmar center looking for a parking spot. Colmar is a beautiful ancient town, and you can spend a whole day just wandering through the Middle-Ages areas and along the river . Colmar is small enough to walk everywhere and you will have no problem staying entertained in this lovely, charming town.You’ll need to stop at the Unterlinden Museum to see the ‘Retable d’Issenheim’ and also at the Bartholdi Museum (the birth house of the sculptor who built the Liberty statue) .
We visited Eguelsheim about 5km from Colmar(highly recommended) and did a few tastings there. We also visited Obernai and Ottrot to see the Pinot Noirs. This is near the top of the wine route you can start up here then work your way back down. There are a few little villages along the way well worth seeing and trying their version of pinot noir. we opted to have picnics in amongst the vines with some of the wines, Foie Gras, Alsactian Cheeses and baguettes, then eating out for dinner on our trip.
Tour de France house in Colmar
Riqwhear and Ribeauville. Excuse the poor spelling. We enjoyed Ribeauville, we found Riqwuear a bit too touristy for our liking with the stork soft toys etc everywhere. In a town like Riquewihr, you’ll have dozens of chances to stop and taste the grapes, but the best place is at the top of the village near the tower. On the way up the main street, make sure you take the freshly baked macaroon being proffered to you (read shoved into your hand like a free sample of cocaine). The addictive coconut aroma in the village is coming from this bakery. Once you reach the tower at the top of the village, you’ll see a wine shop. The woman at Bernard Schwach who conducts the tasting – a voluptuous sweetheart herself in traditional Alsatian dress – must be the nicest person in Alsace. The tasting room is intimate – OK, cramped – but it’s worth it. This radiant woman will lead you through an enjoyable, informative tasting.
Also very highly recommended is Jean Sipp for wines located in Ribeauville. As you enter on foot into the town his tasting rooms are just on the edge of the town (you can see his vineyard on the slopes of Ribeauville in big white letters saying Jean Sipp, but you will find the tasting room in the town.) A simple tasting room, but it is very strongly recommended. The Grand Cru Gewerstraminer was one of the nicest I tried there. It was 15 euros per bottle and I will regret not buying more as they were devine.
Hunawihr is also worth a visit to see the cute church with vines and grapes as the clock hands.
Around this area in between the town you can pick up local foie gras, white asparagus etc to take home. As well as the beautiful cheeses available such as munster with Cumin. Also tucked in between this area is a stork park where you can visit and you will see their huge nests in some of these little towns anyway should you not make it to Stork land.
We can also recommend Winstaub du Sommilier for dinner which has a very nice wine list of course, and a good menu in nice intimate surroundings. Hotels in Alsace are surprisingly affordable compared to hotels in larger cities. We stayed in the Best Western hotel in Strasbourg. It was also affordable, considering the location. A trip to Alsace is like a journey into a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, which can you reach in just a few hours from Munich, Frankfurt or Paris.
The town of Strasbourg itself is beautiful. The capital of Alsace, Strasbourg is one of France’s greatest cities and the birthplace of pâté de foie gras. Here Rouget de Lisle first sang “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem. Strasbourg is one of France’s major ports, only 3km (1 3/4 miles) west of the Rhine. In addition to being the site of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg is home to the European Parliament, which convenes at the Palais de l’Europe.
In 1871, Strasbourg was absorbed by Germany and made the capital of the territory of Alsace-Lorraine. It reverted to France in 1918. One street is a perfect illustration of the city’s identity crisis: More than a century ago it was avenue Napoleon. In 1871, it became Kaiser-Wilhelmstrasse, and then boulevard de la République in 1918. In 1940, it became Adolf-Hitler-Strasse, and it ended up as avenue du Général-de-Gaulle in 1945.
Now one of the most happening cities in France, Strasbourg is home to the University of Strasbourg, once attended by the likes of Goethe, Napoleon, and Pasteur. Today, some 40,000 students follow in their footsteps.
Strasbourg is a city where many of the medieval streets have been painstakingly restored. One of the most interesting neighborhoods is Petit France, at the southern tip of the island on which most of Strasbourg is located. The half-timbered buildings give the city a decisively Germanic feeling. Make sure you visit the park and see the storks inside the park as well as the ones outside on the residential streets.
Best Western – Monopole Metropole hotel
We stayed at Best Western Monopole hotel and were extremely pleased. The Monopole Metropole is well-situated, being only a 10 minute walk from the historic centre of Strasbourg. Rooms were spacious, clean and modern. People were friendly and helpful. Breakfast is buffet-style self-service, with a good choice of hot and cold options. We enjoyed our visit to Strasbourg very much and the hotel contributed to that experience.
Have a good and healthy season.
Follow Zdenko’s Corner on Facebook !
Tags: Summer 2009