With Spain and France already covered, maybe we should forget about the project for a day and do some real travelling?
I could travel to France and watch the football with the French in a Brasserie, or a Tapas bar; if we can find one. Maybe I should post about something they both have in common – wine.
There are many wine routes in France, but the one in Alsace is famously known as the Route des Vins – or Elsässer Weinstraße, in German. I’ll cover some of the others another day.
Route des Vins
The best place to start your tour of Alsace is in Strasbourg.
After you’ve done Strasbourg, head out of the city (on the N4) to Marlenheim. The winding road south, from Marlenheim to Thann, is the Route des Vins; between the Vosges mountains and the River Rhine.
Most of the vineyards are away to your right and you’ll be weaving your way through some wonderful little villages.
A good road map is handy, but the route is well signposted.
The signs are brown and have little images of grapes and a wineglass.
Sometimes the road is actually called Route du Vin, sometimes not.
You may get a little bit lost here and there, but that’s part of the beauty of discovery.
You see an interesting looking old Chateau away to your right, and you wander off to get a closer look. I’m one of those who never gets bored with France, although it does help that I can speak la langue.
As well as old ruins and churches, and cobble-stone villages with little museums, there’s plenty of places to stop and taste the bottled grape.
That’s what they do best in Alsace; sell you their wine.
Of course you should just stop wherever takes your fancy, but some of the more interesting places to keep an eye out for are:
Molsheim, Rosheim, Obernai, Andlau (turn off here and go up into the Vosges for excellent views), Ribeauvillé, Riquewihr, Kaysersberg, Niedermorschwihr, Turckheim, Colmar (large enough not to miss, but you might want to), Eguisheim, Rouffach, Guebwiller and of course Thann.
Sauerkraut (choucroutte) and coq au Riesling are famous dishes, and snails (escargots) are quite popular too. If you end the Route des Vins in Thann, I recommend you treat yourself to a meal in Le Caséus (open 7 days a week, midday and evenings).
The interior is of varnished wood, with 5 open-plan alcoves for intimate eating; while allowing a full view of the other tables. A step down from the alcoves is a seating area for twenty. The tables are set for couples, although if there are four or six in your group, they can be pushed together.
Degustation (tasting) au Caséus proposes you start with a Kir Alsacien (local white wine with a choice of fruity syrup).
There’s also ‘un petit tour viticole en Alsace’ – a wooden tray with seven 1dl glasses of various wines from the region.
Le Vins de Prestige: Pinot Gris – Gewurtramminer – Tokay Pinot Gris.
Thann is unique in Alsace in that all wines from the commune are classed Grand Cru. The 18½ hectares of the Rangen de Thann are planted with Riesling, Tokay Pinot Gris, Gewurtramminer and Muscat; on 45º slopes.
Outside of Thann is a McDonalds, but I can’t understand how any visitor to the region would want to eat there.
Wine and Cheese:
The main theme of the menu in Caséus, is La Fiesta – a selection of sautée potato dishes with different cheeses, served with a light walnut salad and accompanying glass of wine.
Patata Basque – Cheese from the Pyrénees, chorizo and a glass of Hermanos (white Spanish wine).
Patata Thannoise – Barkass cheese from Thann, local pork and a glass of Sylvaner.
Patata Normandie – Camembert, smoked salmon and a glass of Cider.
Patata Berger – Goats cheese, smoked ham and a glass of Riesling.
Patata Alsaciene – Munster, smoked collet (fish) and a glass of Gewurtramminer.
Patata Savogard – Reblochon, cooked ham and a glass of Pinot Blanc.
Patata Aveyonnaise – Roquefort, smoked duck breast and a glass of Alsace red.
Patata Hollandaise – Gouda, smoked salmon and a glass of Muscat.
The point of giving you half the menu is to show how the wines and cheese complement each other creatively in France.
The Rösti dishes are made in a similar theme, without the complimentary glass of wine. Maybe you’ve still got some left from your petit tour viticole en Alsace aperitif.
While You’re in the Region:
If you’ve got the time, the Route des Crêtes returns up from Thann to the Col du Bonhomme.
This is the crest line of the Vosges, where French and Germans fought each other during the First World War. The road was planned by the French to serve the front.
The Grand Ballon is the highest point of the Vosges (1,424m) and offers a wonderful panorama. Another popular summit is the Hohneck (1,362m).
The Vieil-Armand (Hartmanswillerkopf) war memorial is also worth a stop. You can appreciate how isolated these young soldiers were on this bitterly cold front. The stone crosses, facing towards the Rhine, seem neatly arranged on the sunny slope like vines. Muslims have special headstones in respect of their religion.
Best Time to Visit Alsace
Anytime is a good time to visit Alsace; as the changing seasons offer different perspectives.
Summer is crowded and you could find yourself stuck behind campervans.
Some of the villages have narrow streets and are not really suited to two-way traffic, so you’ll be giving way a lot of the time.
If you do choose Alsace in Summer, perhaps a tour of the vignobles by bike would be better.
Many Germans have bicycles on their motorhomes and do just that. Others from Karslruhe choose to roar down on powerful BMW machines, for a leather-clad weekend.
I prefer to visit many places outside of the high tourist season, and Alsace is no different.
In Spring the vines are cut back while in early Autumn (Fall) the vines are full of leaf and grapes are ready for picking. If you arrive during the vendanges you can make nice photographs of workers bringing in the year’s grapes in a warm late afternoon sunlight. After the picking of the grapes, many villages have a fête des vins.
And of course in Winter, the roads are deserted again and the vines are crystal coated in frost or snow.
Ah Alsace, to visit the region in different seasons is to drink in a culture that revolves around nature.