Mon 29 Nov 2010
This episode is less about the wonderful Alsatian wines than one would expect. I surely would have liked to write more and especially to taste more wine during the driving tour we made in the 7th day of our vacation from Strasbourg to Colmar, but I was the designated driver and I am imposing on myself zero alcohol tolerance when driving. I’ll talk more about wine in the next episode when I will talk about the dinners in Colmar. The itinerary that we took that day avoided the highway and took the picturesque route among the vineyards, flanked at West by the Vosges mountains, from Marlenheim in the North to Tann in the South. We drove about two thirds of the route.
Our point of entrance in the Route des Vins was in the small town of Obernai. We were lucky to find parking place not far from the central Place de Marche, as it was a market day. The market square is dominated by the 60 meter high 16th century Gothic tower.
We entered to visit the beautiful neo-Gothic church of Saint Pierre and Saint Paul. Although built in the 19th century the altar dates back from the 15th century.
Beautiful stained glass windows filter the light in the church. Here is one of them representing the crucifixion under a rosary that reminds in shape the Star of David.
The statuary works in the church are also remarkable. Here is a fine painted statue of Mother Mary.
Part of the road was blocked by roadworks, so the detour almost forcibly took us towards the picks of the Vosges to Mont (Mount) Sainte Odile. Odile is kind of a patron saint of Alsace, a blind-born princess daughter of duke Etichon who is said to have regained eye-sight when baptized in the year 700. The convent built on the place where the castle of the duke once laid is a place of pilgrimage for the believers from all over Alsace. The current building and church dates from the end of the 17th century, but it is the beautiful chapels around the main building that give the unique character and beauty to this place.
The location of the convent is magnificent, at 763 meters it allows a splendid view towards the Rhine valley, Strasbourg, Obernai and the smaller towns and villages around.
Chapelles des Larmes is located on the site of the ancient cemetery from the Merovingian period and is ornate with golden mosaic dating from the 12th century reminding the Byzantine style.
Chapelles des Anges has similarly beautiful mosaics composition inside, but the dominant tones are darker blue and red, in a palet that reminds the monasteries of Sucevitza and Moldovitza in Bucovina, Northern Romania.
Back to the road we passed near numerous wineries and restaurants offering the liquors of the area. Some of the famous names producing the Riesling, Gewurztraminer and other sorts that make Alsace one of the most popular regions producing wine in France.
Helas, I was the designated driver!
The spectacular castle at Haut Koenigsbourg was our next stop.
Also located at more than 700 meters and offering another splendid view to the valley, the first mention of the castle is from the 12th century, but under its current form the castle was built in the 15th century by the Habsburgs to be sieged and destroyed in the 17th century, during the 30 years war.
We enjoyed a tour guided visit at haut Koenigsbourg, and much of it was dedicated to the impressive renovation work performed here between 1900 and 1908, during the German rule of the region. The works directed by builder Bodo Ebhardt were a beautiful example of German engineering. The interior decoration try to reinforce the link between the castle, the Habsburgs and the Hohenzollern family of the Geman kaiser Wilhelm I for whom the castle was built by the city of Selestat who owned it.
I could not stop myself to compare the building with the Peles castle in Romania built at Sinaia in the Carpathian mountains during the same period when Haut Koenigsbourg was renovated for the first king of Romania, Carol I who was also of German origin (actually family related with Wilhelm). While the setting of the Alsatian castle is much more impressing, the internal decoration of the Romanian palace exceeds by far in beauty and refinement the one in France. To complete the history, after the first world war the castle as the whole area returned to French control and in 1937 Jean Renoir filmed here La Grande Illusion.
The last stop on the Route des Vins was in the little town of Riquewihr, for many years the property of the dukes of Wurtenberg, and a three stars objective in the Michelin guide. Unfortunately we got there too late to be able to visit the castle, and we could just see that the picturesque streets full of boutiques, wineries and restaurants would have been a place to spend a few pleasant hours.
We gave up, took some more photos of the vineyards around and decided to head to Colmar. The Mercure on Champs de Mars in Colmar was our comfortable and well located residence for the following two nights. How we spent our time in the city and around will be the subject of the next episodes.