170 Kilometres of history, great wine, delicious food, and a lot of fun!
Here we are back in Europe, our favourite playground! This time we are in France, the absolutely delightful Alsace Wine region . . . rolling hills covered in vineyards between the Vosges mountains and the Rhine river, known for its wines since Roman times.
Alsace has had turbulent past, alternating between Germany and French domination for centuries. When we decided to visit there, I thought . . . OK, maybe I could use a little high school French, or maybe even a little of the German I had picked up over the years. Surprise! The first time I tried these, I learned that they spoke Alsatian . . . an ancient Alemanni language, that resembles none of the above.
No worries, they do all speak French, and German, but when you first come across a mouthful of Alsatian, it can throw you off. Sometimes I think they throw some of this out to tourists, just to have a little fun and confuse them.
Although the ‘official’ Alsace Wine Road runs about 170 kilometres from Marlenheim in the north to Thann in the south, I always consider the road being between the beautiful city of Strasbourg in the north to Mulhouse in the south. Actually, my ‘wine road’ is much shorter, but more of that later.
As you can see . . . this time we travelled this area in 2002, and we treated our daughter Colleen with a ticket to join us . . . to see how the ‘old folks’ survive with their independent travel. After a brief stop in Switzerland and a short drive through Germany along the Rhine, we stayed in Strasbourg for a few days.
Strasbourg is a beautiful, old city, full of incredible architecture, both old and new with the European Union buildings there, and interesting history. Being adjacent to the Rhine and the Rhine Canal, Strasbourg has a series of small canals throughout the city, offering a different method of transportation and a delight for tourists.
After a couple of days of restaurant and museum hopping, we decide to continue our sojourn to check out the Alsace wines. Just before we left, I mentioned to Colleen that if she wanted, she could ‘pop over’ to Paris for lunch, as the train station was close by and when we checked the schedules, she could actually catch a train in the morning from Strasbourg, have lunch in Paris, and be back that evening. This was even before the TGV was running that route, so it was an exciting discovery for all of us! So the next morning, I escorted our daughter over to the station and said ‘au revoir’ to her as she pulled out for Paris. Later that day, she arrived back in Strasbourg with a few memories of her own.
The Alsace region is famous for not only wine, but excellent food, so I hesitate to even mention this next subject. On our travels, I find it an interesting side-trip to visit the local McDonalds. They are a great place for a good cup of coffee at a reasonable price, and dependable, clean washrooms. One thing I try to do, is take a photo of the menu board behind the counter. Some places don’t like you to do this, but I always find the names of the food interesting. In this one in Strasbourg, McDonalds was offering ‘McNewYork’, ‘McMontana’, ‘McLouisiana’, ‘McNew Mexico, and ‘McTexas’. I guess this was a salute to American tourists at the time . . . who knows.
Continuing our journey into the wine region, we began to drive through an almost continuous series of villages, each prettier than the one before, each with its declaration notice just outside the village that it was a “Village Fleuris”, together with the rating it has gained. The rating the village won that year was shown as so many flowers on the little sign at the entrance to the village. This contest is run every year by the Touring Club of France, and has been running since the 1920’s, with some interruptions WWII, etc. The highest award is the Fleur d’Or, Golden Flower, awarded by the Conseil National des Villes et Village Fleuris.
Market Day in France, as well as many other European countries, is a great adventure, a time for local producers to display their wares, farmers to sell their crops, and craftsmen to show off their creations. One of our favourites is the cheese selections, and in France they boast that they have over two hundred varieties! Many of the producers at the market are quick to give you some sample to try . . . delicious! Another section is the mushrooms . . . I didn’t realize there were so many . . . of course we always hesitate to try wild mushrooms on our own, but these guys are experts.
Once we arrived in the vineyards, we stopped for lunch, at our own little bistro . . . out of the back of our rental car. What a spot for lunch, surrounded by thousands of ripening grapes, vineyards for miles, and in sight of three ancient castles on the hills nearby! This is the way we normally travel, some bread, cheese, a sausage, and a bottle of wine. We always carry our own wine glasses (real glass, not plastic!) and Diana packs a checkered tablecloth and napkins to complete our little dining experience.
As we continued, we began to think about where we were going to stay that night. Colleen had a tourism book with many hotels, restaurants and top vineyards listed, but as we drove along village to village, most of the choices were fully booked. Soon we arrived at the entrance to a pretty little Alsatian village with the unlikely name of ‘Niedermorschwihr’. Where did that come from? A little research later uncovered a little of the village past, dating back to when the Moors occupied the land. The crest or coat of arms for the village was a shield with a black faced Moorish head on it. Strange, but fascinating!
As we entered the village, it did not take long to discover the only hotel was booked. As we walked around, we spotted a local wine producer who also ran a Gites, a B&B, who might have rooms. We could only hope, as the Gites sign boasted ‘tout confort’, just what we were looking for . . .
. . . to be continued
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