Route du Vin, Alsace
An attractive way of getting to know Alsace is to follow the Route du Vin, the Alsatian Trail, which runs west, parallel to N422, from Marlenheim (west of Strasbourg) via Obernai and Colmar to Thann (west of Mulhouse), passing through a series of picturesque Alsatian villages. The main trunk road which runs over the Rhine plain from Strasbourg to Colmar and Mulhouse is to be recommended only to travelers in a hurry.
Address: 12 avenue de la Foire sux Vins, F-68000 Colmar, France
The little town of Molsheim (pop. 9,497) has preserved remains of its medieval walls, old houses and fountains. In the market square are an old guild house, the Alte Metzig (16th century), and a fountain of the same period. The Alte Metzig houses a museum displaying material of the prehistoric and early historical periods and documents on the history of the town; a section is also devoted to the Bugatti car works, formerly in Molsheim. The Jesuit church (1617) is one of the finest examples of Jesuit architecture.Near Molsheim is the ruined castle of Nideck.
The town of Rosheim (pop. 3,900) was a member of the Decapolis, the league of 10 free imperial cities in Alsace. Its medieval walls and towers and many half-timbered houses are well preserved.
St Pierre-et St Paul
The church of St-Pierre-et-St-Paul in Rosheim is one of the finest Romanesque churches in Alsace; the church is first mentioned in 1051, but the present building dates from 1150-1160. Particularly charming are the friezes round the exterior and the unusual animal and human figures in the pediments. The 12th C Heidehuss (Heathen House) is the only stone-built house of the Renaissance period in Alsace. The Town Hall and the fountain in the market square date from 1775.
Obernai (pop. 12,500), at the foot of Mont Ste-Odile, is an old imperial city which has preserved its picturesque aspect, with part of its town walls, narrow lanes, old burghers' houses and a handsome Town Hall. The market square, with the 15th C Cornmarket, the Renaissance fountain of St Odile, the Town Hall (15th-16th C) and old Gothic and Renaissance houses, has a particularly attractive old-world air. The Town Hall, with its decorated balcony and council chamber of 1608, was restored in the 19th C. Another prominent landmark in Obernai is the Tour de la Chapelle (13th and 16th C). In front of the Hôtel de la Cloche is the Puits des Six Seaux (Six-Bucket Well) of 1579, and to the north of the large neo-Gothic church (1873) is another picturesque spot, the Place de l'Etoile with its angular half-timbered houses and storks' nests on the roofs, set against a background of vine-covered hills.
Mont Ste Odile, bordered by a prehistoric defensive wall, is crowned by the convent of Ste Odile.
The little town of Barr (pop. 4,700), set amid at the foot of the Vosges, has a Renaissance Town Hall (1640), charming burghers' houses (14th-15th century), some in Gothic style, and the Musée de la Folie Marco (furniture), in an 18th century house. The tower of the Protestant church dates from the 12th century.
The beautifully situated town of Andlau (pop. 1,878) has many half-timbered houses and an abbey founded for Benedictine nuns in 887 by Richardis, the discarded wife of Charles the Fat. The church, which dates from the 11th and 12th centuries, has fine reliefs on the facade and doorway and, in the choir, a 14th C reliquary of the foundress. Above the town (alt. 475m/1,560ft) are the ruins of a 13th C castle, the Spesbourg.
Dambach-la-Ville is a little town of farmers (pop. 2,000) which has preserved parts of its walls, three 13th C gate towers and many half- timbered houses, particularly in the market square. The 11th century chapel of St-Sébastien, with a Romanesque tower, a Gothic choir and a beautifully carved and decorated Baroque altar of the late 17th C.
Dambach - Blueberry Festival
This day-long festival takes place on the third weekend in July. Artists display their wares and baked goods such as pies and tarts are sold.
The name of the town Châtenois (pop. 3,000) refers to the chestnut trees that grow here. It has a 15th C tower, the "Witches' Tower", a relic of the town's defenses, a church dating from 1760 with a Romanesque tower (12th C) and a Town Hall (1493-1496). Some distance outside the town, looming picturesquely over the old village of Kintzheim, is the fine castle of Kintzheim (13th and 15th C; alt. 320m/1,050ft), with residential quarters of the 13th C and a Late Gothic chapel. In the village are a park with storks, an aviary in which eagles fly freely and a monkey house with over 300 animals. From Kintzheim an excursion can be made to the Haut-Kônigsbourg.
The little village of Kintzheim (pop. 1,493), picturesquely situated at the foot of the Haut-Kônigsbourg, has preserved its medieval aspect, with a Gothic church (14th-15th century) and remains of its walls.
Ribeauvillé (pop. 4,929), whose Alsatian name is Rappschwihr, is a little town with a picturesque aspect and many old half- timbered houses. Above the town are three ruined castles dating from the 11th-14th centuries, Girsberg (528 m/1,732ft), St-Ulrich (530 m/1,739ft) and Haut-Ribeaupierre (642 m/2,106ft). In the Middle Ages the town was held by the Count of Ribeaupierre (Rappoltstein), "king" of all the strolling musicians and singers of the Upper Rhine, who paid dues to him for his protection and gathered annually at Ribeauvillé for "Pfiffertag" - a festival which is still celebrated every year on the first Sunday in September.In the Grand' Rue (No. 14) is the Pfifferhaus, and farther along the street is the main square, with the Town Hall (1773-1778), a Renaissance fountain (1536) and a Late Gothic monastic church (1412). Parts of the old town walls have been preserved, including the Tour des Bouchers (Butchers' Tower, 13th-16th C) and other defensive towers.
The village of Hunawihr (pop. 600) has a picturesque Late Gothic fortified church (15th C) and a fortified churchyard. Until 1789 it was a fief of the ducal house of Woerttemberg.
The old town of Riquewihr (pop. 1,212) is one of the most popular tourist attractions of Alsace. It is one of the most charming and unspoiled towns, with its well preserved walls and towers and its many Gothic and Renaissance houses (beautiful courtyards).To view the town of Riquewihr from outside, take a path running through the Schônenberg vineyards from the Tour des Voleurs (Thieves' Tower; 1300), which contains a torture chamber.
Postal Museum (Upper Gate)
The castle (1539) of the Counts and later Dukes of Woerttemberg-Måmpelgard (Montbéliard) now houses a Postal Museum. Beyond it is the Obertor (Upper Gate), with portcullises, machicolations and loopholes. On the fountain are the arms of the Dukes of Woerttemberg- Måmpelgard.
The main street, Rue du Général-de-Gaulle in Riquewihr, (no cars allowed in summer) is lined by fine old houses and at the upper end is the Dolder, a gate tower of 1291 which now houses a local museum.
The main events of the year in Riquewihr are the Riesling Festival in August and the Vintage Festival on two weekends in September.
Kientzheim (pop. 879) was one of "three towns in one valley" (the others being Ammerschwihr and Kaysersberg). It has preserved its medieval walls, two castles and numerous half-timbered houses. On the Untertor (Lower Gate) is a curious grotesque face, looking towards the traditional "enemy" town of Sigolsheim. In the 15th century parish church (to the left) is the gravestone of Marshal Lazarus von Schwendl (1552-1584), a German officer in the service of the Emperor who is said to have brought the Tokay grape to Alsace from Hungary during the Turkish wars. Some 16th century votive tablets can be seen in the Lower Church. The imposing castle of Reichenstein near the Untertor (15th C, enlarged by von Schwendl in the 16th and 17th C) has an interesting cellar.
The old imperial city of Kaysersberg (pop. 2,700), beautifully situated at the mouth of the Weiss valley, was acquired by the Hohenstaufen Emperor Frederick II in 1227. The chapel of St-Michel has well preserved frescoes of 1464. The house in which Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) was born now contains a small museum.
Remains of Medieval Fortifications
Kaysersberg has preserved remains of its medieval fortifications, an old fortified bridge over the Weiss (15th-16th C), and handsome Gothic and Renaissance burghers' houses.
Ruins of an Imperial Castle
Above the little town of Kaysersberg loom the ruins of an imperial castle with a circular keep (destroyed during the Thirty Years War).
The Town Hall in Kaysersberg was begun in 1521, in early Renaissance style, and enlarged in 1605 (council chamber with rich carved decoration).
Turckheim (pop. 3,594), at the entrance to the Munster valley, is an old imperial city, which became a member of the league of 10 Alsatian cities in 1354. Still partly surrounded by walls, Turckheim has preserved its old-world aspect, with Late Gothic stone and half-timbered houses (17th C). The Renaissance Town Hall dates from the early 17th C.
Munster, the chief town in the Munster valley, grew up round a Benedictine abbey founded in the seventh century which was dissolved in 1790. It became an imperial free city in the 13th C, and in 1354 joined the league of 10 cities. The town of Munster is now well known for its textile industry and famed for its cheese and its tourte (a kind of meat vol-au-vent). The Town Hall dates from 1555, the Laub (market hall) from 1503. Munster is a good base for excursions into the Vosges, and the starting-point of the Route du Fromage (Cheese Trail).
Les Trois-Epis, a place of pilgrimage since 1491, has a 17th C chapel (pilgrimages in May and August). It is now also a popular holiday place, commandingly situated high above the Rhine plain. In Niederhaslach is a church which was rebuilt in the 13th C by the son of the architect of Strasbourg Cathedral, Erwin of Steinbach.
Neuf-Brisach (pop. 2,200) was built for Louis XIV by the great military engineer Vauban in 1699-1703. It is a characteristic example of his work, octagonal in shape with four gates, one of which, the Belfort Gate houses a Vauban Museum. Some 17th C burghers' houses have survived. To the east of the town is the Colmar-Neuf-Brisach port on the Rhine.
The ancient town of Eguisheim (pop. 1,500) has preserved its picturesque lanes and fountains and its attractive half-timbered buildings (16th- 17th C), including several tithe barns which belonged to monastic houses. In the center of the town is an octagonal stronghold, the enclosing walls of a small moated castle of the Hohenstaufen period, originally founded in the eighth century (rebuilt in 1903). Within the walls is a chapel built in 1889 in honor of Pope Leo IX, who was born here in 1002. Above the town rise the Trois Tours d'Eguisheim or Drei Exen, belonging to the ruined castle of Haut-Eguisheim.
"Pfarrhinheim" means the "Priests' House", which is appropriate as the village belonged to the bishopric of Strasbourg.Pfaffenheim, 4km/2.5mi before Rouffach, has a beautiful pilgrimage church with a Romanesque choir.
Rouffach (pop. 4,187), a town of farmers, has remains of its old town walls and many handsome old burghers' houses. The church of Notre-Dame de l'Assomption, built between the 12th and 14th centuries, shows the transition from Romanesque to Gothic; its three towers were restored in the 19th C Opposite the church is the Renaissance Town Hall (16th C), and adjoining this are the Tour des Sorcières (Witches' Tower) and the Cornmarket. North of the town, on the Rehberg, is the castle of Isenburg, built in 1880 on the foundations of a stronghold of the Merovingian and Frankish kings.
Guebwiller (pop. 11,883), situated at the mouth of the Lauch valley, known as Florival ("Valley of Flowers"), developed in the eighth century around a grange belonging to Murbach Abbey. The Romanesque and Gothic church of St-Léger, which dates from the Hohenstaufen period, has fine sculpture on the central doorway. The church of Notre-Dame (18th C) is one of the few Baroque churches in Alsace and has fine carved woodwork. The Dominican church (14th C) has a cycle of frescoes, and there is a museum in the choir. The atomic physicist Alfred Kastler (Nobel Prize 1966) was born in Guebwiller.
North-west of Guebwiller is the famous Romanesque Benedictine abbey of Murbach, which in the eighth and ninth centuries was the cultural center of Upper Alsace and one of its most powerful lordships. All that survives is the towers, transept and choir of the abbey church, which ranks with Marmoutier and Rosheim as one of the oldest and most important monuments of Romanesque architecture in Alsace.
The village of Lautenbach, near Guebwiller, has a Romanesque church, with a fine pulpit, richly carved choir-stalls and beautiful windows (16th century). Adjoining the church is a 16th century cloister.
Thann (pop. 8,033), at the southern end of the Route du Vin, attracts many holidaymakers with its beautiful situation at the mouth of the narrow Thur valley. Although an industrial town, other features of interest in Thann are its old half-timbered houses, remains of its walls, the Witches' Tower (Tour des Sorcières) and the Storks' Tower (Tour des Cigognes). The old Cornmarket, a handsome 16th C building, now houses the Museum of Alsatian History.
In the center of Thann is the church of St-Thiébault, the most important Gothic building in Alsace after Strasbourg Cathedral. The very fine tower, 76m/250ft high, is modeled on the tower of Freiburg Cathedral (southwest Germany). On the west front is a large double doorway (14th-15th C) with rich sculptural decoration, and the north doorway (15th C) also has fine sculptured work. The interior is notable for its 16th C carved woodwork, 15th C stained glass and richly carved choir stalls.
The Rhine is Europe's most important waterway. With a total length of 1,320km/820mi, it is an international river traversing six countries, including France. Between Basle and Strasbourg the main shipping channel is the Grand Canal d'Alsace, which runs parallel to the river and has a link with the Rhine-Rhône Canal (Canal du Rhône au Rhin). The Grand Canal du Rhin is 51km/32mi long and between 110 and 140m (360 and 460ft) wide. In the southern section, which is wholly canalized, there are four dams and hydroelectric stations (at Kembs, Ottmarsheim, Fessenheim and Vogelgroen) and the total fall is 140m/460ft.