Route du Vin, Alsace
Colmar, Route du VinAn 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
Mont Ste Odile (763 m/2,503ft) is one of the high spots of a visit to the Vosges. This wooded ridge is surrounded by a prehistoric defensive wall some 10km/6mi in extent known as the Mur Païen (Heathens' Wall). In places the wall, 2m/6.5ft thick, still stands to a height of 2-3m/6.5-10ft; the stones were originally bonded together with oak dowels. On the summit of the hill, once occupied by a Roman fort, is the famous convent of Ste Odile, originally founded towards the end of the seventh C. on the site of a castle belonging to Attich, Duke of Alsace, by his daughter Odilia (Odile). The original convent was destroyed by the Huns.The heyday of the convent was in the 12th and 13th centuries. In 1546 it was destroyed by fire and abandoned by the nuns, but was later reoccupied and rebuilt by Premonstratensian canons. In the mid 19th C. the bishop of Strasbourg revived the pilgrimage to the shrine of St Odile, which is now visited by countless pilgrims. In the church (rebuilt in the 17th C.) is the tomb of the foundress (d. 720), who according to her legend was born blind and gained her sight when she was baptized.From the terrace there is a magnificent view, and there are even wider views from the Männelstein (823m/2,700ft), to the southeast, the highest point on Mont Ste-Odile. Near the convent are the Chemin de Croix (Stations of the Cross), the Fontaine Ste-Odile (to the south, on the road to St-Nabor) and the ruins of the convent church consecrated in 1180 (to the east, at the foot of the steep hillside).
At the foot of Mont Ste-Odile lies Ottrott (pop. 1,513), with the ruins of its two castles, the Lutzelbourg (12th C) and Rathsamhausen (13th C). In the lower part of the town is a small Romanesque chapel.
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.
Sélestat (pop. 17,514) lies on the river Ill, roughly on the border between Upper and Lower Alsace. In the eighth century it was a Carolingian stronghold, and between 1217 and 1648 it was a free imperial city, a member of the league of 10 Alsatian cities from 1354. In the 15th and 16th centuries it was an important center of early humanism, with its "Latin school" (grammar school) and its Literary Society.
In the center of Sélestat old town is the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) and a little to the east is the three-towered church of Ste-Foy, a Late Romanesque building (11th-12th century) with rich external ornament, a porch of typical Alsatian type and a handsome octagonal tower over the crossing. Notable features of the interior are the capitals and the crypt.
St Georges Church
In Sélestat, north of Ste-Foy is the church of St-Georges, one of the largest Gothic churches in Alsace (early 13th C), with a richly carved pulpit (1619), old stained glass and a modern work by Max Ingrand. The Municipal Library, founded in 1452 in the abbot's lodgings of the nearby abbey of Ebersmoende, recalls the town's great days as a center of humanism; it possesses valuable manuscripts ranging in date between the seventh and the 16th C, 530 incunabula and 2,000 printed works of the 16th C. Sélestat has also preserved two fine old towers, the Witches' Tower, a relic of the old fortifications restored by Vauban, and the Clock-Tower (14th and 17th C).
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.