This month, I’m lucky to be able to share with you a new album of photos from our Alsace tour, courtesy of Friend Of The Chain Gang, Roberto Peixoto.
If you visit the album on Flickr, you’ll find a selection of 50 photos, in the order in which they were taken. Which means they’re also in the order of our tour. “Cool!”, I hear you say. I agree.
I’ve chosen 5 of Roberto’s photos to illustrate some of my favourite aspects of Alsace – the villages, the route des vins, Strasbourg Cathedral, well, read-on, you’ll find out. Click on any of the images enlarge the photo.
1. The Route des Vins
On our route through Alsace, the first few days we cycle through a series of beautiful medieval villages, one after the other, along the base of the Vosges mountains. If you imagine where Hansel & Gretl are likely to have lived, that’s Alsace.
Two of these villages, Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé, were the inspiration for Belle’s village in the 2017 Disney remake of Beauty & The Beast. But there are dozens of them! We spend our second night in Turckheim, one of my favourites. We cycle through Ammerschwihr, Kientzheim, Kaysersberg, Riquewihr, Ribeauvillé- and that’s just on Monday!
These villages are all wine villages; they’re linked by a cycle route called the ‘Route des Vins, so we spend 3 days cycling through vineyards, gently pedalling from one beautiful village to the next.
In this photo, Paula and Leo have just reached the top of a hill leaving Turckheim, on our way to Ammerschwihr and Kientzheim, surrounded by vines on all sides.
Of all the Alsace wine villages, this is my favourite. I first visited in winter, with the French tourist board. This was the place where I first thought “Wow, what is this place? How come I’ve never heard of it? It’s beautiful!”
So Riquewihr is where I decided to do an Alsace tour. Even Wikipedia says that ‘…Riquewihr looks today more or less as it did in the 16th century.’ So it must have been very pretty in the 16th Century!
3. Strasbourg Cathedral
My favourite Cathedral – that can change from time to time, but at the moment it’s Strasbourg.
To start with, it’s so bloody huge! For more than 200 years it was the tallest building in the world, but there’s a bit of a story behind that. When Strasbourg Cathedral was completed in 1439, it was 142 metres high (466 feet). Lower than both St. Mary’s Church in Stralsund, Germany, and the Great Pyramind of Giza in Egypt.
But, in 1647 St Mary’s spire was struck by lightning and burnt down. By which time the Great Pyramid had eroded below the height of Strasbourg Cathedral. So 200 years after completion, this became the tallest building in the world. There is no suggestion that Strasbourg was involved either in the lightning strike or in the Egyptian erosion. And it was another 227 years before the Germans bothered to build a taller building, the Church of St Nicholas in Hamburg.
Inside, the stained glass windows are pretty impressive, and they have a spectacular and enormous astronomical clock – the clock maintenance person has to have a maths degree to apply for the job! But the most spectacular aspect of Strasbourg Cathedral is just to look directly at the front of it.
I’ve found it impossible to get the whold of the Cathedral in a photograph. Luckily Roberto is much cleverer than me, so here we all are.
4. Bott Frères
Alsace produces a lot of wine (a lot!), and there are reasons why Alsace wines are special.
The Vosges is a range of mountains that run North to South parallel to the River Rhine and the German border. The lower slopes face East, and these slopes are completely covered with vines which get sunshine from early morning.
Because of the Vosges, the whole of the Alsace wine region is in a rain shadow – Colmar receives the 2nd lowest rainfall of any City in France, after Perpignan. Autumn in Alsace is typically sunny, warm and dry, so the grapes are able to continue to ripen later than other regions.
Most Alsace wine is white (secretly, I’d go further – all the good wine in Alsace is white!) 25% of all the AOP wines consumed in France are from Alsace. There are four grape varieties in Alsace known as the ‘noble grapes’, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Muscat. Because of the geography of Alsace, these varieties are able to ripen with a fullness and a complexity that’s hard to find anywhere else. And nowhere demonstrates this better than my favourite vineyard, Domaine Bott Frères.
It would be easy to say that Riesling and Pinot Gris are ordinary grapes, that produce an OK wine, but not a great wine. Not true, and definitely not true at BottFrères! Every cépage here is an exemplar – and I’m not the only one who thinks so. When we visit, you’ll see a complimentary letter from President Macron no less. He agrees with me.
If you’re primarily a red wine drinker, in Alsace they produce plenty of Pinot Noir if you really won’t join me. But for one week only, explore the Rieslings, Gewürztraminers, Pinot Gris and Muscats of Alsace.
But you won’t find any better than Domaine Bott Frères, in Ribeauvillé.
5. The Isenheim Altarpiece
I blogged about this recently. This is my first chance to adopt the attitiude that I promised to myself then. The Isenheim Altarpiece is “one of the greatest works of art in the world”. So says Tim Marlow, the CEO of the Design Museum, and former Director of the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
It’s housed in the UnterLinden Musuem in Colmar, which we visit on Friday afternoon of our Alsace Tour. It’s rated as one of the 3 cultural jewels of Alsace, along with Strasbourg’s mighty Cathedral and the Humanist Library of Séléstat. We visit all of them, but you can read more about the altarpiece here.
A final reminder – you’ll find the whole photo album on our Flickr photostream. Knock yourself out.