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France 2001
A Bike Tour through Alsace and Franche-Comté

Alsace Bas Rhin - Route du Vin

The region of the Alsace is divided into two departments; the Bas Rhin (Lower Rhine) and Haut Rhin (Upper Rhine). Bas Rhin stretches from Alsace's northern border with Germany south to a point near the city of Selestat. The Haut Rhin continues south to the Swiss border. The Wine Route or Route du Vin follows the foothills of the eastern slopes of the Vosges Mountains through both departments for a distance of about 100 miles. There are seven varieties of wine made in Alsace; Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Tokay Pinot Gris, Muscat d' Alsace, and Pinot Noir. The majority of the wine produced is white. The history of the Alsace and the struggle for its control has created a slice of Europe that offers special delights in the food, wine, architecture, and culture.

The unique cultural influences in Alsace are evident at this restaurant in Molsheim, France. The name of the establishment is in French but above the door the proprietor's name is German. Besides speaking French the majority of the population also speaks Elsässisch, a dialect of High German. Close enough to standard German to be understood, but different enough to make things tricky. Molsheim was the northern starting point for our travel along the Route du Vin. The town has several attractions including the Metzig, or Butcher's Hall. Built in 1525 it is a magnificent Renaissance structure on the town square. The Jesuit Church is the second largest church in the Bas Rhin after the famous Strasbourg Cathedral. Molsheim is also home to a Bugatti car museum, where Bugatti made its vehicles in the early 1900's. A short distance from Molsheim we entered the village of Dorlisheim where we found the community in the middle of their summer festival honoring the Mirabelle plum. Apparently grapes aren't the only important crop of the region. The main street was closed to vehicular traffic and lined with stalls selling food, crafts, and plum wine. To our surprise the music program included, believe it or not, a Bluegrass band!

Outside of the town of Barr we were treated to an exceptional view of the gentle countryside to the east of the Route du Vin. From here the terrain slopes gently downward to the Rhine River, about 8 to 12 miles away. The vineyards are confined to a narrow band along the foothills of the Vosges Mountains. The bike route took us on quiet two lane roads as well as one lane local roads between villages. Throughout the Route du Vin the terrain was flat to gently rolling. There were no "real" hills unless one wanted to visit villages at higher elevations in the mountains immediately to the west. We decided to save any forays into the Vosges for a future trip.

After breakfast the usual activities included making any necessary repairs and studying the maps. We stayed the Hôtel Maison Rouge in Barr, France. A homey, family enterprise with an excellent restaurant, that was unfortunately closed the evening of our stay. The cuisine of the Alsace is a curious combination of German hardiness and French refinement. Regional dishes featuring sauerkraut, ham and/or sausage, known as choucroute garni, can be found in every café. It seems that each chef is intent on putting his or her own signature into the preparation. Another delicious dish is a crock-pot casserole called baeckoffe. The recipe calls for wine-marinated beef, pork, and mutton layered with potatoes and onions, and baked for a couple of hours. Alsatian pastries come straight from heaven. The variety and quality are second to none.

Would your local zoning ordinances allow an exhibit of your occupation to be placed prominently in the front yard? It becomes quickly apparent that the economic engine of the area revolves around cultivating grapes and producing wine. Benefits from tourism are an important addition but one gets the feeling that the region would get along just fine without it as it has for the past several hundred years.

For the most part we did not find our exploration of the Alsace in the peak month of August to suffer from tourist overload. There were a couple exceptions. Obernai is an attractive town but it was besieged with tourists. Further south along the route, in Haut Rhin, the walled village of Riquewihr is a gem of preservation with a bevy of ancient, noteworthy structures. One finds many fine shops and galleries begging for your wallet's attention. But the tourist concentration detracted from the charm of the village. On the other hand, we encountered towns that were just as appealing but with a noticeable lack of tourists. One such town was Barr, where we stayed overnight. Another was Dambach la Ville, where we stopped for lunch the next day. Maybe these towns scrimped in the budget for marketing and public relations. That was fine with us. We found the smaller, lesser known villages to have a local work-a-day atmosphere that contained a measure of authenticity lost on the marquee tourist locales. And these places were easily accessible on our bikes.

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© 2001 Bob Parry and Ed James

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