Site hosted by Build your free website today!
France 2001
A Bike Tour through Alsace and Franche-Comté

Alsace Haut Rhin - Route du Vin

The city of Colmar is the crown jewel of the Route du Vin. Spared from the ravages of WWII it could be considered a living museum of Alsatian culture of the past and present. We stayed two nights but easily could have spent another. We lodged at the youth hostel. Although it's somewhat removed from the center of town it's easily accessible by bike. (click here for an account of the only rude encounter on the trip)

Yes, Colmar has its share of tourists but the city seems large enough to absorb the influx. With a population of 75,000 it has nearly 50 buildings classified as historic monuments. The first evening in Colmar we ate dinner at the Restaurant Pfeffel on Place Unterlinden in the old town. We enjoyed outside dining and excellent regional cuisine. The next day was a sight-seeing day and we took a tourist tram through the city center to get our bearings to the many noteworthy sights. We visited beautiful Renaissance houses such as Maison des Tetes (House of Heads), and Maison Pfister. The oldest residence is the medieval Maison Adolph, dating to 1350. The impressive old Customs House along a canal in the Quartier des Tanneurs (Tanner's Quarter) was built in 1480, and was the economic and political center of Colmar for a couple hundred years. The most romantic section of Colmar is La Petite Venise (Little Venice). In medieval times the fishermen and market gardeners brought their products into the district by flat-bottomed boats. The river bank is lined with exquisite half-timbered houses draped with flowers.

The Unterlinden Museum is one of Colmar's highlights. Housed in a 13thc former Dominican convent it has an eclectic collection of treasures from prehistoric artifacts to modern works of art. The collection of High Middle Ages provincial art is one of the best in France. First and foremost is the Issenheim alterpiece painted in the early 1500's by Mathias Grunewald with woodcarving by Nikolaus Haguenauer. It was originally commissioned for the chapel of an Antonite convent in Issenheim, France, 14 miles south of Colmar. It is a masterpiece of Western art and an awe-inspiring journey into the world of Christianity in the Middle Ages. Painted in a series of folding panels it should be viewed as an integrated whole as it depicts important events in Christianity. The scenes of the Crucifixion and Resurrection will give even a pagan the chills. The monsters shown in The Temptation of St. Anthony is the stuff of your worst nightmares. In a nutshell - the museum is not to be missed.

Down the street in the Dominican Church we viewed Martin Schongauer's masterpiece, "The Virgin in The Rosebush." Painted in 1473 the extraordinary details and vibrant colors are enhanced by the austere interior of the church. Schongauer was a local artist who was renown across Europe for his work in the late Middle Ages.

Nearby is the family home of Auguste Bartholdi, who created a little piece of sculpture known as the "Statue of Liberty." The original title was "Liberty Enlightening the World," and Bartholdi used his mother as the model for the work. Throughout Colmar one can find several examples of Bartholdi's statues in parks and squares. The former Bartholdi home is a museum housing a collection of his drawings and models of his works. We couldn't gain access to the museum as it is closed on Tuesdays, which happened to be our layover day in Colmar.

This summer the Tour de France bicycle race passed through Colmar. We got to see a lot more of Colmar than the participants did as they raced south to the Swiss border on the eastern leg of the Tour. Although the race is in July it was plagued by cold and rain. Which is why we like to tour Europe in August. Oh yes, we've read in the travel books all the pooh-poohing about August travel; too many tourists, and shops & restaurants closed for summer vacations. In four years of August bike trips to Europe we've encountered the occasional shuttered hotel or restaurant but nothing that caused any inconvenience. The tourists are indeed more numerous in August but for good reason. It's the month that seems to have the most consistent patterns of warm, dry, and sunny conditions. The kinds of conditions that are critical for pleasant cycling. Nothing can ruin a bike trip faster than a low-pressure system coming off the Atlantic and camping out indefinitely over your route. The poor weather patterns have a lower percentage of occurrence in August. As for the tourists, we've found that they are generally concentrated in high profile locales such as Paris, Munich, Salzburg, etc. After leaving the big-name sites for the open road one wonders, "Where are all the tourists?"

All good things eventually come to an end. For Greg, Bonnie, Marty and Gayle, Colmar was the end of the line and time to board the train back to Frankfurt. Getting several loaded bikes on the train while dodging the disembarking passengers can be a stressful situation. It's times like these when the conductors take on a menacing presence as they eye their stopwatches in preparation to close the doors. For Marty it was made even more difficult with the numerous bottles of Alsation wine stashed in his panniers.

After the others successfully boarded the train the two of us were on our own. We immediately headed south out of Colmar intending to make a short day of it. We did not anticipate being sidetracked within a couple miles by the unexpected charm of Eguisheim. It is said that the Romans planted the first grape vines here in the 4thcentury, possibly the first location in the Alsace to cultivate the vines. Pope Saint Leo IX is the local hero being born here in 1002.

His family's castle in the center of town eventually became protected by three concentric rings of fortified buildings which still form the outline of the community. The wine trade is important in Eguisheim with several wineries and lots of tasting opportunities offered by the producers. We each bought a bottle of Grand Cru Riesling to bring home, lugging the wine in our panniers for the rest of the trip.

As we approached the town of Cernay the vineyards began to peter out. The surroundings were changing. Cernay didn't seem as prosperous as its Route du Vin neighbors to the north. We managed to find a very nice hotel, the Hostellerie d'Alsace, with a fine restaurant.

The last remnant of the Route du Vin goes from Cernay to the nearby town of Thann, just to the southwest. We were headed south so leaving Cernay the next morning we also departed from the Wine Route. We continued south on quiet country roads through a patchwork of woods and cornfields. The rolling terrain was gentle, not at all hilly. We eventually met with the Rhône-Rhine canal and followed it a short distance west to Dannemarie. To make a long day a bit more pleasant we hopped a train from Dannemarie to Montbéliard. But the day wasn't over yet. We still had about 20 miles to bike from Montbéliard to our overnight stop in L'Isle-sur-le Doubs. We were now in a new region - Franche-Comté.

Click here if you would like to see a slide show of the Alsace Haut Rhin. You will need PowerPoint program on your computer and it will take a minute or two to download the presentation.

If you don't have PowerPoint on your computer you may download a viewer at: Microsoft PowerPoint Download

If you want to see the photographs individually just click on the thumbnails below.





Click here to go to the next page - Franche-Comté

© 2001 Bob Parry and Ed James

E-mail us if you have questions or comments.


France 2001 Home Page
Next page for France 2001 - Franche-Comté