Sunday, August 19, 2012

Alsace Lorraine - The "Route de Vin" of France

Route de Vin, Alsace
Before the boys and I headed back to the States for a few weeks, we decided to celebrate Joe's birthday by taking an extended weekend trip. His birthday was the day before we were scheduled to leave, so we took the trip the prior weekend so that we could spend some quality time together as a family before putting several thousand miles between us!

Alsace, France is the northeast region of the country that is bordered by Germany. The terrain is mostly rolling green hills dotted with quaint little medieval-dated villages surrounded by vineyards, with the occasional castle lingering on a distant hill. Most folks visit the region on their way to Strasbourg, which holds one of the most popular Christmas markets each winter. I booked a cute, boutique hotel in Strasbourg called Cour Du Corbeau. It is currently listed as the #1 hotel by reviews for the area on Being the Tripadvisor junkie that I am, I found a great deal  - a room that would hold all 4 of us, including our golden retriever. Despite a slight error on my part on the booking (though the room I booked states that it will hold up to 4 adults - in our case, 2 adults and 2 teenaged boys - I was careful to mention the dog, but failed to make note of the kids :-/ ), the check-in process was terrific. The staff was genuinely friendly and very accommodating, settling us in the top floor family suite overlooking their courtyard. The rooms had obviously been recently remodeled and the bathroom was one of the largest I have seen here in Europe. Our only inconvenience was the fact that we had to walk a couple of blocks to the nearest park to walk Shelby, but otherwise, we couldn't have asked for more.

We spent the first night checking out the city of Strasbourg. The city is situated on the Ill River, which flows into the Rhine along the German border. Its Gothic Cathedral, with its famous astronomical clock, can be seen from the distant highway that runs north/south through the region. The church was never completed to the original design - the south tower was never built. As such, the church's asymmetrical design has become the landmark for the city. During our visit, the summer light show was going on. In the evening, you could visit the exterior of the cathedral and watch the facade come to life in an array of colors, while themed music played in the plaza.

Colmar, France
The next couple of days of our trip we spent traveling down to Colmar, the southern most point of the Route de Vin, and making our way back north towards Strasbourg. Colmar is a romantic village full of half-timbered houses and winding, cobblestone streets lined with regional cafes and shops. The city boasts its famous born engineer, Frederic Bartholdi, best known for his design of the Statue of Liberty. In fact, there is a smaller version of the Lady of Liberty just on the border of the city as you come into Colmar from the main highway. We enjoyed walking through the streets, having lunch at your typical French cafe, and checking out the parks and churches - our standard day trip in Europe.

After Colmar, we made our way through the winding Route de Vin, dotted with many more quaint medieval towns, each with its own character and personality. Standard to all were the prevailing stork-themed souvenir shops. Several of the towns sport tall towers dotted with stork nests - for some, the nests perch precariously on the roofs of the city church. In one such village, Kaysersberg, the local nest was occupied with 2-3 storks during our visit. You could also see them hanging out in the fields throughout the Alsace area. Though it was so tempting to stop and visit each town, only a few could be visited on a day trip. Kaysersberg made our list since it also boasted its local glass artisans and their wares. Each of our boys went home with a glass-blown animal (snail and turtle) filled with beautiful threads and drops of colors. Joe and I also managed to leave with a case of local wine, so no complaints on our part! The weather held out, though the clouds were always threatening rain. We did miss out on visiting the area castle (Haut-Koenigsbourg), but, as we always say, we left something for our next visit! The day we visited the Route de Vin also happened to be Bastille Day, known as National Day to the French. We capped the day with a terrific show of fireworks held at the park just a few blocks from our hotel. The show was fantastic and not lacking much from those of Luxembourg's National Day!

Most expensive car - the Bugatti VEYRON at $2.5 million!
Our final day in Alsace the weather finally gave in to rain. Luckily, we had saved the museums for our final jaunt. We headed back south to Mulhouse to the Cite de l'Automobile and Cite du Train museums. Both were quite excellent and the boys had a great time checking out the showrooms and learning a little about the history of transportation, from the European perspective. I know this may seem a bit strange, but having grown up in the US, I always assumed that Henry Ford developed the first automobile; however, that is far from the truth. Though he may have been the one credited for mass production, the early history of the automobile is deeply entrenched in Europe. Just check out Wikipedia and you will see that Karl Benz is actually credited for being the first to produce automobiles in 1888 in Germany and in France by Emile Roger. The Cite de l'Automobile is a highlight to these early achievements. The museum is essentially the personal collection of cars from the Schlumpf brothers. The brothers made their fortune in the textile industry. In 1957, the brothers bought the HKD textile factory, a former wool mill in Mulhouse. Fritz Schlumpf began secretly purchasing a large number of classic cars (over 200) and in 1966 began work on the museum in the purchased wool mill in order to showcase his impressive collection of Bugattis, Mercedes and Rolls Royces. You can read more about the history of the museum on their website,, but needless to say, the collection is quite impressive! Many of the cars date from the late 1800's and early 1900's, but include models throughout the decades. The train museum is also worth a visit if you have a train enthusiast in your family. The museum boasts locomotives, freight cars and passenger cars throughout the history of rail transportation, including the Paris Metro system and the more recent TGV lines. Both museums were easily seen in one day, which rounded out our visit to the area with museums that actually engaged our sons beyond the cursory nod at a relic painting or statue :)

We returned to Luxembourg on a Monday, celebrated Joe's birthday on a Tuesday, and then boarded the plane heading west to the States on Wednesday. Needless to say, I am playing a little catch-up on my posts, but wanted to make sure I posted a little something on this wonderful area of France. Though I may not be too keen on the local cuisine (lots of pork, sausages and potatoes - typical German fare), I love the area. One that note, I also have to admit that our favorite meal was from a Thai restaurant just around the corner from our hotel. Needles to say, Strasbourg will definitely be on my list of places to visit for Christmas!

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