Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Alsace Wine Region

The Route du Vin is an oenophile's dream destination. With its vineyards producing rieslings, gewurztraminers and pinot blanc among others, visitors drive through its medieval villages for a taste of Alsatian fare. Colmar sits at the southern tip of this wine road. At first glance, it looks like any other bustling city. But as you enter the center of the city, you are transported to another age. Fourteenth and 15th century half timbered houses, seemingly untouched by time, invite you to linger. At every turn of its cobblestoned streets, a picture waits to be taken.

Colmar once led the Decapole, an alliance of ten cities that banded together to protect them from taxes levied by the nobility. The Ancienne Douane (Customs House) is a 15th century building where members of the Decapole once met.

The legacy of the merchant class remains in finely detailed homes such as the Maison Pfister with its balcony and turret and the Maison des Têtes which, true to its name, is decorated with sculpted heads on its façade. The Quartier des Tanneurs (leather maker's district) reveals what may have been considered high-rise housing in the middle ages - three or four story half timbered buildings, all in a row. The area of Petite Venise (Little Venise) has earned its title with its waterways.

The Musée d'Unterlinden is housed in a former convent with a 13th century cloister. It is possibly one of the best small museums in Europe housing the Issenheim altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald. This polyptych shows Christ on the cross with red sores all over his body. It was originally commissioned for a hospital where patients with skin diseases were treated and it conveys the artist's sensibility towards those patients. There's something for everyone to enjoy at this museum - medieval toys, sculpture, rooms decorated in period furniture, modern art in the basement (including Impressionist paintings) and more.

Colmar's best known son is Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty. His home in Colmar displays his art (Bartholdi was also a painter). There are prints and pictures of the making of the Statue of Liberty. Elsewhere in the city are monuments created by Bartholdi.

There are many cafés in the old city so you can rest your tired feet and try some of the local wines. Or you can go wine tasting at one of the caves in nearby villages.

One such village is the storybook town of Riquewihr. It is surrounded by medieval walls. Its main street is lined with houses which have survived from the middle ages. Take notice of the wrought iron signs as you walk up the street. The bus to Riquewihr from Colmar passes through vineyards and stops at neighboring villages like Ingersheim and Bennwihr, two charming towns with tasting rooms. Buses to Riquewihr leave across from the train station in Colmar and trip time is approximately 30 minutes. You might prefer renting a car for more extensive sightseeing and wine tasting. There's a car rental company located next to the train station.


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Colmar is easily accessible by plane from Paris or by train from Strasbourg or Basel. Hotel rates vary according to season. I stayed at the Hostellerie Le Maréchal in Petite Venise. Le Maréchal is a four-star hotel in a 16th century, half-timbered house with a gastronomic restaurant, L'Echevin. I asked for a light, fruity wine from the Alsace region and thoroughly enjoyed the 1997 Pierre Frick gewurztraminer I was served. For more information about the hotel, go to http://www.hotel-le-marechal.com.

Bon voyage!

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Article transferred from my Geocities blog
Photos by Charie

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