It has been a frequent vacation destination of ours for years, and the most oft-requested trip of those we do not offer. So, after a marvelous alum trip here in 2005, here we go! Highlights include Strasbourg and Colmar, the famous “Route des Vins” through the prettiest of the vineyards, the Munster Valley (source of the cheese, not Herman), and the “Route des Crêtes,” a beautiful forest road along the spine of the Vosges mountains.
Day 1: Strasbourg
Strasbourg has an airport, but without meaningful international service. Train tickets are offered from Basel, Luxembourg, Frankfurt, Zurich, or Paris. For a small additional cost, they are available from Geneva, Brussels or Munich. Trip Meeting. Black and White Villages of Protestant Alsace. The trip assembles in Strasbourg at midday on Saturday. Change into your bike togs at the station for an afternoon bike ride amongst the characteristic black-and-white villages of the lands to the north. Hunspach is our favorite, and a must-see (work it in tomorrow if you can’t get there today).
If you have just landed, and the idea of doing anything but crawling into bed is revolting; you can train directly to our night's destination, Wissembourg, on the German border. Evening welcome dinner in a local tavern. Curously, Wissembourg was long the home of the King of Poland. Today it is home to a salt warehouse that looks remarkably like Harry Potter’s sorting hat. (25 - 40 optional km)
Day 2: The “Magic Square” of the Lower Rhine
Go for a spin in the hills along the German border. The 12th century ruined Château de Fleckenstein is a pretty destination: rooms carved out of rock, views of the surrounding valleys, and a goofy name. Charming small towns abound: Lembach, Niederschlettenbach, Burt Bacherbach... and beautiful hiking is on offer in the forest around the castle. Back to Wissembourg, where the sorting hat will tell you what route you have to do tomorrow. (40-60 km often hilly)
Day 3: Alsace
Today we set out along the foot of the mountain range that separates Alsace from the rest of France. Skirt the hills you played in yesterday, following country lanes through sleepy farm towns, far from the urban centers that define the region to most visitors. Short, middle and long route options let you head into Strasbourg when the city lights beckon more strongly than the sleepy farms. Get on a tow path of the Saverne-to-Strasbourg canal, and burn some kilometers on a Leclerc-like dash into the city, following the famous general’s WWII path out of the hills. 70 k (110 k long route option, 40 and 50 k options if you prefer to spend time in Strasbourg). (40 - 110 km)
Day 4: Bruche valley into the Vosges
A morning to explore the capital. Admire the cathedral, wander through the Petite France’s canals, head out when you’re ready. Today’s route takes us through fields of cabbage, and to the northern end of the “Route des Vins,” or Wine Road. The direct route is only 25 k of flat riding, but if you are looking for more, head up the Bruche valley into the Vosges, for different scenery and a different level of effort. Molsheim was home to the Bugatti auto maker, now a manufacturer of aircraft landing gear. It is a pleasant town, with a butcher’s guild as its centerpiece, and surrounded by vineyards. 25 k, 60 k long route option.(25 - 60 km)
Day 5: Riquewihr, Ribeauvillé, Kaysersberg
This is what most non-Alsatians know of Alsace. It is, indeed, a source of pride. We give today over to riding, passing through the northern vineyards, at the foot of the Vosges hills, which protect the grapes. Michelin says Obernai is “infused with a golden glow and surrounded by vineyards,” but the villages and towns further south are more appealing, and bustling with viticultural activity: Riquewihr, Ribeauvillé, Kaysersberg (birthplace of Albert Schweitzer)... A full day of riding, and one of those special ones that reaffirms your faith in your aluminum horse. 2 nights in one of the wine villages around Colmar. (60 km)
Day 6: Colmar
Use a loop day to visit Colmar, a beautiful mid-sized city. Walk amongst canals and medieval alleyways, and join in the festivities at one of the local taverns. Colmar has many ways to hold your interest, but the most curious is that it is the birthplace of Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor (and founder) of New York’s Statue of Liberty. A small museum commemorates his works, but a few of them also grace the town... It also offers a museum of toy trains, but unless they have toy cyclists stuffing 14 bikes into toy baggage cars, we aren’t interested.
Or head up the valley of Munster. The cheese, not Herman. Munster is one of France’s greatest cheeses (and one of only a few from Alsace). It comes from a town of the same name, also a favorite of the local storks. The valley that is its home is beautiful, and a pretty cycle route follows much of it. For a short ride, train up, bike back. 30 k of easy scenery, and allows you to combine with a visit of Colmar. 20 - 90 k, depending on selected options. (20 - 90 km)
Day 7: Thann or Route des Crêtes
Two options exist to get to Thann, our destination for the night: you can go either over or around the Vosges mountains. Colmar is at sea level, the peak of our “hill route” at circa 1,300 m / 4,000 ft... so there is some real effort involved in option 1. But it may be worth it. The famous “Route des Crêtes” runs along the spine of the mountains that separate Alsace from the rest of France. It was built by in the First World War, to allow communication between French troops stationed in the different valleys. It’s path is perfect for a beautiful bike ride, once you have taken on the climb to reach it: it traces a line from ballon to ballon (the rounded summits characteristic of the Vosges), approaching the crown of each.
The views are stupendous, “fermes-aubèrges” (farm inns) pop up to refresh, and when you tire of the whole business, you can drop into the Thur valley for a pleasant ride through 19th century industrial villages (how did they get charming, all of a sudden?), to our night stop in Thann. 90 k, but the distance ain’t the half of it! Not up for the mountain goat routine? Go around! You can rejoin the “Route des Vins” for the trip on south. More harvest scenes, more wine villages, more trouble getting the handlebars to point in the right direction.
Guebwiller is the theoretical highlight, though we have faith in you to find your own. On St. Valentine’s day, 1445, a woman named Brigitte Schick, hanging out on the ramparts for reasons that are none of your business, scared off an entire army by screaming a lot. This is the source of the modern English word “shriek.” We made that last part up. 60 k, and a heck of a lot easier. Our final night is in Thann, where the Christmas tree (“tannenbaum”) was invented. We did not make that up. (60 - 90 km)
Day 8: A morning bike ride to the Mulhouse railway station, from whence on to your next project. Our pod disaggregates at noon, though those catching a same-day flight can catch an early train directly from Thann, and skip the ride (in general, a Sunday flight will be a more comfortable solution...). “Access Package” offers trains from Mulhouse to Zurich, Frankfurt, Geneva, Luxembourg or Paris. Tickets to Brussels, Munich or Milan are available for a small additional cost. Guests continuing to the Loire Valley or Switzerland depart Mulhouse at midday. (20 km)
- Bike rental is included!
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