Cycle Touring in Alsace, France: No Lycra, No Tears

10 May

5-11 May, 2017

‘Maps? We don’t have any maps.’
Oh, ohhh… Not the response we’d expected from the bicycle rental dude. Deep intake of air and breathe out…. But back to where we left off in Brittany in the last chapter.

My cross country drive Gouarec to Strasbourg, across the breast of France, was more intense than anticipated. We hit a rain storm coming into Paris and visibility dropped to a few metres, but that didn’t stop people driving far faster than conditions safely allowed. Happily we broke the journey in Dizy near Epernay.

No champagne for us in Champagne country but I did break my temperance with a glass of red and vegan pizza to celebrate our safe arrival.

In Strasbourg we stayed in the shadow of the Cathedral and climbed two of its soaring towers. 330 steps into the sky above this over 1,000-year-old building was an act of faith, in the tower engineers.


Stuart had called ahead and arranged our bicycle and pannier rental through Strasbourg’s Esprit Cycles, but when we asked for the promised maps and guides they’d agreed over the phone to provide we got the response, ‘Maps, we don’t have maps. You need to go to the tourist office.’ Backtrack to downtown and well, actually no, the tourist office doesn’t stock detailed cycle route guides and nor did the first book shop we went to. The second bookstore did but it was in German. We bought an OS map supplemented with a brochure on the wine route from the tourist office.
STRASBOURG – OBERNAI

After all that faffing around plus 45 minutes at the train station ticket office to buy tickets Strasbourg to Paris for the rugby weekend and then Eurostar to the UK (lots of deep yoga breathing as I waited for my number to come up – don’t ask about why I didn’t use the ticket machine!) we finally left central Strasbourg at 1pm.

Within ten minutes we were cycling in sunshine alongside Bruche Canal and its paddling swans and cygnets and wide open fertile farmland. 

The only hazards we faced were the pelatons and solo cyclists who seemed to be training for the Tour de France given their high speeds and the intense looks on their faces. 
Without bells (too much weight and uncool) you only know they’re passing you when you feel the breeze, inhale the pheramones and suddenly see their arse in your face. I amuse myself shouting, ‘Bonjour to you too!’, at their rapidly disappearing rear ends.

All up it was 40k to our first overnight stop, Obernai. We’d tried to get lunch in pretty Molsheim but as it was after 2pm all the cafes and restaurants had closed so we had to push on. Note to selves: last lunch orders at 1:45pm sharp in Alsace.

Obernai is on the wine tour cycling trail, but as with eating, wine tasting isn’t simple either, not in May.

OBERNAI-OTTROT-ST LEONARD
As we had two nights in an Obernai apartment (see accommodation notes for tips) we headed out next day for Stu to taste some local vintages. 
After five attempts in Obernai, Ottrot, and St Leonard (four were closed and the fifth was expecting 45 Germans so could we come back later?) we gave up. I asked a young farmer about to spray chemicals on his vines why the wine caves were closed on a Saturday. He said May was a quiet month, they would be open in June.

We settled for coffee in Ottrot since wine proved elusive.

After five attempts in Obernai, Ottrot, and St Leonard (four were closed and the fifth was expecting 45 Germans so could we come back later?) we gave up. I asked a young farmer about to spray chemicals on his vines why the wine caves were closed on a Saturday. He said May was a quiet month, they would be open in June.

The war memorial above Obernai remembers those local men conscripted into the German army who didn’t come home, more than 40,000 of them.
OBERNAI TO SELESTAT

The wine trail continued (video) to our next overnight stop at Selestat with pleasant breaks for coffee in Barr and lunch in Mittelbergheim. 

Here our luck changed. Hirz winery’s tasting room was open and Monsieur Edy Hirz himself served us. Lovely man. He seemed to have all the time in the world to chat. We learnt more about Alsatian wines in thirty minutes with him than we could have from any book. Of the Pinot Noir and Gewurstraminer wines Stuart sampled he preferred the latter. He now has a bottle weighing down one pannier.

In Australia most winery mascots are dogs (they even have a photo book dedicated to them). At Hirz it’s a rooster. And a beautiful cockrel he was too.

Lunch at Le Raisin D’Or was a revelation. We both chose the 22 euro vegetarian/vegan set menu (which in Stuart’s case included a main course of fish and prawns – go figure). Both meals were delicious.

Considerably heavier but very happy we pushed on in a light misty rain through beautiful wine country via Andlou and Dambach-Le Ville to Selestat. 45k and we barely broke a sweat.

SELESTAT TO RIBEAUVILLE

More Irish weather for our 20k ride from Selestat to Ribeauville with a side trip to St Hippolyte for breakfast and wine tasting at Huber & Bleger. Another bottle of wine, this time a 2013 pinot noir went into a saddle bag.


Part of the ride, which skirted fields of flowering rape seed and green shoots of wheat, followed an ancient Roman road connecting Strasbourg with Besancon. Just as we crossed a minor road a farmer trotted by on his dray pulled by two powerful white horses. Times like that I wished I had a head cam.

Picturesque Ribeauville with its cobbled streets and half timbered houses sits at the foot of a hill topped by three castle ruins. Like Obernai it’s busy with tourists, mostly domestic and German.

We climbed to the best preserved castle, Chateau Ulrich. The first record of a building on the site is in the 11th century. Behind it are green forested hills as far as the eye can see and in front the town surrounded by vineyards.

RIBEAUVILLE TO COLMAR

20k Ribeauville to Colmar via Riquewhir was the hillliest leg of the trip to date. I took my own advice and pushed up one especially steep section. No tears, no tantrums.


This was our the first day of full sun, perfect for playing silly buggers (movie) and a picnic by the vines.

Riding into Colmar felt like returning to the big smoke, huge squares with fountains, supermarkets, even a MacDonalds. Happily our hotel was in Little Venice, in the central medieval section.


COLMAR TO TURKHEIM AND LES TROIS EPIS

Colmar is an attractive, historic town dating from the ninth century. I was glad of two nights there to leave the panniers in the room, explore on foot and take a circular day ride to Les Trois Epis.Turkheim

This was our first attempt at a col (mountain pass) together. It was a good one to start with as it’s a steady, gradual ascent, albeit with lots of bends in the southern arm. We both managed it without having to stop. I even had an extra gear up my sleeve! Two weeks on a bicycle has strengthened us both.


We celebrated with lunch on the sun terrace of Le Croix D’Or and toasted (beer and mineral water) to Stuart entering his sixth year post-stroke in excellent health (dodgy knee aside).

Tomorrow we’ll take the bikes on the train from Colmar back to Strasbourg and return them to Esprit Cycles. Though we looked like we’d hijacked someone’s city shopping bikes they’d proved surprisingly suitable for the trip. The upright position cause me less pain in the backside, hands and neck than I get with a mountain bike or racer.

WOULD WE DO IT AGAIN?

For our first cycle tour, especially given that it was completely self guided, we managed brilliantly. No accidents, breakages, losses, and not once did we get lost. I recommend Stuart as a guide, his French language skills proved useful many times. Merci ma cherie! We’ll be looking seriously at self-guided cycle tour options for our next trip later this year.

NOTES:

……………….
CYCLE HIRE

Esprit Cycles charged us 250 euros for the 2 bicycles, good helmets, 4 dry bag-style panniers, a pump, two inner tubes and two strong bike locks. 

http://www.espritcycles.com/nos-magasins/

They require a deposit on a credit card (this is a bond, it doesn’t go through unless you abscond or destroy them) of 600 euros per bike. 
ROUTES

Most of the time we were on agricultural roads for tractors and workers through fields and vineyards, on a dedicated cycle path or on a quiet country road. The Route Des Vins was well marked. Almost all drivers we encountered kept a safe distance.
ACCOMMODATION

When trying to get lunch in Molsheim we asked at the Hotel Diana. The receptionist apologised that the kitchen was closed and asked the manager if he had any idea where we could eat. Thomas, the manager, offered us a drink and described some options and gave us directions. When he found out we were staying in a sister hotel in Obernai he offered to put the bikes in a van and drive us there! We thanked him but preferred to cycle on. The drinks were free and Thomas got us an upgrade at the Pavillion Apartment and also on our hotel room at Le Colombier in Colmar. Tres cool!

In Ribeauville we stayed at Les 3 Chateaux run by the Muller Family. When I say family I mean mum, dad, mother-in-law, daughters and sons! The sight of all the staff sitting at one big table sharing lunch at 11:30am was heartwarming.

RESTAURANTS

This is a top spot in Colmar and vegan friendly.

For Italian in Colmar we recommend La Pignata for great Calabrian and Sicilian dishes.
And in Obernai Biogourmand has vegan waffles/gauffres.

2 Responses to “Cycle Touring in Alsace, France: No Lycra, No Tears”

  1. scratchbriannm May 11, 2017 at 4:19 am #

    Sounds and looks good Sharon.

    Brian

    ________________________________

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