La Route du Vin

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Europe » France
May 2nd 2011
Published: May 2nd 2011
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Sat 23....The weather as we left Verres in Italy was dull and a lot of low cloud. We followed the route towards the Grand St Bernard tunnel, stopping for hours at a MacDonald’s in Aoste catching up with photo downloads and diary writing. That done, the intention was to put it all on the blog/Internet but we lost the connection and couldn’t get it back.

Our onward route was only so-so, quite densely populated and a fair bit of industry, though the landscape was good. The houses in this area have roofs of thick grey slate and many have a Swiss-look...wooden balconies and big overhanging eaves. We finally travelled through the tunnel, which was amazing and.....hey presto, as we emerged into Switzerland the skies were blue, the sun was shining and the typically Swiss countryside was very special with spectacular mountain scenery.

We made our way to a campsite at Saillon and it seems we were lucky to get a space....Easter is popular. At reception we were shown a plan of where we should to the swimming pool, there are many electric points. Our first attempt to find the spot ended in a patch of grass with a rather dilapidated, make-shift, polythene covered green house. After several more attempts, requiring turning around on a sixpence and being gawped at by fellow campers, we ended up back at the greenhouse. A closer look inside revealed a defunct, dirty and empty swimming, we were in the right place! Electric points were also elusive....another chat at reception resulted in a chap disappearing into the swimming pool/ greenhouse and unravelling a long extension cord.....we had power and better still, wi-fi.

People watching, showering (including one of us doing a hair-dye job) and Internetting kept us occupied and amused. We were hoping to get involved in local Easter festivities tomorrow but there seem to be none.......we shall see.

Sun 24....Easter Sunday and yes, the East Bunny called with a bag of Swiss chocolate mini-eggs! Knowing that there were no festivities to join in the nearish vicinity, we decided to stay put. The campsite is in a big agricultural valley with huge mountains either side and is very much a wine region.

The weather was glorious so we spent a lazy(ish) day Skyping, doing a machine wash, playing Scrabble in the sunshine, eating, drinking and cycling into the fairly nondescript village, overlooked by a lovely castle and back via the vineyards/fruit orchards. We chose not to eat at the on-site Restaurant....being Easter Sunday they were only offering a set menu for 71 Swiss Francs each (£50).......Switzerland is VERY expensive!

Mon 25.... We set off for Montreux, on the banks of Lake Leman. An interesting route to start with, hugging the base of enormous overhanging mountains, then carrying on until we stopped to photograph a fantastic looking castle....Chateau de Chillon, which is in fact on its own little island. Being only about 2 miles from Montreux, we decided to cycle in on a fabulous cycle/footpath along the edge of the lake. The trees, houses and flowers were spectacular.........they really go-to-town with their floral displays and of course everything is in full bloom at this time.

We stopped for a drink by the lake in the least expensive looking bar we could find (just along from Freddy Mercury’s statue) but even then a large beer & a coke (fortified with Bacardi from handbag) was 9.60 Euros (£8.90ish) ........Bacardi was 11 Euros a shot! We then tied up the bikes and took the steep climb up to the old quarter where we found a lovely pavement cafe with a terrific view serving wedges of pork from a BBQ’d spit, with chips and salad..............all washed down with a ½ litre of local red. Then a reviving walk down the hill, another long cycle round to the point (passing the big music/convention of jazz festival) then all the way back to Hymie (stopping for ice creams) and we set off again.

We headed for an Aires site at Romont and our route took us through wonderful Swiss countryside with green undulating fields, peppered with dandelions, buttercups and tiny hamlets. Arriving at about 7pm we were delighted to find that our spot beneath the ramparts of a castle (which we’ll explore tomorrow) has the usual water etc and free electricity. With the sun setting over our glorious’s a quiet night in.

Tue 26....We started with a walk into town and enjoyed strolling along the ramparts, then though the streets to the castle. Before moving on we spent a while in Hymie phoning various Hymer dealers in Germany to book in for various bits that need are now ordered and we’re booked for 6th May in Sindlfingen, near Stuttgart. We then drove onwards to Murton, simply because it was shown in an orange box on the map, which means it’s a goody....and it was. Along the way we passed a field of American bison grazing! On reaching Murton,we parked alongside the huge lake on which it lies for lunch, then took a lazy stroll into the mediaeval town, with cobbled streets and lovely buildings......especially a long section of covered ramparts giving wonderful views over the town and rooftops to one side and glorious gardens, all in full bloom and sweet smelling on the other.

Having chosen our Aires for tonight, some 60 miles north at Delemont, we selected a slightly longer route to include the Gorges de Pichoux. Once again, the countryside is beautiful......lots of dairy pasture and many farmed crops including great patches of vivid yellow rape. The enormous farmhouses, which are one third dwelling and two thirds barn, with their big overhanging roofs are very commonplace. Many are still working farms with tractors and machinery parked outside and mounds of steaming manure......and this is all just a few yards from the bank and supermarket! Apparently, Merton is the border for the change of language from French to German......although it kept changing back again. It’s quite weird not to know whether you should be greeting people with Bonjour or Guten Tag. We have noticed that in Switzerland as in England the cost of diesel fuel is slightly more than normal petrol but still cheaper than UK.

Having driven so far on our chosen route that we were committed, we came across the first of two signs giving height and width measurements for tunnels. Both signs indicated that if we were to get through at all, it would only be with 2-3cms to spare. Being adventurous types we decided to chance it happened, though both tunnels were small, we had a good 10cms to spare. The route through the gorge was amazing, very narrow in parts, wooded with a babbling brook alongside the road. We finally arrived at the Aires in Delemont......not too special an area, bit grotty on the edge of town. But it’ll do us and once again, there’s free electricity.

Wed 27....Today we crossed from Switzerland into France (then briefly back into Switzerland, then France again). We took a scenic route north to Mulhouse, southern Alsace, passing though lovely countryside, a defunct French border hut, then a few miles later a Swiss one, then yet another French one. Stopping at a vast L’Eclerc supermarket in Hirsingue, we drooled over the mind boggling variety of fabulous foods. The bakery/cafe’s wares looked sooo good, when we’d finished shopping, we had a quiche & salad lunch and bought 2two pastries for pudding later on.

We decided not to spend any time in’s big and with a few exceptions not particularly attractive. However the Cite de l’Automobile museum, which they claim to be the largest car museum in the world (yet there were no American cars at all) was on the outskirts of town. The collection of over 600 cars, originally obtained by a pair of local, industrialist brothers ranged from early wooden wheeled steam cars to the latest and fastest car in the world.....a Bugatti. In fact the main feature was the Bugattis, a particular passion of the Schlumph brothers. We very much enjoyed our 3 hour visit and from there drove to the first of the villages on The Alsace Wine Route. This route which stretches up to Strasbourg, not only cuts through vast vineyards but is dotted with quaint little villages along the way. We’ll also look forward to the prices being cheaper in France than in our half litre of local red wine at our cafe on Sunday cost 26 SF (about £18.50!) whereas the 5 litre box of French red wine we bought today cost 8.40 Euros, about £7.60 (our cartons of milk today cost 55cents Greece we sometimes paid 1.20 Euros). Also, it’s great having pate again for lunch.

Anyway, after all that we reached our Aires site at Thann at about 5.45 and parked up with about 25-30 other motorhomes (all French). We’re looking forward to exploring Thann and onwards tomorrow.

Thu 28....A disappointing start to our Wine Route. Thann was ok, an interesting filigree stone steeple to the church and a rather nice building with an unusual sort of domed roof called the witches tower...not much else. So onwards through various fairly plain/ordinary villages stopping at Soultz, as it read well in the blurb. Again, disappointing ....their “sights” were mundane and the town map muddley. In fact the route so far has not been a straightforward one to follow.....apart from copious sped-bumps, the signs are ambiguous and intermittent, resulting in our having to turn around a couple of times. Also, there didn’t seem to be that many vineyards and the scenery was only so-so. Feeling somewhat disheartened about this supposedly glorious wine route, we drove on.

On reaching the village of Rouffach, we got our first taste of things to come. We didn’t stop but passed slowly through the twisting streets, with marvellous buildings either side. More villages which warranted a notch or two on the Barber scale of note-worthiness, through Hussern-Les-Chateaux (the highest point on the wine route with far reaching (but hazy) views) and on to of the four Plus Belle Villages in the Alsace. We checked into a great little campsite (13 Euros a night) and after a suitable pause, cycled into the wonderful town. Eguisheim is a mediaeval village with narrow, concentric streets and lovely half timbered houses and all sorts of other delights....including a Dominican convent built in 1051. This circular village, with its ever-decreasing circles lends itself to being explored on bikes. We did the very outer circuit (where the moat would have been) then another cobbled circuit....superb, and yet another circuit. Tying up the bikes we explored the inner village on foot, admiring the delightful streets and houses........... apparently, we were too early for the promised abundance of flowers overflowing from tubs and windowboxes but we’re at the right time for the nesting storks, who build the most enormous nests atop high towers. The wine tasting cellers are plentiful, really old and very attractive. Finally, we finishing with a cool glass of wine, then back at the campsite to chill out and enjoy a quiet evening in.

Fri 29.......We have given a passing thought to all the excitement in the UK today with the royal wedding. We have neither seen nor read anything......not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Anyway today we have had a similar one to yesterday. We arrived in Colmar mid morning with its equally amazing buildings. Colmar is much bigger though and very much a proper town with shopping streets including well-known chains etc. We found an easy parking space, just by the centre of the old town. We wandered around a large covered market with foodstuffs so tempting, we sat at one of the little bars with hot ham & cheese croissants and a glass of wine. Colmar also has a canal running through it, creating what they call Little Venice; lined with pretty houses and a few restaurant by the water’s edge. We saw the house where Bartholdi was born...........the chap who designed and built the Statue of Liberty and admired the outside of a museum that used to be a Dominican monastery and now houses amongst other things, the Issenheim altarpiece, with panels painted by Grunewald in about 1510.

Moving on from Colmar, we rejoined the wine route, passing through yet more splendid villages and taking roads though hilly vineyards. We have ended up at a big Aires site in Kaysersberg........along with about 40 other motorhomes. The weather has been only so-so today.......warm but only sunny in parts..........hoping for a bright blue day tomorrow.

Sat 30....Yes, a sunny day. We cycled into town stopping to watch a stock feeding her baby in the huge nest, perched on the very top of a tall pointy tower. Kaysersberg was a pleasant surprise...a charming place, of course with a castle on the hill overlooking the village. We bought cakes for morning coffee.....a chocolate éclair for her and a Kugelhopf (raison & almond dome-shaped cake) for him.

Carrying on along the wine route we came across another gem that we hadn’t particularly ear-marked....Riquewihr. This town was almost too over the top! There were moments where it was all soooo perfect, you felt you had to be in Disneyland. There were plenty of people about, so having strolled around we decided to stop for lunch.....a ½ litre of beautiful white wine to accompany Tartes ultra-thin pizza type base with bacon bits/cheese and onions.....superb.

We finally drove on a mile or so to Hunawihr, where we had originally intended to stop as it’s a Plus Belle Village.....however, we didn’t think it as stunning as others and there was no-one about, so we drove in, round & out. We did stop for a stroll around at Bergheim, hoping to find ice-creams.....but the town was completely au naturel, hardly anyone about and certainly no ice-cream shops! So onwards ‘til we spotted an Aires sign at Chatenois where we parked up, chilled for a now gloomy inc. heavy shower, after which we set off into town for a look-see and dinner. The local church had 4 interesting pepper-pot towers at the base of the main spire.....the restaurant we chose was charming but we did remark how very different dining out in the Alsace is from our spit’n’sawdust, rickety table dining in Greece! We had a good meal and headed back to Hymie.............we only drove 33 miles today!

Sun 1 May....We by-passed several interesting villages, including one where due to roads being closed for some sort of parade, we got a bit stuck in the centre of town (incurring the interest of the gathered locals......embarrassing!) because we were headed for another Plus Belle Village....Mittelbergheim. Another drive in, round & out....not that special and not a soul around. On to Barr where we’d also intended to stop so we did.........again, a quick walk around revealed nothing special. Carrying on along the wine route we saw a poster at a round-about for a Fetes des Fleurs with drink & Tartes Flambee in St Nabor. We finally found an intimate group of about 60 locals eating and drinking a few trestle tables with a number of trolleys bearing plants for sale. Having taken the trouble to find the place, we were definitely not leaving without a drink! So feeling rather intrusive, we sipped local beer and chilled red wine before descending the hill and stopping at a picnic spot for lunch.

It was quite amusing as we munch our French bread, pate and Brie, to watch a French family unpack a new BBQ, screw it together get it going and cook their sausages.....they took lots of photos of each other with the BBQ pride of place.

Anyway we headed on for Obernai which was buzzing with locals enjoying a May Day festival. In the main square a giant puppet (and we mean giant.....about 14 metre tall) was paraded around the square with the aid of a mobile crane....arms, legs, eyes and mouth all moving to loud music.

We spent a lovely afternoon strolling around in the warm sunshine before returning to Hymie in an Aires site close to the centre. We’re hoping the festivities will carry on this evening, so we’ll venture into town again later.

Our Route (overnight stops in capital letters)
Since Verres....St. Vincent; Aoste; Grand St Bernard tunnel to Swizerland; Orsieres; Martigny; SAILLON
St Maurice; Monthey; Aigle; Montreux; Chatel St Denis; ROMONT
Payerne; Murten; Kerzers; Biel; Tavannes; Gorges de Pichoux; DELEMONT
Ferrette; Hirsingue; Altkirch; Mulhouse; THANN
Soultz; Westhalten; Rouffach; Haltstatt; Hussern-Les-Chateaux; EGUISHEIM
Wintzenheim; Colmar; Turckheim; Ingerstheim; KAYSERSBERG
Riquewihr; Hunawihr; Ribeauville; Saint-Hippolyte; CHATENOIS
Mittelbergheim; Barr; Saint Nabor; OBERNAI

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