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Exploring Alsace by bike

Pedalling back through time

Alsace is an extraordinary region. After centuries of military feuding and war between France and Germany, you could say it’s a region with a split personality. Better though, to view it as a region that blends the best of both in its culture, food, wine and general attitudes to life.

In the French manner, Alsatians have a deep love of food and an eye for the elegant. Like the Germans, their villages, chocolate box houses and profusions of hanging baskets are kept immaculately neat and tidy, in keeping with all the usual stereotypes. 

As a region, Alsace is all too often overlooked by Brits – perhaps as being ‘neither France nor Germany’. But this charming corner of France offers something truly different to anywhere else in France.

Strasbourg
Strasbourg

The classic Alsace terrain is to be found broadly from Strasbourg in the north to Colmar to the south and it borders the Rhine and Germany’s Black Forest with the foothills of the Vosges tempting you to explore ancient forests, fairy-tale castles and incredible views.

Largely agricultural, dotted with impossibly picturesque villages with quaint half-timbered houses, bedecked with flowers in summer and offering a huge choice of hostelries and restaurants, this is magnificent cycling country. What a place to jump on a bike and enjoy some gentle pedalling, seemingly back through time itself.

There are all manner of reasons to do so. Here are a few of our favourites.

Colorful Town of Riquewihr
Colorful Town of Riquewihr

Harvest time

The grape harvest, or vendange, is always a big draw – think timeless scenes of busy workers toiling among the vines to bring in the masses of ripe grapes in a labour of love. As the wine is pressed, the smell of fermenting juice permeates every village and greets you around every corner and over the brow of every hill. 

More prosaically, the Alsace cabbage harvest is no less important to many communities, indeed to Alsace regional identity. The story goes that pickled cabbage came to Alsace courtesy of the Huns, whose leader, Attila, headed west after coming up against the Great Wall in China. There the culinary process proved invaluable in inhospitable surroundings and was transported east to west by the marauders.    

Route du Vin

The Alsace Wine Route stretches for 170 km and links fascinating vineyards and delightful scenery. The route winds around the Vosges, follows former railway tracks, stretches of Roman road and paths running through the vineyards.

The region is noted primarily for its white wines: fresh, fruity, crisp and zingy. They are aromatic and mostly dry, from the everyday value of the Pinot Blanc, through flinty Rieslings which can attain star quality to the Alsace classic Gewürtztraminer, uniquely spicy and capable of being one of the world’s great wines, given a good vintage and expert vinification. 

The sparkling Crémant d’Alsace is refreshing and zippy, made in the Champagne method. And yes, some reds are produced, though the northerly location restricts the ripening process so Alsace reds are typically light in body though juicy and refreshing.

Famouse Alsace wine route
Famouse Alsace wine route

Memorable cycle routes

Alsace features a wide range of cycling routes from tracks and paths, some running along canals, to roads varying from the moderately busy to the near-empty. As you’d expect, the distances between vineyards are not far and are usually rolling hills so expect some degree of modest endeavour, though hopefully not for long! 

Wonderful cuisine 

There is life beyond cabbage and Alsatian cuisine lifts the humble cabbage to sublime levels. Notably choucroute, usually accompanied by boiled potatoes and typically sausages or other meats. The flamekuche is almost a pizza, thin, crispy and with a variety of toppings.

Alsace is a paradise for hefty puddings, perfect for cyclists with cycling to do the next day. Look out for Kugelhopf, a cake featuring raisins, almonds and brandy – perhaps not ahead of a few hours pedalling though. On a more healthy level, look out for all kinds of mountain fruits, such as blueberries and plums, including the famous yellow Mirabelle (often featured in a fiery, warming digestif). 

Christmas markets

Alsace does Christmas, and especially Christmas markets, on an epic scale. Towns and villages are transformed into fairy-tale settings, with sparkling lights, fragrant spices hanging in the air and all kinds of traditional activities and festive food and drink on offer. Wandering around the ancient village centres you are transported back several centuries in an eerie, glittery time-warp. 

Strasbourg Christmas Market
Strasbourg Christmas Market

Further reading: https://bellefrance.com/holida...

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