The glories of autumn are only just starting to fade now as we head into the more changeable and darker days of November; nevertheless, when the sun shines it can still look wonderful at this time of year. Vineyards in particular are looking gorgeous during this season, especially when the morning or evening sun illuminates their full splendour in glorious technicolour. Although we’re not in a wine area here, the grape harvest is never very far away in this part of Europe.
One area that is particularly beautiful in the autumn is the Alsace Wine Route. This winding trail along the foothills of the Vosges Mountains in eastern France, stretches for 170km from Thann in the South, near Colmar, to Cleebourg in the north, located not far from Strasbourg. The Trail passes through countless and unfeasibly picturesque, flower-bedecked villages and walled towns, of ancient, half timbered houses. Alsace is a fascinating fusion of French and Germanic culture, although these days, French is the most widely spoken language of the inhabitants.
Wine making is an long established tradition in these areas, dating back to Roman times, with Riesling being the king of Alsace vintages. Other notable wines from the area include Sylvaner, Pino Blanc, Pinot Noir and the rich Gewürztraminer.
We spent an autumn week around the towns of Kaysersberg and Kientzheim. Back in the mists of time, I’d been dumped there for a day as an undergraduate Geography student to carry out a day’s fieldwork – I never thought that nearly 35 years later, that I’d be back again with my own family in tow. We had a great few days exploring the pleasant uncrowded surroundings of the old Alsace wine villages and surrounding countryside. I love the sense of history in this Region and the picture postcard setting of the villages – a scene seemingly straight from the Middle Ages.
Not far away from Kaysersberg, the crest of the Vosges mountains, provides a superb vantage point to survey the landscape, with extensive views out over the Rhine Valley to the distant ranges of the Black Forest and the Alps. Here, it’s possible to climb out above the mists of the lower valleys and to enjoy some fine autumn sunshine and the bright colours of the heathlands, particularly the orangey-red tints of the blueberries (or the blaeberries for you Scottish folk). The view, looking out over the cloud inversion was really quite spectacular and reminded me of Casper David Friederichs iconic romantic masterpiece “Wanderer above a Sea of Cloud”. My son even posed as a Casper David silhouette just for the occasion.
One destination not to be missed in the area is the spectacular Chateau Haut Koenigsbourg. This spectacularly located stronghold, perched high on a hilltop overlooking the Rhine Valley was occupied during the Middle Ages, before being abandoned during the Thirty Years War. Around 1900 it was lovingly restored at the request of Kaiser Wilhelm II, to be the embodiment of a romantic medieval castle from the High Middle Ages. Although the restoration was somewhat fanciful to say the least, it does somehow capture the spirt of the time. In that respect Haut Koenigsbourg will fulfil every child’s dream of how a medieval castle really should be, even if that’s not entirely accurate.
With half a million visitors annually, don’t necessarily expect to have the place to yourselves. However, we were lucky to find it relatively quiet on such a fine autumn day. The view from the battlements over the golden vineyards of the Vosges foothills to the distant Black Forest was really quite breathtaking – easy then, to transport yourself back in time to those heady days of knights, dragons and maidens in distress…