Dionysus Is Alive and Well in Alsace, France

The most famous Wine Route in France proudly reveals its medieval châteaux, colorful half timbered and Renaissance houses. Cobblestone paths lead to flowery lanes in charming villages. Alsace, France is a land of tradition and wine, offering a very unique and memorable experience for the visitor. This route was established as a tourist route in 1952. It winds through sloping valleys along the foothills of the Vosges Range which is home to traditional gastronomy and travelers along the way are invited to sample the excellent cooking in the region’s many farm inns. Meandering through 70 wine growing villages and fortified towns such as Eguisheim, Kaysersberg Ribeauville and Riquewihr this is definitely a unique, “put it on the list” trip. The vintners organize wine and harvest festivals featuring folklore entertainment, processions and wine-tastings from April to October.

Wine Route

Cheese and Local Products

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” On my recent trip to the Alsace region at the end of March, the gray clouds and rain were constant companions but I felt privileged to be where a subtle mystical alchemy beneath the earth was taking place. Filling our senses was an exhilarating petrichor and the site of rich colors evenly lit by clouds acting as a natural diffuser. The entire wine route was on the verge of spring transformation yet one could only see rows and rows of thousands of dormant brown stalks and arched vines. Each appeared to have arms spread wide to receive the gifts nature bestows. I was in total awe when I learned that each and every branch along this vast route is pruned by hand. From December through March, there are several pruning systems employed. Two of the training systems I saw used were: Simple and Double Guyot depending on the type of grape and the variety of wine desired. The preferred method seemed to be the Double Guyot method which means that branches are pruned leaving only two n shaped branches with 8 – 12 “eyes” which are tied to horizontal steel wires in order to carry the fruit bearing shoots. There is a true wisdom and art involved with pruning. Done correctly, it will increase light distribution where the ratio of leaves to fruit bunches is maintained. It also serves to provide the control needed for the production of the highest quality of grapes. According to the Wine Doctor, “The vine’s vigor is not wasted on superfluous growth.”

Chapel on the Hill

Wine Route, Alsace, France

Heavens Reaching To Earth

Pruning

There are over 1000 wine producers offering tastings and tours. The French word frère comes from the Latin word frater which also means “brother”. Walking into the Bott Frères, we immediately felt like family with their warm welcome and hospitality. We shared stories, culinary interests and tasted the many different delicious pairings. Of course, all in the name of in depth research! The Bott Frères Alsace wines are imbued with knowledge acquired over nearly two centuries, an exceptional terroir, high quality grape varieties, and the Ribeauvillé microclimate. Generation after generation carries on the dedication to producing the finest of wines and after meeting several of the family members, it is easy to see why so many recommended this experience to us. Throughout the year, Bott Frères organizes events in harmony with the seasons. At 2:30 every day (except Sunday) visitors can take the tour to experience the magic of its cellars and hear a presentation relating how winemaking has changed over the years.

Bott Family Winery

Wine Label, Bott Winery

While I would love to see this famous wine route in the summer and fall, in early April I was able to understand the deep dedication and care that goes into wine growing in this region. I could clearly see the row after row of thousands of stalks and vines left to carry on an important legacy, all tended to by hand. When the grapes burst forth in the fall, they too will all be plucked off their vines by hand… hands strong and weathered but definitely the tools of the artist. As Ernest Hemingway said, “Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”

route des vins d'Alsace from Frances Schwabenland on Vimeo.

How to Get There
If you would like to add this to your itinerary of explorations, flights go into Strasbourg, France. Rent a car right outside the station and take in all the quaint villages along the Wine Route. Cycling or walking tours also provide another interesting way to see these beautiful sites. Untours Travel specializes in trips to this area. Stay with locals and travel at your own pace.

Gallery and Sales
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Travel Like I Have Never Experienced Before

A fairy tale village

One may never know the many people touched by a life well lived. The rippling effects can be far reaching into the future. In 1973, Hal Taussig gave his car to a hitchhiker and from that time on, he rode his bike to work. He was a giant of a man focused on living simply and forging connections across continents. He received a doctorate in education from the University of Penn. During the last phase of his teaching career, he traveled with his wife and youngest daughter to Europe for a sabbatical. He was able to stretch the family’s extremely tight budget by renting apartments in small villages in Switzerland, Germany, and France. At home in rural mountainside communities, he became an avid hiker, learned German, and made lifelong friendships that altered his worldview. By traveling close to the ground, taking local trains, shopping in the markets and getting to know a series of friendly hosts, he found what he considered a more meaningful and enlightening mode of travel. This cross-cultural connection prompted him to write his book “Shoestring Sabbatical” hoping to inspire others to travel this way. Before the “one click find it on the internet” and Air B&B, Hal being a true visionary, started “Untours” with his wife Norma in the 70″s. A company to offer a mode of travel that Hal pioneered: apartment stays in local communities in Europe that give travelers a more genuine experience and understanding of a place, its people, and its culture. This man from Media, Pa who died in 2016 and who I never have had the privilege to meet has opened new worlds for me.

I have been traveling since I was 18. Seems like only yesterday! I have traveled with groups and I have jaunted out into the world alone. There is very little thinking and leg work involved when with a group. All is set in place – times of arrival and return are given, sights to see or not see. When alone, it can be at times somewhat nerve wracking maneuvering through new worlds with much time spent researching and making reservations. Happily, now I have found the perfect blend of the two with Untours. This was my first time traveling with them and I am so excited to share my experience with those who may have that wanderlust spirit but like to be grounded securely.

Lunch with Vivianne

Alsace Dessert

My recent trip was to Alsace, France. Dodge Amaral, (dodge.amaral@untours.com ) was wonderful in setting the stage, sharing his vast experience and knowledge of the area, putting all the logistics in place and I went off with all tickets in hand. I received such a valuable guide book to the area covering everything from cultural etiquette, suggestions for things to do, how to handle tips etc. that we referred to many days. Untours provides that best of both worlds travel package. A representative in France is ready to meet the arriving traveler, “hold their hands” while obtaining the rental car and driving to the apartment “home away from home”. Rather than staying in a hotel, with hundreds of people, here in the beautiful town of Ribeauvillé, we had our own spacious apartment within a local villa all to ourselves. Marie Lauth and Dominique were our hosts. They greeted us with their own homemade apple cider, a bottle of wine and much kindness. There was so much attention to beautiful detail for us. Dominique was an architect and Marie Lauth is a talented artist with her work hanging on the walls. Beautiful drapes and table linens came from the very famous Beauville Linens (so much more on that to follow). Travel books were there for us to read each evening in our lovely living room. The kitchen had all the amenities we needed when we would return home each day with fresh baked bread, cheese, local wines and fresh fruit from the market. Towel warmers and huge down comforters easily took away the chill of the day and each morning we looked out to their lovely garden and vineyard awaiting the birthing of spring. They were there for us if we had any questions and we felt so comfortable coming and going at our own pace. We shared lives, countries, photographs in frames and photographs on the phone with this wonderful couple who fast became our friends. Vivianne Beller was the UnTours representative in France. We met with her over lunch and thank heaven the French take two hours for this meal because she was a fascinating companion. She was an American living in France after marrying her husband and she related and conversed so easily, guiding us along with suggestions to make the most out of our trip. She is there for all Untours travelers and will plan a lunch meet up to help everyone in that same way. I loved the freedom of planning where we would go each day and doing it our own time. If we got lost on a country road or took several hours to totally enjoy the French cuisine, no one was waiting on a bus for us. We set our itinerary. We meandered through the beautiful and quaint towns in the Alsace region in our own way and knew wonderful locals were just a phone call away if needed.

One of the oldest family run vineyards in Ribeauville, France

At the time of Hal’s death, he was an accomplished businessman, a fervent booster of Fair Trade, an activist for socially responsible business, and an early micro-enterprise investor before micro loans were really even thought of. His Untours Foundation, created with the profits of his successful tour company, has lent over 7 million dollars to small startups and businesses around the world to create jobs and economic opportunities for those most in need. In 1999, Paul Newman and John F. Kennedy Jr. awarded Untours with the title “Most Generous Company in America.” He was given the Spirit of Philadelphia Award in 2007 and at the following year’s Philadelphia Sustainability Awards, Hal was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his ongoing commitment to social justice. I never met Hal Taussig but this man’s vision, ideas and ideals have very much touched my life and now the way I travel. Thank you so much Hal!

Home in Colmar, France