Bethpage Memorial Day Weekend Airshow at Jones Beach Kicks Off Long Island Summer

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

US Navy Blue Angels headline the 20th anniversary Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island, over Memorial Day weekend © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the best airshows in the world happens right in our own backyard each Memorial Day weekend: the Bethpage Jones Beach Air Show, celebrating its 20th anniversary, cannot be beat for spectacular aeronautical feats amidst the ambiance of Jones Beach, where you see the action right in front of you, just above the ocean and stretching to the horizon. The intense action is so close, you often can see the pilots in the cockpits, and so fast and daring, it takes your breath away. The event takes place from 10 am to 4 pm on Saturday, May 25 and Sunday, May 26 (insiders tip: there is a rehearsal/practice run on Friday).

US Navy Blue Angels in their F/A-18 Super Hornets demonstrate their legendary precision at the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island, over Memorial Day weekend © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The show this year is headlined and climaxed by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels – a team of six performing their heart-stopping maneuvers in their F/A-18 Super Hornets. They are famous for the Diamond formation, when they fly as close as 18 inches apart, but what most excites me is when the two solos fly extraordinary maneuvers, including coming at each other at 300 mph. Don’t blink or breathe or you will miss it!

US Navy Blue Angels in their F/A-18 Super Hornets demonstrate their legendary precision at the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island, over Memorial Day weekend © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
US Navy Blue Angels in their F/A-18 Super Hornets demonstrate their legendary precision at the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island, over Memorial Day weekend © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The airshow traditionally opens with the United States Army Golden Knights Parachute Team, who launch out of a plane some 25,000 feet high, stream down at 200 mph, and float down into the crowd on the beach carrying the American and POW flags. The Golden Knights portray the image of being the most formidable parachuting competitors and demonstrators in the world today

The U.S. Army’s Golden Knights parachute team opens the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach this Memorial Day weekend © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

American Airpower Museum Warbirds, flying vintage WWII fighters and patrol planes, pay homage to Long Island’s historic role as the nation’s arsenal of democracy. Republic Aviation, the complex in Farmingdale where the AAM stands now, produced over 9,000 P-47 Thunderbolts, and today the museum’s collection preserves the heritage and history.  The Warbird performance will conclude with a precision aerobatic demonstration of one of the museum’s legendary WWII Fighters.

Three World War II planes from The American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale circle over the crowd including a Douglas C-47, a supply and troop transport plane with stripes on its fuselage so allies knew not to shoot it down. The others were a British Curtis P41 Warhawk and a P-51 Mustang © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The American Airpower Museum has events scheduled from Friday through Sunday, and is where you can even see participants in the air show take off and land, and even take flights in vintage aircraft. (More details below, www.americanairpowermuseum.org, 631-293-6398.)   

The US Navy’s F-35 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

U.S. Navy F-35C Lightning II Demonstration Team and Legacy Flight shows off the capabilities of this 5th Generation fighter. The F-35C is the world’s most advanced multi-role fighter. With a top speed of 1,200 mph, the F-35C is even capable of setting off sonic booms. The F-35C has the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history, giving pilots 360-degree access to “real-time” battlefield information. The demo will feature a Legacy Flight formation, providing a unique comparison between the past and present.

U.S. Air Force A-10C Thunderbolt II Demonstration Team and Heritage Flight showcases the combat capabilities of the A-10 “Warthog”  by performing precision aerial maneuvers.  Additionally, the team brings attention to the Air Force’s history by flying formations with historical aircraft in the Air Force Heritage Flight.

Long Island’s own David Windmiller performs at the Memorial Day weekend Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Long Island’s own David Windmiller, who began flying when he was just  14 years old, soloing for the first time on his 16th birthday, performs aerobatics in his Zivko Edge 540, thrilling spectators with seemingly impossible feats. Equipped with a custom built project engine of Teledyne, thrust to weight ratio over 1:1,  Windmiller’s plane has a climb rate of 3,700 feet per minute, and a rote rate of 420 degrees per minute, making his plane the ideal aircraft for aerobatic flight.

Mike Goulian, the most decorated aerobatic pilot in North America, performs at the Memorial Day weekend Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mike Goulian earned the distinction of becoming one of the youngest pilots to ever win the United States Unlimited Aerobatic Champion at the age of 27. His signature air show performance combines the heart-stopping gyroscopic tumbling of modern display flying with the crisp, aggressive, demands of precision competition aerobatics.

Warbird Thunder’s formation aerobatic routine is fast paced and entertaining © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Warbird Thunder features the North American SNJ Texan, an aircraft used to train “The Greatest Generation” for WWII and Korean Conflict. The performance features two SNJs, performing formation aerobatics offering a great spectator experience due to the aircraft’s large physical size, beautiful radial engine sound, and fantastic smoke presentation. The SNJ was nicknamed “Ol Growler” because of its distinct deep and throaty roar. Warbird Thunder’s formation aerobatic routine is fast paced and entertaining. The two aircraft perform formation loops, aileron rolls, barrel rolls, and Cuban Eights and thrilling opposing aerobatics.

The world-famous Skytypers, who are based at Republic Airport (and basically invented and patented skytyping) demonstrate thrilling combat maneuvers in their flight squadron of vintage WWII aircraft © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Skytypers – my personal favorite – is a flight squadron of vintage WWII era U.S. Navy SNJ-2 trainers that perform low-altitude precision-formation maneuver mimicking the tactics and maneuvers utilized during WWII air battles. The Skytypers may be most famous for their skytyped messages in the sky which can be seen for nearly 400 square miles.

The world-famous Skytypers, who are based at Republic Airport (and basically invented and patented skytyping) demonstrate thrilling combat maneuvers in their flight squadron of vintage WWII aircraft © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Farmingdale State College Aviation Center students demonstrate the prowess learned at  the largest collegiate flight school in the Northeast region, and the only SUNY School to offer a 4 Year Degree Program in Aeronautical Science, the Aviation Center averages 5,800 Flight Hours a Year in Solo and Dual Flight Instruction.

106th Rescue Wing, NY Air National Guard HC – 130 / HH 60 Formation provides a demonstration of how it provides combat search and rescue coverage for U.S. and allied forces worldwide. In December 1994, the 106th established the record for the longest over water helicopter rescue mission when it saved a Ukrainian sailor in the icy waters off the North Atlantic. The 106th may be best known for a mission during a 1991 storm made famous by the movie “The Perfect Storm”. The HH-60 is tasked to perform day and night personnel recovery operations in hostile environments to recover isolated personnel during war, civil search and rescue, medical evacuation, disaster response, humanitarian assistance, security cooperation/aviation advisory, NASA space flight support, and rescue command and control.

Take advantage of the Bethpage Air Show Mobile App. Text ‘Airshow’ to 516-842-4400 to download the app for performer and sponsor information, a site map, helpful FAQs. (Available from the App Store and Google Play.)

The event has drawn as many as 444,000, and last year attendance totaled 351,000, so arrive early (parking fee is $10).

Alternate the experience with a visit to the American Airpower Museum, right across from Republic Airport, where many of the air show participants fly from to the show, where you can see the vintage aircraft in the Heritage Flight and where all weekend long there are special events, including an opportunity to meet members of the USAF A-10 Demo Team from.

American Airpower Museum Offers Close-Up Views, Activities During Memorial Day Weekend Jones Beach Air Show

American Airpower Museum’s “Warbirds” take off for the Memorial Day Bethpage Air Show © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Farmingdale, NY– Memorial Day Weekend kicks off American Airpower Museum’s summer with its “Legends of Airpower WWII Warbirds” performing in the Bethpage Jones Beach Air Show, on Long Island, with activities that begin on May 24 (practice day) and continue through the festival weekend May 25-26. 

AAM’s legendary warbirds including the WWII B-25 Mitchell bomber, North American P-51D Mustang, Grumman TBM-3E Avenger Torpedo Bomber, and Curtiss P-40M Warhawk “Flying Tiger,” will take to the skies over Republic Airport on Friday, May 24th, (practice day) plus Saturday to Sunday, May 25th/26th, for the Jones Beach Air Show.  Additional aircraft will be in the air including AAM’s WWII North American AT-6 Trainers, Vietnam era AT-28D Nomad and our Cold War era L-39 Jet Fighter/Trainers. 

Military aviation enthusiasts can share AAM’s WWII C-47 80th Anniversary D-Day Living History Experience, when WWII Airborne reenactors interact with visitors on Saturday, May 25th.

Flight experiences are also available each day on one of AAM’s AT-6 Texans, plus its red WACO Biplane.

Watch AAM’s awe-inspiring aircraft take off to perform practice flybys over Republic all day Friday, May 24th.  Get up close and personal with these historic bombers and fighters of yesteryear.  Then come to AAM to catch more aerial action Saturday and Sunday, as AAM’s warbirds lift off to perform in the air show. 

Throughout the weekend, visitors will be enthralled as US Navy Blue Angels, USAF A-10 “Warthog” and the ever-popular Skytypers, take off and return at Republic Airport. Blue Angels practice on May 24th.  You can witness the museum’s Warbirds and US military aircraft take off and land from its flight line on Saturday and Sunday for the Jones Beach Airshow. 

Visitors to AAM will also have opportunities to meet members of the USAF A-10 Demo Team. The team is appearing at the Jones Beach Air Show for the last time this year before being disbanded, as A-10s are retired from the USAF inventory.  The USAF A-10 Demo Team will operate out of their home base on the American Airpower Museum’s Ramp off New Highway, in Farmingdale, taking off and landing on May 24 (practice day) plus May 25 and 26 for their Jones Beach Airshow performances.  

The A-10 takes off from the American Airpower Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Of historical significance is that these Warthogs will be operating from the very grounds they were developed and built on – and with this final performance, they honor the legacy of all those from Long Island who worked at Fairchild Republic.

AAM President Jeff Clyman says the goal for this three-day extravaganza is two-fold.  “To honor the men and women of the ‘Greatest Generation’ who built, maintained and piloted the iconic warbirds of yesteryear, in a bold defense of freedom during WWII, as well as active-duty military, reservists and the national guard, who continue this mission today.”  Clyman said that public support strengthens AAM’s mission to educate the next generation about American military aviation history, and will also help maintain the Museum’s iconic aircraft.  “Help keep ‘em flying,” he added.

As a special promotion, every paying Museum guest (18 and over) Friday through Monday, is entered to win a Cockpit USA “made in the USA” leather flight jacket.  Cockpit USA, sponsor of the American Airpower Museum, is official supplier to the United States Air Force of A-2 leather flight jackets.  Various genuine leather flight jackets and other militaria specially priced and on sale all weekend, can be purchased at AAM’s gift shop.

Park for FREE in AAM’s lot or along New Highway.  Food and Ice Cream trucks are available onsite.  AAM is also open Monday, Memorial Day, closing at 4:00 p.m.

Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Monday 4 p.m.). Tickets and preregistration not required.  Regular admission is $15 for Adults, $12 for Seniors and Veterans and $10 for children ages 3 to 12.  

American Airpower Museum at Republic Airport, Hangar 3, 1230 New Highway, Farmingdale, NY 11735, (631) 293-6398,  www.americanairpowermuseum.org.

The American Airpower Museum, Long Island’s only flying military aviation museum (“Where history flies”) is located on the landmarked former site of Republic Aviation at Republic Airport, Farmingdale, NY.  The Museum maintains a collection of aviation artifacts and an array of operational aircraft spanning the many years of the aircraft factory’s history.  The Museum is a 501 (c) (3) Nonprofit Educational Foundation Chartered by the New York State Board of Regents.

Summer on Long Island

Jones Beach State Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Jones Beach Airshow is Long Island’s kick-off to summer.

Jones Beach State Park is a world-class beach destination, with 6.5 miles of white-sand beach,  oceanfront, miles-long boardwalk for biking and walking, 2,400 acres of maritime environment. Eat at the Boardwalk Café and at the Gatsby on the Ocean Restaurant and ice cream shop; swim in the pool, enjoy the new WildPlay Adventure Park with zip lines (https://wildplay.com/jones-beach/, 800-668-7771); play miniature golf, shuffleboard, basketball, corn hole, paddle tennis, table tennis, pickleball, playgrounds, splashpad and concerts on the boardwalk and the Northwell Theater; learn about the marine environment at the Jones Beach Energy & Nature Center.

Biking the path along Ocean Parkway from Jones Beach to Captree State Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Jones Beach is also at the middle of Bike Long Island’s premier bike path, from Cedar Creek Park in Seaford, 5.4 mile ride to Jones Beach’s East Bathhouse on the Boardwalk, then 9.4 miles along Ocean parkway to Captree State Park. (You can also connect with the Bethpage State Park bike path.)

Biking on the Bethpage State Park trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Other stellar Long Island attractions and events this summer:

Cradle of Aviation Museum was established to commemorate Long Island’s part in the history of aviation and offers 75 air and space craft and galleries chronicling 100 years of aviation on Long Island. a digital planetarium and theater (films “Superhuman Body” and “Cities of the Future”). Charles Lindbergh Blvd, Garden City, NY 11530, 516-572-4111, www.cradleofaviation.org.

The lunar module built on Long Island by Grumman is on view at the Cradle of Aviation Museum, Uniondale © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Long Island Children’s Museum offers 14 interactive exhibits plus live theater, art spaces and daily activities to provide hours of exploration, engagement, and enchantment for children. At LICM, a 40,000 sq. foot facility, children discover their passions and their relationship to the world we share through creative educational programs and cultural experiences that accommodate all backgrounds and abilities. Also enjoy the historic Nunley’s Carousel, one of three intact Stein & Goldstein carousels still in existence. (Long Island Children’s Museum, 11 Davis Ave., Garden City, NY 11530, 516-224-5800, www.licm.org)

Creative play at the Long Island Children’s Museum, Uniondale © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Old Bethpage Village Restoration, one of my favorite places in the world, is a living history museum, where costumed interpreters and artisans and every home and structure tell a story. Upcoming events include Decoration Day (May 25-26); Revolutionary War encampment Weekend (june 1-2), Marching through History (June 15-16); Cowboy Mounted Shooting Show (June 29, 10 am-2:30 pm); 1864 Independence Day Celebration (July 6-7); Grand Army of the Republic Encampment (July 20; raindate July 21); Olde Time Baseball Tournament (Aug. 3-4); Olde Time Music Weekend (Aug 17-18); Long Island Fair (Sept. 13, 15); 1880s Haunted Halloween (Oct. 26-27). For information and tickets, https://www.oldbethpagevillagerestoration.org/events. (Old Bethpage Village Restoration, 1303 Round Swamp Road, Old Bethpage, 11804, 516-572-8409, Email: [email protected]).

Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame is where you can see and appreciate the artistic accomplishments and heritage that have come from Nassau, Suffolk, Queens and Brooklyn, through permanent collection and special exhibits at its first permanent location in Stony Brook. To date, LIMEHOF has inducted more than 120 musicians and music industry executives, and offers education programs, scholarships, and awards to Long Island students and educators.  (97 Main St., Stony Brook, NY 11790, [email protected]631-689-5888, www.LIMEHOF.org)

Billy Joel, attending the opening of an exhibit of his life at the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame, is the honoree at the museum’s 20th anniversary with a concert gala being held at Tilles Center, June 7 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame (LIMEHOF) will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a concert gala in honor of Billy Joel at Tilles Center for the Performing Arts at LIU Post (720 Northern Blvd., Brookville, NY) on June 7th, 2024, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets on sale at tillescenter.org or ticketmaster.com, at Tilles Center’s Tantleff Box Office or call 516-299-3100.

Adventureland, Long Island’s destination amusement park since 1962, offers 30 adult and kiddie rides, including FireBall, North America’s first and only rollerball coaster, and Turbulence, Long Island’s only spinning roller coaster, and water rides and kiddie rides. Two new rides were unveiled this 2024 season: Moon Chaser and the Jr. Pirate Ship. (2245 Broad Hollow Road (RT. 110), Farmingdale, NY 11735,  631-694-6868, Email: [email protected], https://adventureland.us/).

Splish Splash, with 96 acres of slides and attractions, is the largest waterpark in the tri-state area, offering 20 water slides including high-speed slides like Bombs Away, Riptide Racer, and Bootlegger’s Run, the first water coaster in New York with breathtaking drops), two wave pools, a large Kiddie Area, lazy river (Located just off the Long Island Expressway, Exit 72 West, Calverton, www.splishsplash.com).

For more summer adventure: Long Island’s Wine Country with more than 75 wine producers along the North Fork, South Fork, and western Suffolk County; Montauk Point, the Hamptons,  Fire Island, plus Long Island’s historic lighthouses and mansions.

More ideas from Discover Long Island, 330 Motor Parkway, Suite 203, Hauppauge, NY 11788, 877-386-6654, Email: [email protected], www.DiscoverLongIsland.com

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© 2024 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

Hyéres: The French Riviera Without the Glitz or the Crowds

Plage de la Madrague, at the end of our hike along the Sentit Litoral © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Laini Miranda & Dave E. Leiberman, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Is it possible to experience the blue waters, amazing seafood, and slow pace of a French Riviera vacation without the glitz and crowds? It is if you visit the port town of Hyères, jutting off the southern coast of the Cote d’Azur between Lavandou and Cassis. We went in late September when the crowds of the high season had vanished and the weather was still warm enough to lay on the beach and enjoy bathtub temperature waters. 

We arrived on a Tuesday and drove straight to the Vieille Ville (Old Town), leaving our car just beyond the pedestrian streets. Colorful pastel walls line the streets, with classic Provençal shops interspersed with boutiques,artist galleries, and medieval buildings, including a 12th century Knights Templar Tower-turned exhibition space. 

Place Massillon in the center of Vieille Ville, complete with cafes, artesan shops, and the 12th-century Tower of Saint-Blaise © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The town still recalls its 19th century heyday when artists and writers like Picasso, Dalí, Tolstoy, and F. Scott Fitzgerald used to vacation here. The narrow streets are filled with artisans sharing their work and wares. There is even a “Parcours des Arts”, a route that takes you passed dozens of artist studios and galleries. We loved learning about the history and design of boomerangs at Wallaby Boomerangs with Stéphane Marquerite, a professional boomerang player and maker whose gallery also houses examples from throughout history and from across the world.

Stéphane Marquerite tells us about his collection of handmade boomerangs from around the world at Wallaby Boomerangs, part of the “Parcours des Arts” in the Vieille Ville © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are 5 main sections in Hyères: Old Town, the port, El Capte, Giens, and Toulon. Giens and Toulon are connected to the Port by a long skinny stretch of land with salt flats on the east and the long sandy Place d’Almanarre on the west. Off the coast you will find three islands that make up Les Îsles d’Or (“Islands of Gold”): Porquerolles, Port Cros, and Levant.

The colorful streets of Vielle Ville, the old town of Hyéres © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We stayed on the Port, about 20 minutes driving from the old town and 10 minutes to Giens. Here we were closest to the ferries to Port Cros, one of the three main islands. There are also several excellent restaurants, including U Primu, right on the port with eclectic seafood-inspired dishes. 

El Capte is a small neighborhood just below El Port, and seems to have a busier nightlife with more restaurants and bars. L’Almanarre, on the other side of this strip, is a long stretch of golden sand and clear waters famous for kite surfing (don’t miss a chance to see them flying over the water on a windy day!).

Wandering the narrow streets of Vieille Ville, Hyéres © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Giens is a beautiful area at the bottom of Hyères with a few streets and a handful of restaurants that make up the center of this small village. Hotel Provençal is a popular hotel with a prized location and balcony overlooking epic views of the sea and islands in the distance. Make reservations in advance for a romantic dinner on their gorgeous balcony (but make sure you stop in if even just to check out the view). At the bottom of Giens you will find the Tour du Fond, where you will catch the ferry to Isle de Porquerolles. Also right near here is Plage Pradeau, a beautiful restaurant above the beach of the same name, serving the freshest fish as well as an extensive menu of inventive dishes. Be sure to book a table in advance. Ask for the table by the water if you want to have an intimate dinner surrounded by lush foliage just a few feet above the sea. 

Hiking the Sentit Litoral © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

La Madgrague  is on the west side of the peninsula and only has a few restaurants, but what it lacks in establishments it makes up for in its beaches. Here at L’Madrugue is where we picked up the Sentit Litoral, a breathtakingly beautiful hike around the peninsula. The full route is 6 miles, but you can choose to do as much or as little as you want. Our favorite part was the northeastern section with panoramic views of Ponte d’Chevale and some small islands just off the coast. On the day of our hike there were 30 mph winds on the east side of the peninsula, but the northwest was calm and delightful.

While there are many beautiful beaches in Hyères, one you must visit is the Isle de Porquerolles. A 20 minute ferry ride ($25 at the time of writing) brings you to an island with crystal clear waters and world class snorkeling. No cars are allowed, but you can easily explore the island by bike, which you can rent from one of several spots clustered at the edge of town just a few yards from where the ferry lets off.

Plage Notre Dame on the Isle de Porquerolles © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The most famous beach on the island is Plage de Notre Dame, a long, narrow stretch of clean sand and clear water. Make sure you bring plenty of water and snacks since here you are several miles from the nearest concessions. Another beach we enjoyed was Plage de l’Arent, with similarly clear waters and a slightly deeper shore than Notre Dame. Unfortunately we got here a little too close to the departing ferry hour to enjoy a meal at the beach bar there, but definitely plan to return for lunch on a future trip. 

In Hyéres you can experience the blue waters, amazing seafood, and slow pace of a French Riviera vacation without the glitz and crowds © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

With seven beaches, many hikes, a contemporary art gallery, and great boutiques and restaurants around a central town square, there is plenty to do here to warrant more than a day trip. There are a few hotels on the island ranging in prices, but we found most rooms to be booked at least two months out (even in low season), so plan in advance. Ferries run between Giens and Isle de Porquerolles every hour from 9am to 6:30pm.

Scouting the water before snorkeling at La Madrague, after our hike along the Sentit Litoral © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On a future trip we plan to also check out Port Cros, the “wilder” of the three main islands. Port Cros is an hour ferry ride from Hyères, has 2 small beaches, miles of rocky, steep hikes, and boasts some of the best snorkeling and diving in the world. Both the island itself and its surrounding waters are declared National Parks. Port Cros is also known for its several nude beaches. But if you’re specifically looking for an island to visit au natural, Isle de Levant, the furthest island from Hyères, is known as the nudist island, as clothing is optional from its beaches to much of the town itself. 

In Hyéres you can experience the blue waters, amazing seafood, and slow pace of a French Riviera vacation without the glitz and crowds © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

During our 3 weeks in France, Hyères was one of our favorite stops. We visited multiple towns and beaches of the Cote d’Azur, including Nice, Villefranche sur Mer, Eze, Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, Cassis, and Marseille. We actually found Hyères to have the most beautiful beaches in terms of soft sand and swimmable water. Of course, all of these places have plenty of picturesque shores, hip beach bars, and the posh ambience you think of when you picture the French Riviera. For this trip, however, we preferred the quieter vibe and golden sands of Hyères to the more common rocky shores of the rest of the Riviera and were thrilled to find this hidden gem.

Pro Tip: Download the app Windy to track the mistral winds while you’re visiting Hyères, or anywhere on the Cote D’Azur for that matter. If the wind is blowing from one direction, just go to the other side of the peninsula!

For more planning help, visit Hyères Tourist Office, Rotonde du Park Hôtel 16 avenue de Belgique Centre-ville 83400 Hyères, France,   https://cotedazurfrance.fr/en/offers/hyeres-tourist-office-hyeres-en-2915102/, www.hyeres-tourisme.com

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© 2024 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

Visiting Colmar, France, is Like Stepping into a Storybook

Maison Pfister is a centerpiece of Colmar, France and has become the historic city’s symbol © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Colmar, in France’s Alsace-Lorraine region, is a storybook village – its buildings literally decorated to tell a story. And when you wander around its narrow, twisting streets, you walk through 500 years of history, lose all sense of what century you are in and fall totally under its spell.

Almost miraculously, the city has managed to remain mostly unscathed through centuries of wars. So as you stroll around, you come upon architectural jewels from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. (You can follow a self-guided historic walking tour of silver Statue of Liberty figures in the pavement.)

I became curious about visiting Colmar when I saw a short report about it being the childhood home of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor who created the Statue of Liberty, and the images of how colorful and charming it was. I had to see if for myself.

So I take advantage of the ease of visiting Colmar from Strasbourg, the starting point for a European Waterways canal cruise through the Alsace Lorraine on its luxury hotel barge, Panache. It is just 45 minutes on the train, every half hour, a most enjoyable, comfortable and scenic ride, 28E roundtrip, no need to reserve – and  join the hordes of day-trippers exploring this  fairytale-like place.

It’s a short, pleasant walk from the Colmar train station into Le Petit Venise (Little Venice), the historic district (really similar to Strasbourg’s Le Petit France), and I am immediately enchanted.

Colmar is famous for its half-timbered houses and richly decorated merchants’ mansions. Some date from the Middle Ages, such as the Adolf House, the oldest in Colmar, built in the second half of the 14th century; and the “Huselin zum Swan” on Schongauer Street.

Maison Pfister, built in 1537, manifests exquisite art and design of the Renaissance© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Renaissance is on display in one of Colmar’s most magnificent structures, Maison Pfister with ornate bay windows (oriels), long wooden gallery and exquisitely painted murals, which has become a symbol of the city. Maison Pfister was built in 1537 for Ludwig Scherer, a wealthy hatter from Besancon. The paintings that decorate the façade, attributed to Christian Vacksterffer, represent 16th century Germanic Emperors, Evangelists, Church Fathers, allegorical figures and biblical characters and scenes. It is named for the merchant Francois-Xavier Pfister who acquired the mansion in 1841.

The exquisite paintings that decorate the façade of Maison Pfister © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I come upon a house at 34, rue des Marchands with a plaque dated 1435 and a note that says this was the residence of master painter Caspar Isenmann “(Zum Grienen hus”). Another marvelous structure is “Cour du Weinhof,” at 12-16 rue des Marchands, which is a medieval 14th century granary.

A plaque says this was the residence of master painter Caspar Isenmann “(Zum Grienen hus”), dated 1435 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A 14th century granary in Colmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

So many of the buildings are adorned with beautiful, even playful, whimsical decoration – as if there is a competition for who can have the prettiest or cleverest or most festive, or perhaps a public ordinance that requires everyone to be incredibly festive and clever. I wonder.

The whimsically decorated buildings make Colmar seem like a storybook © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The whimsically decorated buildings make Colmar seem like a storybook © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The whimsically decorated buildings make Colmar seem like a storybook © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I go in search of the intriguingly named House of Heads. Built in1609 in German Renaissance style, it has a three-story bay window, and a façade embellished with 111 heads and masks.

The intriguingly named House of Heads, Colmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You walk through a fabulous pedestrian zone -a listed “protected sector” – that takes you from the Middle Ages to the 18th century, from “Little Venice” to the Tanners district with its grand white-fronted houses.

Similar to Strasbourg, there are districts, or neighborhoods, built around trades.

Colmar’s Poisonnerie quay where fish caught mainly in the River Ill were stocked and sold, dates from the 14th century © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Poisonnerie quay where fish caught mainly in the River Ill were stocked and sold, dates from the 14th century. Part of this district was damaged in a major fire in 1706 but some houses were rebuilt. The whole area underwent urban revitalization from 1976 to 1981.

Colmar’s Poisonnerie quay where fish caught mainly in the River Ill were stocked and sold, dates from the 14th century © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Tanners Quarter, rounded by the Rue de Montagne Vertne, Rue des Tripiers, Rue des Tanneurs and place de l’Ancienne Douane, is the epicenter of the protected old town center. Its tall, timber-framed houses built during the 17th and 18th centuries, often have a final open-worked level which was used by craftsmen to dry their pelts. The district was restored 1968-1974.

The Tanners Quarter has been restored © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Koifhus (Old Customs house) completed in 1480, is the oldest public building in the city. The ground floor was used as a warehouse, where imported and exported goods were taxed. The floor was used for meetings of the deputies of the Décapole, the federation of the 10 imperial cities of Alsace, formed in 1534 and for the Magistrate. When the Revolution abolished commercial privileges, the building was used for other purposes. Around 1840,  the building was used as a theater and in 1848, the first office of the discount bank. The Koïfhus was occupied by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry from 1870 to 1930 and by a Catholic boy school and an Israelite school in the late 19th century. Today it is used for various public activities.

Colmar’s Covered Market: what is old is new again © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A marvelous place is The Covered Market, especially to pick up picnic fixings for lunch or snack. Designed in 1865, this building is made of bricks, with a metal frame has had several functions until being returned to its original purpose of market hall. About 20 merchants offer high quality products: fruits and vegetables, butchery, cheese dairy, bakery and pastry, fish and other terroir delights – yet another example of what is old becoming new again. (13 rue des Ecoles, Quartier de la Petite Venise).

I find a sensational patisserie that has the best croissants, which I munch just outside in a tiny park.

Musee Unterlinden

I wander a bit aimlessly, just soaking in the atmosphere, and find myself at one of Colmar’s most important museums, Musee Unterlinden.

Musee Unterlinden is housed in a 13th century convent building  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Founded in 1906, Musee Unterlinden is housed in a 13th century convent building that was linked to the former municipal baths building  by architects Herzog & de M Meuron, who added a contemporary extension. Within you wander through 7,000 years of history, culture and art from the prehistoric era to 20th century.

The museum is mainly known as a showcase of Rhenish Art, displaying a remarkable collection of paintings and sculptures of the Colmar region of the 15th and 16th centuries, a Golden Age for the Upper Rhine.

Musee Unterlinden’s star attraction is the celebrated altarpiece of Isenheim © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But its star attraction is the celebrated altarpiece of Isenheim, an exquisite polyptych created between 1512 and 1516 by the artists Niclaus of Haguenau (for the sculpted elements) and Grünewald (for the painted panels). It was created for the Antonite order’s monastic complex at Isenheim, a village about 15 miles south of Colmar, where it decorated the high altar of the monastery hospital’s chapel until the French Revolution.

Musee Unterlinden’s star attraction is the celebrated altarpiece of Isenheim © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Isenheim Altarpiece  is housed in the museum’s Medieval cloister, where you find the art of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, with works by Martin Schongauer, Hans Holbein and Lucas Cranach. The former baths building that opened in 1906 is used for special exhibitions, while the works of major 20th century artists including Monet, de Staël, Picasso and Dubuffet have a new showcase in the contemporary wing.

Musee Unterlinden’s star attraction is the celebrated altarpiece of Isenheim © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I wander down to the cellar of the former convent, and am fascinated to see its extensive archaeology section, with artifacts of the Haut-Rhin region dating back thousands of years. The collection has been expanding because of ongoing regional excavations. One section is devoted to prehistory and protohistory, the neighboring rooms to the Roman and Merovingian periods.

Musee Unterlinden’s star attraction is the celebrated altarpiece of Isenheim © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The extensive collection of historical objects and artifacts from domestic life and funerary contexts, mostly from the northern Haut-Rhine, presents an almost complete overview of the different stages of the region’s cultural evolution.

Musee Unterlinden’s collection of historical objects and artifacts presents an almost complete overview of the different stages of the region’s cultural evolution.© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I find it interesting to learn Unterlinden was founded by a man who was convinced of the importance of “making a contribution to forming and developing a sense of taste and beauty” and of “providing the lower classes with an opportunity to benefit from the knowledge and pleasures they are so often denied.” In 1847, Louis Hugot, archivist and the city librarian of Colmar since 1841, was inspired by his love of graphic art to establish the Martin Schoengauer Society with other local scholars. Two years later, the society published its plan to transform the Unterlinden Convent into a museum. 

Musee Unterlinden, Place Untrlinden, https://www.musee-unterlinden.com/en/home/.

Musee Bartholdi

The Musee Bartholdi inner courtyard is  where you see Bartholdi’s inspiring statue, “Grand soutiens du monde” – four women holding up the world © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The climax for my enchanting tour of Colmar comes when I (finally) find my way to the Musee Bartholdi (I seem to have overshot it a couple of times, even though everything is really close, even though there are metal markers in the street leading to the museum). The museum is housed in the childhood home of sculptor Frederick Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904), who created the statue we know as the Statue of Liberty, but was actually named “Liberty Enlightening the World,” unveiled in New York in 1886.

Bartholdi’s inspiring statue, “Grand soutiens du monde” – four women holding up the world © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bartholdi was the son of a councilmember who died in 1836 when he was just two years old. The family residence was built in the 15th century and transformed in the 18th century into an elegant hotel particulier (town mansion).

When Bartholdi died, his widow defied his wishes (he wanted her to create a museum for sculpture) and turned his Colmar family home into a museum as a tribute to him. Opened in 1922, the Bartholdi museum is entirely dedicated to presenting the artist’s work as well as his process, so you see models, drawings, engravings and photographs.  You also see family furniture and personal mementos.

Going through Bartholdi’s childhood home, you feel you get to know him © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You enter through an inner courtyard, where you see Bartholdi’s inspiring statue, “Grand soutiens du monde” – four women holding up the world (bronze 1902).

The collection is presented on three floors of the mansion and walking through the family’s rooms lets you see Bartholdi as a person, how his idealism was manifested in his art, and you realize that his true genius is how his art inspires that same idealism in the viewer.

A portrait of Frederick Auguste Bartholdi in the Bartholdi Museum, Colmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A whole room (surprisingly small, but that makes it more intimate) is dedicated to the Statue of Liberty – you see his inspirations and some early designs, and fantastic historic photos of its production in Paris. It is thrilling to see Bartholdi’s process for the Statue of Liberty, which he titled Liberty Enlightening the World.

Indeed, Bartholdi’s colossal Lady Liberty famously celebrates freedom, and most Americans believe his symbols refer to the American Revolution and independence from tyranny, especially since it was dedicated in New York 1886, a little over a century after the Declaration of Independence. But Bartholdi intended Liberty to commemorate America’s abolition of slavery as a result of the Civil War in 1865 – the idea for the monument originated in 1865 but was pursued only after the Third French Republic was established in 1870. We see a model of the statue that has Lady Liberty’s foot stepping on chains, as if to crush the chains of bondage.

A model of Bartholdi’s “Liberty Enlightening the World”shows Lady Liberty crushing chains of bondage © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lady Liberty stands 151 feet tall, and the top of her torch brings the statue up to 305 feet – the largest statue that had ever been completed up to that time.

There are also his models for Bartholdi’s monumental statue, Lion of Belfort, which is as precious to France as Lady Liberty is to America. Bartholdi served in the Franco-Prussian War and took part in the defense of Colmar. I read that Bartholdi was distraught over Alsace’s defeat and over the years, constructed monuments celebrating French heroism in its defense against Germany. Lion of Belfort, which he created from 1871-1880, symbolizes the French resistance against Prussia’s assault during the 103-day Siege of Belfort, December 1870 to February 1871.

Bartholdi’s “Le Martyr modern,” reinterprets the tragic myth of Prometheus© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Colmar had always celebrated its native son, Bartholdi, and he had erected statues in the city, including his earliest works. But in the 1890s, German authorities restricted Bartholdi’s residency permit in Alsace, because several of his public monuments demonstrated support for a French Alsace. The sculptor found it increasingly difficult to travel to Colmar. In light of this, the Schoengeuer Society’s decision to set up a Bartholdi Room in the Unterlinden Museum in 1898 was a courageous move.

Bartholdi collaborated with the Schoengauer Society early on – his first major sculpture was created for the Unterlinden Museum when he was just 18 years old – a plaster statue of the founder of the Unterlinden Convent, Agnes de Hergenheim (1852), as well as the monumental fountain in honor of Martin Schongeuer, erected in the cloister of the former convent (1863). Bartholdi donated several works to the society which were transferred to the Bartholdi Museum when it opened in 1922.

Following the re-annexation of Alsace and Moselle by Nazi Germany in June 1940, Colmar was once again under German rule. The museum was shut down. The German forces destroyed Bartholdi’s monuments in the city – the statue of General Rapp was smashed on September 9, 1940; the Bruat fountain was dismantled. Figures of the four continents in red Vosges sandstone were crushed.

Nazis crushed Bartholdi’s Figures of the four Continents  but residents saved the four heads © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But some Colmar residents managed to get to the site to save the four heads and a part of the foot, which they hid in their cellars. The fragments were returned to the city after the war (they are on view in the museum) and a new version of the fountain was erected in 1958.

The museum reopened in 1979, very likely spurred by preparations for celebrating the Statue of Liberty Centennial.

Metal images of Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty embedded in Colmar’s walkway lead the way to the Bartholdi Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

(We can see his works in the United States also: Marquis de Lafayette in Union Square, NYC; Bartholdi Fountain in the Botanic Garden, Washington DC.)

There is also a 12-meter high replica of the Statue of Liberty, sculpted to commemorate the 100th anniversary of sculptor Auguste Bartholdi’s death, located at the northern entrance to the town.

“Fontaine Schwendi”, depicting Lazarus von Schendi  (1898), in the Place de L’Ancienne Douane,  is one of Bartholdi’s works that can be found around Colmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The museum has a brochure (in French) with a map of where you can find Bartholdi statues and monuments around Colmar: Monument du Général Rapp – 1856 (first shown 1855 in Paris. Bartholdi’s earliest major work); “Fontaine Schongauer” – 1863 (in front of the Unterlinden Museum); “Fontaine de l’Amiral Bruat” – 1864; “Fontaine Roeselmann” – 1888; “Monument Hirn” – 1894; “Fontaine Schwendi”, depicting Lazarus von Schendi – 1898; Les grands soutiens du monde − 1902 (statue in the courtyard of the museum).

(Musee Bartholdi, 30 rue des Marchands, 68000 Colmar, https://www.musee-bartholdi.fr/)

Much of Colmar is a protected district, © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Another site I miss is the Synagogue. Built 1839-1842 on the site of an old farm, the synagogue of Colmar is the seat of the Israelite Consistory and the Grand Rabbinate of the Haut-Rhin.

I learn that the Jewish community was expelled in the 16th century, but returned to Colmar during the Revolution. The Rabbi was transferred from Wintzenheim to Colmar in 1823. The synagogue of Colmar was renovated in 1885 and an annex added in 1936. Used as an arsenal during the German occupation, the synagogue was restored after the war. It is the only synagogue in the region which has a bell tower. (3 rue de la Cigogne,)

Enjoy a boat ride to see Colmar from the river © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

Unfortunately, I leave Colmar before seeing its Illumination. The town is illuminated from nightfall on Fridays and Saturdays year-round and every evening during major events in Colmar such as the International Festival, Regional Alsace Wine Fair and Christmas in Colmar.

Another reason to look forward to returning.

For more information about Colmar’s museums: https://www.tourisme-colmar.com/en/visit/presentation/museums

For more visitor information, contact Tourist Office of Colmar, Place Unterlinden, +33 (0)3 89 20 68 92, [email protected], https://www.tourisme-colmar.com/en. The website is really helpful for planning: https://www.tourisme-colmar.com/en/visit/presentation/discover

See also:

DISCOVERING STRASBOURG FRANCE’S CULTURAL RICHES

TIME-TRAVELING THROUGH STRASBOURG IN FRANCE’S ALSACE-LORRAINE

_______________________

© 2024 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

Time-Traveling through Strasbourg in France’s Alsace-Lorraine

The spectacular panoramic view of Le Petit France from the terrace atop Vauban Dam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Staying over in the historic city of Strasbourg in France’s Alsace-Lorraine region, means that you can go out in the early morning, before the daytrippers crowd the streets, and soak in the atmosphere.

A cyclist rides through the Tanners Row, empty of people in the early morning © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I walk through Tanners Row, which in this early morning hour, is peaceful. A guy on a bike rides through, a reminder that this is still a neighborhood, a community.

I go to explore Strasbourg’s Les Ponts Couverts and the Vauban Dam, located a short distance from each other.

Strasbourg’s Les Ponts Couverts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Les Ponts Couverts (covered bridges) are three bridges spanning the River Ill, dominated by three imposing square towers, vestiges of the 13th-century city walls. A bit further, there’s a fourth tower nicknamed “the executioner’s tower.”

While I fruitlessly look for covered bridges, I finally realize that they were replaced in 1865 by these stone bridges without a roof (so not covered),where I am standing. As I observe the beautiful views from the bridge, a fellow tells me you can walk on the Panoramic Terrace on top of the Vauban Dam – in fact, the views from there are spectacular.

Statues stored in a cell within the Vauban Dam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A short walk from the bridge is the Vauban Dam. “The Great Lock” was built between 1686 and 1700 based on plans of Louix XIV’s military engineer, Vauban. Built with 13 arches, it was constructed so that they could flood part of the city to defend against an enemy attack.  It is fascinating to walk through – some sculptures just hanging about gathering cobwebs – but most marvelous is a rooftop terrace, laid out in 1965, which you can walk over for a spectacular panoramic view of the old city.

Looking out from the interior of the Vauban Dam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

From here, you can see the fingers of the River Ill coming together below you. (Pro tip: though amazing to see in the morning light, you are looking into the sun – the reflections on the water are amazing – but check it out in the late afternoon.)

The view of Le Petit France from the terrace atop Vauban Dam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Palais Rohan

One of the many jewels of Strasbourg is the Palais Rohan. Constructed between 1732 and 1742 from blueprints by Robert deCotte, First Architect to the King, it was built for Cardinal Armand-Gaston de Rohan-Soubise, Prince-Bishop of Strasbourg, modeled after Paris’ grand mansions.

Palais Rohan was constructed between 1732 and 1742 from blueprints by Robert deCotte, First Architect to the King, modeled after Paris’ grand mansions.© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Following the French Revolution, the palace became the Emperor’s royal residence, and after 1870, a museum. Today, the Palais Rohan houses three stellar museums: the Archeological Museum, the Museum of Decorative Arts and the Fine Arts Museum – just walking through the palace to the various rooms where the exhibits are displayed is a phenomenal experience.

(I have to rush through in the couple of hours before I need to get to the Regent Petit France Hotel where we are getting picked up for the European Waterways canal cruise aboard the Panache. It would have been better to have four hours.)

The art and artifacts are gorgeously presented in an exquisite palace. Definitely follow the helpful “My First Visit…” brochures which detail where to find the highlights.

The Museum of Decorative Arts is set in the historical royal apartments in the Palais Rohan, today with the juxtaposition of a modern art exhibit © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum of Fine Arts presents a fascinating overview of European painting up to 1870. Located on the first floor of the Palais Rohan, the museum offers a tour through the centuries and schools: Italian and Flemish Primitives (Giotto, Memling); Renaissance and Mannerism (Botticelli, Raphael, Veronese, Lucas de Leyde, El Greco); Baroque, Naturalism and Classicism in the 17th and 18th centuries (Rubens, Vouet, Zurbarán, La Belle Strasbourgeoise de Largillière, Canaletto, Tiepolo, Goya); 19th century (Delacroix, Chassériau, Corot, Courbet). 

Among the highlights is La Belle Strasbourgeoise, from 1703, a portrait of a woman from one of Strasbourg’s important families in the time of Louis XIV with her imposing two-cornered hat in black lace, painted by one of the best portrait painters of the time, Nicolas de Largilliere. Though the woman has never been identified, the painting has become a symbol of the museum, much as the Mona Lisa is to Le Louvre.

Museum of Decorative Arts is set in the historical apartments – so you visit the chambers of the King and the Bishop-Prince, with exceptional examples of “the princely style of life under the monarchy.” It continues into the wing of the old stables with a tour of rooms housing decorative arts collections tracing the diversity and development of applied arts in Strasbourg from 1681 to 1870 – world-famous Hannong ceramics, furnishings, sculpture and paintings, timepieces, metalwork, silver and goldsmith art, and a selection of mechanical toys from the Tomi Ungerer Foundation.

The Museum of Decorative Arts is set in the historical royal apartments in the Palais Rohan, today with the juxtaposition of a modern art exhibit © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The most interesting section is the Chamber of the Bishops – the suite of rooms forming the King’s apartments. Originally, there would have been portraits of bishops but in 1793, the paintings were burned by revolutionaries who replaced them with allegorical figures of the Civic Virtues, which is what we see today. One of the paintings dates from the First French Empire and displays the monogram of Napoleon I and the Empress Josephine.

Louis XV is said to have slept in this bedchamber during his visit to Strasbourg in 1744 and Marie -Antoinette in 1770 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the notable occupants of the King’s bedchamber were Louix XV, himself, who stayed here in October 1744, and the Daughines Marie-Josephe de Saxe in 1747 and Marie-Antoinette in 1770. The wood paneling is among the masterpieces of the French Rocaille style. Elaborately stylized shell-like, rock-like, and scroll motifs, Rocaille is one of the more prominent aspects of the Rococo style of architecture and decoration that developed in France during the reign of King Louis XV (1715–74).

Here, there is a disorienting melding of the old with the new: You go through the Royal Suite – bedchamber, Assembly Room which have been complemented with anachronistic modern art displays.

In the Decorative Arts Museum in the Palais Rohan, a room full of fascinating clockworks, including a cock clock and an astronomical clock, designed in the 16th century © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Seeing my interest, the guide directs me to a room with clockworks – the cock clock originates from the first astronomical clock dating from the 14th century of the Strasbourg Cathedral; in the center of the room are parts of the second astronomical clock designed in the 16th century by mathematician Conrad Dasypodius.

I visit a room that originally was the Prince-Bishops’ bedchamber, but when it was refurbished in the Imperial period, the bedchamber became Emperor Napoleon’s Morning Room and the antechamber of the Prince-Bishop became a small dining room. The decoration was damaged during bombing in 1944.

Emperor Napoleon’s Morning in the Palais Rohan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The entire Palais Rohan is an exhibit of decorative arts – it was built by Armand Gaston, Prince de Rohan Soubise, Bishop of Strasbourg from 1704-1713 who initiated the work. He wanted a building in the style of the Chateau at Versailles and commissioned plans from the King’s chief architect, Robert de Cotte. Construction, decoration and furnishing lasted from 1732-1742.

Archaeological Museum, the oldest of Strasbourg’s museums, was founded in the 18th century. It is fabulous. Housed in the basement of the Palais Rohan, the diversity and wide chronological range of the artifacts on display make it one of the most important archaeological museums in France.

The Archaeological Museum in the Palais Rohan has burial sites from the Bronze and Iron Age© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Archaeological Museum has fascinating exhibits that date back, remarkably, from 600,000 BC through the early Middle Ages (800 A.D.) You get insights into the daily life of Paleolithic hunters and the first neolithic farmers, Bronze Age and Iron Age burials, the everyday life of Gallo-Romans, and jewelry and weapons unearthed from Frankish and Atamanic graves.

Among the highlights in the The Archaeological Museum in the Palais Rohan is this chariot for traveling through the world of the dead © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the highlights: A chariot for traveling through the world of the dead, taken from tombs of Celtic princes from the Iron Age (750 BC-050 BC). And you can see the oldest tool in Eastern France – a chopper made of rock used for slicing or scraping, that was found at Achenheim and dated about 600,000 B.C. There is also a funeral headstone of a Gallo-Roman farming couple wearing their everyday clothes, that dates from the late 3rd Century A.D.

Palais Rohan, 2 place du Chateau Strasbourg, +33 (0) 3 68 98 50 00, www.musees.strasbourg.eu.

Musée Historique de la Ville de Strasbourg

After returning from the canal cruise aboard the Panache and before taking the afternoon train back to Paris, I find my way down this really colorful street off Cathedral Square (that’s saying something in Strasbourg) to the Historical Museum of the City of Strasbourg. It is also not to be missed (and try to see early in your visit).

The Musée Historique de la Ville de Strasbourg is housed in what once was the Grande Boucherie (slaughterhouse) © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You wouldn’t believe that the museum, founded in 1920, is housed in what was the Grande Boucherie (the city’s slaughterhouse) built 1587-1588; it was renovated and reopened in 2013.

Entering the Musée Historique de la Ville de Strasbourg is like entering a time machine that transports you to exciting, dramatic periods of France’s history: Gutenberg’s printing press and the rise of a printing/publishing industry in Strasbourg, and what that meant. The French Revolution. The 1870 Commune Revolt. World War I. The Nazi Occupation and resistance. The museum offers an engaging tour lets you discover nine centuries of Strasbourg’s existence through 1700 works on display –paintings, artifacts, possessions – and interactive and digital devices.

Strasbourg was a free city of the Empire, which meant it had its own walls and enjoyed the privilege of holding a market and minting its own coins. Strasbourg did not take an oath of loyalty to the sovereign and did not owe the sovereign taxes or military, except for an escort for his coronation. Such a “free city” was rare. On this basis, Strasbourg had an independent constitution that was considered highly democratic by the standards of the day.

A display of Jewish ritual objects on view in Strasbourg’s City Museum. Jews were expelled from the city in 1388. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

However, among those excluded from burgher status were servants, the poor and Jews, who were massacred in 1349, and after 1388, the survivors were denied the right to live in Strasbourg. The only activity Jews could lawfully engage in was usury (money lending), and certain trades. They could pursue these occupations in the city by day but had to leave in the evening. There is a moving display showing Jewish ritual objects (and as I had seen at the Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame, a collection of Jewish tombstones).

There is an excellent display about Gutenberg, who developed his printing process in Strasbourg between 1434 and 1444 (legend has it he was inspired by seeing a wine press), then returned to his hometown of Mainz where he published his first printed volume in 1454. Gutenberg’s technological revolution spread with lightning speed. In Strasbourg some dozen printing houses sprang up between 1460 and 1480. The first publications were religious books (bibles) , classical texts and calendars.

Johannes Gutenberg is said to have invented his printing press in Strasbourg, which became a major center for printing and publishing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The invention of printing, arbitrarily dated 1440, was celebrated in Mainz (as of 1837) and in Strasbourg, which raised the statue by David d’Angers honoring Gutenberg in 1840 (the statue we see today in Place de Gutenberg).

In the early days, printing was used to diffuse knowledge as well as criticism of the Church and of society in general. But authorities soon started printing decrees. In Strasbourg, the population was divided into six social classes – the first included servants and unmarried women; second class were day workers; third class were gardeners, and up to the sixth class, representing nobles, the Magistrate and jurists.

Laws promulgated by the municipality from 1531 onwards touched every aspect of life – religion, education, marriage, burial, use of inns, dress, begging, Jews, financial matters, games, behavior in the street, defamation, publishing.

One could say that the printing press enabled the “Rule of Law”.

Historical paintings of Strasbourg are on view in the City Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is fascinating to travel through time – through the Imperial period, the French Revolution, the Commune, the back-and-forth between being part of France and the German Empire, World War I, World War II and Nazi occupation.

I learn that 22 Novembre – the name of a main boulevard where my hotel, the Hannong, is – was the date in 1918 when the French Army entered Strasbourg. “For President Poincare, the enthusiastic reaction of the population was equivalent to a plebiscite. French became compulsory in schools and the civil service. Strasbourg, the regional capital, had to re-adapt to the French system of departments. Religion, important in both educational and political terms, had to make concessions to the secular state.”

The extensive exhibits focused on the World War II period are intense.

In July1940, once Petain had signed the armistice, Alsatians were encouraged by the Vichy regime to return to their homes – exceptions were Jews, “Francophiles” and French civil servants (30% of the population) – their property was seized, and what followed was “Germanization” of the population (again, since Alsace had gone back and forth between Germany and France).

In November 1944, Strasbourg was liberated from the Germans by General LeClerc. Strasbourg was bombed by both Allies and by Germans after being liberated in 1944.

The European Union was founded in 1992 – three of its institutions are based in Strasbourg: the European Parliament, the European Mediator and the Schengen Information Service.

“A day will come when war will seem as absurd and as impossible between Paris and London, St. Petersburg and Berlin, Vienna and Turin, as today it would be impossible and seem absurd between Rouen and Amiens, Boston and Philadelphia,” Victor Hugo said in the inaugural speech at the Congress for Peace, Paris, August 21, 1849.

I don’t even remember how many hours I spent here – the displays are really captivating.

(Information and portal to collections: https://en.musees.strasbourg.eu/museums)

Strolling around the historic district of Strasbourg to take in the fabulous architecture and ambiance takes on new dimension after visiting the City’s museum of history © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

More information at https://www.strasbourg.info and https://www.visitstrasbourg.fr.

Next: Stepping into the Storybook that is Colmar

See also:

DISCOVERING STRASBOURG FRANCE’S CULTURAL RICHES

_______________________

© 2024 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

Discovering Strasbourg France’s Cultural Riches

Strasbourg, France’s Notre-Dame Cathedral, as seen through the windows of Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I’ve come to Strasbourg, France, for a European Waterways canal cruise through the Alsace Lorraine on its luxury hotel barge, Panache. It is my practice now when connecting with a cruise or bike tour, to arrive at least a day early, especially when you have the opportunity to overnight in such a charming historic city as Strasbourg. That way I don’t have to worry about flight or weather delays and I can experience the destination in the morning and evening light, in peace and calm without the daytrippers, and have the time to really explore, discover and become immersed in its cultural riches.

The TGV train from Paris to Strasbourg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The TGV train ride was absolutely gorgeous. (Less than two hours from Paris, you go from Charles de Gaulle Airport into the Gare de Nord, then take an easy 15 minute walk to Gare L’Est – glad I pre-purchased my train ticket and reserved seat on raileurope.com). It is surprising to see how soon out of the bustling metropolis you are in pastoral countryside. We whisk passed solar arrays, wind turbines, cows in pasture, and see traditional villages at the far end of fields. It’s cinematic.

Leaving Paris for Strasbourg by train, you are soon in the pastoral countryside © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And I still get into Strasbourg in the afternoon with plenty of time to explore.

There is much to experience in Strasbourg and I will actually have part of four days here. We will be picked up in Strasbourg on the first afternoon and taken to Krafft to board  the barge hotel, Panache, and actually cruise back into Strasbourg on its first full day when we will have a walking tour and overnight on the canal. I will have much of a full day again at the end of the cruise, when we are delivered back to Strasbourg from Niderviller, before I take the train to Paris. I do a calculation and decide on my only full day in Strasbourg, after exploring the old city in the early morning, to hop on the train for a 45-minute ride to see Colmar, and still get to enjoy Strasbourg’s beauty at night.

Hotel Hannong is perfectly situated, walking distance to Strasbourg’s historic sites © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I must say I am clever about seeing Strasbourg, beginning with choosing a charming boutique hotel, the Hannong, which I find on hotels.com, right in the historic district and walking distance from the train station, so walking distance to everything I want to see, even walking back late at night. I am able to book a room ideal for a single person (it’s as big as a walk-in closet but has everything I need) for a very attractive rate. The pleasant stay, hospitable staff, and location add immeasurably to the way I experience Strasbourg and make the best of my time. (Hotel Hannong, 15, Rue du 22 Novembre,67000 Strasbourg, +33 03 88 32 16 22, hotel-hannong.com).

Strasbourg’s old city © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

So when I arrive, I  find my way to the Hotel Hannong (I’m disoriented and finally find someone to point me in the right direction (I’ve already downloaded directions but I don’t have internet), I drop my bag and go off to immerse myself in the old city’s charm.

Strasbourg’s picturesque Le Petit France is a UNESCO Heritage Site © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s just a couple of blocks to where Le Petit France begins, and I wander the narrow cobblestone streets, over bridges over the River Ill, where every turn reveals a picturesque scene of quaint quays and colorfully timbered structures from the Middle Ages, reflected in the blue water. The River Ill, which divides into five arms, is what spurred the construction of mills and the installation of tanneries centuries ago.

The Tanners district in Strasbourg’s Le Petit France dates from 1572 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

So charming and tranquil today, even with the crowds of tourists in midday, Le Petit France, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in its day would have been the stinkiest, filthiest, poorest part of town, inhabited by tanners, fishermen, and animals, but as you get closer and closer to fabulous Cathedral, the residences become nicer and fancier and is where the wealthiest merchants and officials would have lived.

Strasbourg’s picturesque Le Petit France is a UNESCO Heritage Site © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Strasbourg’s picturesque Le Petit France is a UNESCO Heritage Site © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I come upon Place Gutenberg with a striking monument created by David d’Angers (1788-1856), erected in 1840. It commemorates that the German inventor Johannes Gutenberg developed moveable type that revolutionized access to the Bible, news, information, books, and even the law to the masses, while living in Strasbourg from 1430-1440, spawning an entire printing and publishing industry based in Strasbourg. The bronze statue stands on a granite base with four fascinating bronze relief panels that commemorate that Gutenberg came upon his idea for moveable type inspired by how a wine press worked, and how his invention influenced every corner of the globe.

The statue for Johannes Gutenberg in Strasbourg’s Place Gutenberg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the reliefs, “Detail of America,” depicts Benjamin Franklin and other signatories to the Declaration of Independence along with other famous liberators including General Lafayette and Simon Bolivar. Another, “Africa,” portrays Wilberforce and other abolitionists bringing freedom and enlightenment to the slaves. The third relief, “The Printing Press in Europe,” portrays important figures of the Enlightenment –  Erasmus, Chaucer, Milton, Molière, Rousseau, Voltaire, Kant and Schiller (the original plaster panel, which gave prominence to Martin Luther, caused an uproar, I learn).  The Asian panel is more weathered, but includes Brahmans exchanging manuscripts for books, and Chinese people reading Confucius

Strasbourg’s Guttenberg Plaza © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In this plaza, there is also an old-timey Carrousel 1900 that is a delight in the day, enchanting at night.

A traditional Punch & Judy show © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

When I get to St. Thomas Church, I come upon an outdoor Punch & Judy puppet show, which traces back to Commedia dell’arte tradition in Italy in the 1660s. (I’m not a fan of the too accurate re-creation of its traditional slapstick humor and the tragicomic misadventures of the characters but the kids love it.) 

Families enjoy the traditional Punch & Judy show © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Notre-Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg

The Notre-Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg dominates the city, in fact the entire region since it can be seen from great distances. Cathedral Square is a vibrant hub of musicians, vendors, and is ringed with some of the most important sites in the city – reminiscent of St. Marks Square in Venice. I will visit multiple times, and in the course of my visit, experience most of the important sites around the Cathedral. The streets that radiate from it are also full of colorful activity.

Chasing bubbles in Cathedral Square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Construction of the Cathedral started in 1015, but came into its own as a monumental Gothic structure in the 1260s because of Erwin von Steinbach who designed the Cathedral to be the most modern building of its time in the whole of the Holy Roman Empire. It is still one of the most beautiful examples of Gothic architecture in the world. The hundreds of statues that decorate the Cathedral are incredible.

Strasbourg, France’s Notre-Dame Cathedral © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Finally finished in 1439, the Cathedral, built of pink sandstone from the Vosges, features a 142-meter-tall bell tower, making it the tallest medieval building in all of Europe.

Strasbourg, France’s Notre-Dame Cathedral © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is an imposing structure inside, as well, with 12th and 14th century Romanesque stained glass windows in mesmerizing geometric patterns. You can climb the 332 steps to the top of the bell tower for a spectacular view and explore an 11th century crypt below the main cathedral.

Strasbourg, France’s Notre-Dame Cathedral © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On Saturday night, after I have rested a bit after coming back from Colmar, I stroll out of the hotel to Cathedral Square for the 10-minute Illuminations de la Cathedrale de Strasbourg, a free laser light show which begins nightly at 10 pm and runs continuously until midnight (in July and August). I find the neon colors jarring, but I love when the white fluttering strobe light gives the Cathedral a ghostly quality.

Strasbourg, France’s Notre-Dame Cathedral during the Illumination © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Strasbourg, France’s Notre-Dame Cathedral during the Illumination © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame

Just across the square from The Cathedral is the Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame, an absolute must-see, where you walk through seven centuries of art in Strasbourg and the Upper Rhine. Its medieval and Renaissance collections show why Strasbourg is considered one of the most important artistic centers of the Germanic Empire from the 13th to 16th centuries.

At the Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame, you see up close the stunning artistry of original statues that decorated the Cathedral © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

During the 13th century, the construction of Strasbourg Cathedral produced some of the most exceptional sculptures of the medieval world. Many of them – such as The Church and the Synagogue statues on the south portal, and the west façade’s Tempter and the Wise and Foolish Virgins, the Virtues Crushing the Vices, and the Prophets – were removed from the edifice in the early 20th century to protect them from bad weather and pollution, and replaced by sandstone replicas. But here you see the original sculptures that decorated the Cathedral. To see them so close, life-sized, so you can really appreciate the artistry in a way you simply can’t by gazing up at the Cathedral, is astounding.

When I visit, the museum is featuring a virtual reality, augmented reality, holograms, videos and touch screens to situate the works where they had originally been set in the Cathedral.

In one grand room, I focus on the two sculptures known as “The Church and The Synagogue,” which I would not have known to look for, just walking about the Cathedral.

So much is embodied in these two statues, and why they were chosen: Positioned on either side of the south transept portal, the statutes of The Church and The Synagogue “each personify a covenant binding God to his people: the New Covenant of the Christian Gospel and the Old Covenant of the Jewish Torah, respectively,” the notes say.

Church Triumphant and The Synagogue Vanquished © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On the left, the Church Triumphant, “wearing a crown and holding in her hands a chalice and a banner surmounted by the Cross, fixes her self-assured gaze on the Synagogue. The vanquished Synagogue, blindfolded and holding a broken lance, averts her head, expressing her inability to recognize the messiah in the person of Jesus. She appears to let fall the tablets of the Law of Moses, symbolizing the supplanting of the Old Testament. But the extreme humanity and beauty of the young woman’s features suggest an awaited revelation rather than the stigma of blindness” [as if to suggest, Jews will come into Christianity’s fold].

Now that I know where to look, later I go out to see the figures at the Cathedral.

Church Triumphant and The Synagogue Vanquished statues as they are position on the Cathedral’s south portal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In front of these two statues is a relief representing the biblical episode of “The Sacrifice of Isaac” at the hand of his father Abraham. The notes do not mention that this event for Jews, established the covenant with God and Jews as the “Chosen People”.

A relief depicting Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son, Isaac © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides the statuary, there are incredible paintings, triptychs and religious art – some of the most magnificent in the world – as you walk from room to room, floor to floor.

Jewish tombstones on view at the Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame. Jews were expelled from Strasbourg in 1349, during the Black Plague © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I follow an interior staircase all the way down and come to an interior courtyard in which tombstones rescued from a Jewish cemetery are displayed respectfully. The notes say that in 1349, Jews were expelled from Strasbourg because of Black Plague.

I climb the staircase to an attic room, where the innovations in architecture and engineering are explained. You also see some of the original architectural drawings of the Cathedral – the oldest architectural drawings of their type – as well as a video.

La Nativite de la Vierge. At the Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame, you see works that show why Strasbourg is considered one of the most important artistic centers of the Germanic Empire from the 13th to 16th centuries.© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
La Nativite de la Vierge. At the Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame, you see works that show why Strasbourg is considered one of the most important artistic centers of the Germanic Empire from the 13th to 16th centuries.© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The museum is housed within La Maison de L’Oeuvre Notre-Dame, which has been the home of the Foundation of the Oeuvre Notre-Dame (the body responsible for administering work on the Cathedral) since the Middle Ages. It is actually two buildings: a Gothic house with its crow-stepped gable (1347) and a Renaissance wing with a scroll gable (1582). Just walking through the rooms is an experience.

Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame is actually in two buildings: a Gothic house with its crow-stepped gable (1347) and a Renaissance wing with a scroll gable (1582) © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Fondation de l’Oeuvre Notre-Dame (Our Holy Lady Work Foundation) was established in 1224 (!!) to improve the administration of donations and legacies for the construction of Strasbourg Cathedral. Every since construction ended, the Foundation has been in charge of restoration and conservation of the monument, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1988.

Plan on spending several hours wandering around this museum (I actually did it twice).

Musee de L’Oeuvre Notre-Dame/Aarts Du Moyen Age, 3 place duChateau, Strasbourg.

From here, I walk across the square to see the Church and Synagogue portal, before walking back through Cathedral Square (which reminds me of St. Marks Square in Venice) to the fabulous Palais Rohan.

Ancient: La Maison Kammerzell, built in 1467, and converted to Renaissance style in 1589, boasts exquisite carvings, with secular and religious themes, After refurbishing, it became a restaurant celebrated for its lavish frescoes painted by Leo Schnug © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What is so interesting (and fun) about Strasbourg is how the historic city seamlessly integrates – and respects – what is ancient and what is modern: the virtual reality in the Musee de L’Oeuvre Notre Dame, the neon laser lights that bathe The Cathedral for the nightly show, the modern art in Cathedral Square, the really modern art exhibit incorporated into the 18th century Royal Chambers of the Palais Rohan’s Decorative Arts Museum, the light rail that rings the Old City along cobblestone streets.

Modern: Strasbourg Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Strasbourg’s historic district © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

So much to see, experience and appreciate. My exploration continues.

More information at https://www.strasbourg.info and https://www.visitstrasbourg.fr,

Next: Time Traveling Through Strasbourg

See also:

EUROPEAN WATERWAYS’ PANACHE HOTEL BARGE CRUISES FRANCE’S ALSACE-LORRAINE CANALS IN LUXURY

EUROPEAN WATERWAYS ALSACE-LORRAINE CANAL CRUISE: STRASBOURG’S CATHEDRAL, WINE TASTING ON ROUTE DES VINS

EUROPEAN WATERWAYS ALSATIAN CANAL CRUISE: MYSTERY OF THE NECKLACE IN SAVERNE, LALIQUE IN LUTZELBOURG

EUROPEAN WATERWAYS ALSACE-LORRAINE CANAL CRUISE: A BOAT GUILLOTINE, TWO TUNNELS AND A MONUMENTAL CHAGALL

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© 2024 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

European Waterways Alsace-Lorraine Canal Cruise: A Boat Guillotine, Two Tunnels and a Monumental Chagall

European Waterways luxury hotel barge, Panache, approaches the “boat guillotine” at the Arzviller boat elevator © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Day 6 Lutzelbourg to Niderviller

On Day 6 our European Waterways luxury hotel barge, Panache, cruises from Lutzelbourg to Niderviller where the cruise ends, during which we experience some of the most dramatic cruising – thrilling even considering how calm and restful the slow cruising on the canal is – of the trip.

I set out on the bike along the towpath but come to a fork and am confused which way to go, so return to the Panache. It’s a good thing I did return to the boat because the bike path would have taken me away from the boat.

Indeed, the canal takes a turn and we get our first view of an astonishing sight: the Arzviller boat elevator that will carry Panache 45 meters up a mountainside in mere minutes.

Captain Brian excites us with the image of a “boat guillotine”. But before we have the experience (we have to wait our turn), we tie up and walk a short distance to Cristal Lehrer (Cristallerie Lehrer) glass-blowing factory where we get to see demonstrations of the craftsmanship involved.

Demonstrating glass making at the Cristal Lehrer glass factory © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In 1920, there would have been 1500 glass workers in this area. One of the workers was Charles Lehrer. Decades later, his son, Bruno Lehrer, founded this glassworks.

Demonstrating glass blowing at the Cristal Lehrer glass factory © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We get to observe from an amphitheater as glassblowers heat the molten glass to 1700 degrees Celsius; use different oxides to create the different colors and shape them into a range of items.

Bruno demonstrates how he cuts glass at the Cristal Lehrer glass factory © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the cutting and etching room, a craftsman named Bruno shows us how he cuts shapes into a glass, etches images like a swan or a bird, changing the wheel for a different cut and then engraves my name in the glass, which he gives me as a gift. He tells me he has worked in this factory with his father from when he was 14 years old; now 86, the master craftsman is here every day demonstrating his skill. (It occurs to me later whether this is Bruno Lehrer, himself?)

Arzviller Boat Elevator

The extraordinary Arzviller boat elevator © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

An engineering feat when it was installed in 1969, and still the only one of its kind in Europe, before the Arzviller boat elevator was constructed in 1969, it took boats an entire day to navigate the 17 locks over four kilometers to ascend the 146 feet in altitude.  Before the Arzviller boat elevator, only one barge a day could pass through, but today, as many as 39 can make the trip each day.

Panache heads into the “boat guillotine” to enter the Arzviller boat elevator © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Now back on the Panache, it is our turn to go through the “boat guillotine” – really the black door that comes down to seal the carriage, like a bathtub, into which our boat floats, to be carried, like an elevator, up the hill.  Two counterweights, weighing 450 tons each, powered by two winches, lift or lower barges safely up and down the hill at a 22-degree angle. It takes four minutes for us to be lifted to the top, where the door rises and we continue our journey on the Canal de la Marne au Rhin.

The Panache is lifted up the Arzviller boat elevator © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What an experience, but the drama isn’t over.

Coming out of the boat elevator, we cruise a bit further until we come to an enormous tunnel, just exactly the width of the boat, cut through the Vosges mountains.

Panache enters the first of two tunnels through the mountain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is unbelievably exciting to go through – I don’t even go down for lunch, which is served by candlelight – until we get through the tunnel, some 30 minutes later.

But that is not all, because we will soon come to a second tunnel that takes 20 minutes to get through.

Panache navigates the narrow tunnel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In between the tunnels, I go down for lunch which is also an event –fennel and anchovies salad; orange duck with couscous, and selection of cheese. White wine from Alsace, Gewurztramine 2020, a vegan, “vin biologique” wine “Evidence” ( named to reflect “the respect we have for biodiversity in our vineyards as “evidenced” by the return of game birds to our land, which has inspired this label”).

Captain Brian keeps watch as Panache navigates the narrow tunnel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And yet, there are still more astonishments to unfold on this day, our last full day of the cruise.

We are driven to Sarrebourg, a classic, historic French town.

Lunch served by candlelight as Panache goes through the tunnels © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A Monumental Chagall

The astonishing highlight in Sarrebourg comes at the Chapelle des Cordeliers. Built in 1265 by Franciscans, the church was used for barracks during the French Revolution; in 1870, during the German Annexation, the church was used for worship for German soldiers. From 1927, the History and Archaeology Society converted the chapel to a museum. But by 1970, the building, near ruin, was demolished, leaving only the choir of the chapel and an open space where a wall should have stood.

Marc Chagall’s monumental stained glass window, La Paix, at the Chapelle des Cordeliers, Sarrebourg, France © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Mayor of Sarrebourg at the time, Pierre Messmer, a former Prime Minister of France, entreated his friend, the world-famous artist Marc Chagall to create stained glass windows that would close the empty space. Chagall agreed to do it as a gift to the town. It took Chagall six months, from December 1973-Febuary 1974, to produce a series of six sketches for what became his largest stained glass window, 12 meters high by 7 ½ meters wide.

Detail from Marc Chagall’s monumental stained glass window, La Paix, at the Chapelle des Cordeliers, Sarrebourg, France © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Messner had asked Marc Chagall for Sarrebourg to be featured. Chagall, who had never been to Sarrebourg, had planned to visit in the summer of 1974, but he was not well enough to travel, so relied on photographs. It took two more years (1974-6) for master glassmaker Charles Marq to create it in the Simon de Reims workshop, where Chagall had all his stained glass projects produced. “There is all the genius of Chagall – the monumental dimension, the light and the transparency of the final realization,” the notes say.

Detail from Marc Chagall’s monumental stained glass window, La Paix, at the Chapelle des Cordeliers, Sarrebourg, France © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Chagall died in 1985 at the age of 98 after creating one more stained glass work, but never saw “The Peace” installed. (https://www.sarrebourg.fr/parcours-chagall/chapelle-des-cordeliers/)

“For me a stained glass window is a transparent partition between my heart and the heart of the world. Stained glass has to be serious and passionate. It is something elevating and exhilarating. It has to live through the perception of light,” Chagall wrote.

Detail from Marc Chagall’s monumental stained glass window, La Paix, at the Chapelle des Cordeliers, Sarrebourg, France © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

La Paix (“The Peace”) puts Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden at the center, surrounded by a multitude of Biblical and religious symbols and subjects, as well as secular images that give a nod to the Alsace-Lorraine, our guide, Philippe Zugmeyer, explains, showing us Chagall’s sketches which we can compare to the finished work. “The face of Eve is very bright, white, brightest image. They are smiling, showing love. Look closely and you will see the face of girl from Lorraine – identified by the regional headdress she wears.”

Detail from Marc Chagall’s monumental stained glass window, La Paix, at the Chapelle des Cordeliers, Sarrebourg, France © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He points us to the Prophet Isaiah in green, an important symbol for Chagall of reconciliation of all creatures. There are the lamb, cow, bear, snake, lion. There is King David with a harp. Jacob’s ladder. Jesus on a donkey heralded by people smiling and cheering.  Jesus giving his Sermon on the Mount. Jesus on the cross. There is a baby to symbolize maternity (not nativity, he notes). Moses with two beams of light emitting from his head.

Marc Chagall’s monumental stained glass window, La Paix, at the Chapelle des Cordeliers, Sarrebourg, France © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“This is not a religious lesson, it is profane [secular],” he tells us. “It is about the region. Peace and reconciliation.” But he adds, “There is a lot we can’t explain – it is up to you to find your own meaning in the Chagall. What is clear is that Chagall intended to bring unity – peace. There are Old Testament and New Testament themes, symbols and imagery.”

Detail from Marc Chagall’s monumental stained glass window, La Paix, at the Chapelle des Cordeliers, Sarrebourg, France © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In addition to “The Peace,” the stained glass windows on the side walls were also designed by Marc Chagall. 

I never expected to see anything like this on this day.

From here we walk a short distance to the affiliated Musée du pays de Sarrebourg (Museum of Sarrebourg and its surroundings). Created in 1905, it was originally only an archaeological museum. Today, it is a modern building that includes a space dedicated to Marc Chagall, tapestries and an exhibition of earthenware and porcelain from the Niderviller manufacture and Roman artifacts.

Yvette Cauquil-Prince’s tapestry based on Marc Chagall painting on view at the Sarrebourg museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see the tapestries created by Yvette Cauquil-Prince (1928 –2005), a Belgian-born weaver and master craftswoman who reproduced the works of renowned 20th century artists including Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Alexander Calder. But she is best known for her association with Chagall, producing over 40 tapestries of his works with meticulous, even impossible detail, several which we see here.

Sarrebourg, France, visited on European Waterways’ Panache Alsace-Lorraine canal cruise © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gala Captain’s Dinner

This is our last evening aboard The Panache and while each meal has been the ultimate in fine dining, tonight’s Captain’s Dinner when Captain Brian heads the table, has the feeling of a gala with formal table setting – white tablecloth, red cloth napkins, candlelight.

Last night’s Captain’s Dinner aboard Panache is a gala affair © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The meal features peas and wasabi tartlet; Jerusalem artichoke; lobster tail piquillos; chocolate with truffle; cheese selection. The wine is Chablis Grand Cru Les Blanchots (2018) from Albert Bichot, founded in 1831and still family-owned, and a Pino Noir Grand Cru from Burgundy (2014).

“This wine is like walking in forest after rain- grapes come from plot of soil at bottom of hill in Burgundy,” says Brian, who comes from Burgundy. “Grown in the forest, the grapes are half protected from the morning sun. Less sun, less sugar, less alcohol. The forest brings moisture, humidity – freshness. It’s very fresh – the flavor of rose, forest flavors, then red berries, an oak barrel and voila.

The Panache crew © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Captain Brian, who chose tonight’s cheeses, regales us with the back stories: Comte, a favorite of cow’s milk cheese from Franche-Comte, he says, “is a treasure. This is a tiny piece of huge wheel. To make it, you need the milk from 30 cows’ full day production.

The second cheese, Valencay, a hard goat cheese from the Loire, has a fabulous story:  after his disastrous campaign in Egypt, Napoleon visited the town of Valençay and was treated to this renowned cheese. For Bonaparte, the shape of the cheese – a pyramid – reminded him of his recent defeat so he furiously drew his sword and in one stroke cut off the top.

Third is Roquefort, the best blue cheese, bred where the mold comes to the cheese (instead of injected). “Legend has it that a shepherd boy left his lunch in a cave, but returned some time later to find the moldy cheese. He tried it.– don’t ask me why, he’s very French – and instead of getting sick or being poisoned, found the cheese delicious. That’s how Roquefort was discovered.”  (Interesting anecdote I discover: Before penicillin was discovered, many people in France simply rubbed Penicillium roqueforti on their wounds to prevent bacterial infection.)

In the course of our six-day cruise, I calculate we sampled 36 cheeses –about half of all the controlled French cheeses – and 40 wines.

We see gorgeous scenery, to be sure, but the barge experience is about doing, being present, the camaraderie. And so there are sentimental farewells when we depart – the seven days we have spent together feeling like a long time and as no time at all.

“Travel makes the world feel big and small at the same time.” “Travel is the elixir of youth.”

The next morning, we are driven back to Strasbourg – 45 minutes to cover the distance we have traveled in six days cruising (and biking). I have enough time to continue to explore Strasbourg before I take the TGV train to Paris.

The Panache does this Alsace-Lorraine cruise on the Canal de la Marne au Rhin in both directions, but I was thrilled going the way we went, from Strasbourg to Niderviller because there is a constant build up of excitement, starting with floating through that stunning alee as we sail into Strasbourg, and climaxed by going up the incline (in this direction) and through the two tunnels, with the Marc Chagall on the last day.

European Waterways’ luxury hotel barge Panache cruises the Marne au Rhin canal through France’s Alsace-Lorraine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 12-passenger luxury hotel barge Panache cruises the Alsace & Lorraine in summer and autumn; Holland in the Spring, when the flowers are in full bloom, and  Champagne in May & June (Champagne itineraries typically include Brie cheese tastings, a tour of the Cathedral at Reims, Epernay and of course, tastings at renowned champagne houses).

This year, European Waterways celebrates its 50th anniversary of its founding by Derek Banks and John Wood-Dow, who helped pioneer the concept of hotel barging and itineraries that focused on culture, history, fine wine and gourmet cuisine. Among the first to operate on the Canal du Midi, their efforts helped spur a new niche travel industry that proved instrumental in the revitalization of Europe’s intricate network of scenic canals and inland waterways as tourism destinations – giving new life to villages and communities that had depended upon the canals that no longer carried commercial cargo.
  
With a 6-to-20 guest capacity and 1:2 crew ratio, European Waterways is able to provide lavish on-board service and can transport their guests on the narrower, more intimate inland waterways that are inaccessible to larger vessels. This fascinating network of smaller canals allows for flexibility, spontaneity and ample opportunity to hop off and explore by bicycle or on foot, in addition to walking tours of communities and daily, chauffeured excursions “off the beaten path” to experience wine tastings and private visits of stately homes.

One of the largest providers of all-inclusive luxury hotel barging in Europe, European Waterways is launching its newest, ultra deluxe vessel, the eight-passenger Kir Royale. Debuting in France’s Champagne region in May 2024, the vessel features major upgrades that include a more spacious layout with modern furnishings, three sundecks and a spa pool, an upper observation deck with a panoramic view, and four air-conditioned cabins with en suite bathrooms.

Kir Royale will cruise the River Marne and Canal latéral à la Marne, offering six-night all-inclusive sailings with exclusive excursions to some of the region’s legendary Champagne houses such as Moët & Chandon. Guests will also be treated to immersive experiences such as lunch at the boutique Grand Cru Champagne house of Frerejean Frères, and on-board gastronomic meals with wine pairings served by the vessel’s own master chef.
 
Kir Royal will cruise Champagne from May through October. It joins European Waterways’ 12-passenger Panache, which cruises between Château-Thierry and Châlons-en-Champagne from mid-May to late-June. Both vessels provide private transfers from a designated location in central Paris. Reservations are now open, with rates starting at $8,550 per person, based on double occupancy. Whole boat charters are also available.

Contact European Waterways, 877-879-8808,  www.europeanwaterways.com.

See also:

EUROPEAN WATERWAYS’ PANACHE HOTEL BARGE CRUISES FRANCE’S ALSACE-LORRAINE CANALS IN LUXURY

EUROPEAN WATERWAYS ALSACE-LORRAINE CANAL CRUISE: STRASBOURG’S CATHEDRAL, WINE TASTING ON ROUTE DES VINS

EUROPEAN WATERWAYS ALSATIAN CANAL CRUISE: MYSTERY OF THE NECKLACE IN SAVERNE, LALIQUE IN LUTZELBOURG

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© 2024 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

Photo Highlights: Total Solar Eclipse Above Long Lake, in New York’s Adirondacks is Stellar

In the path of totality of the Solar Eclipse, April 8, 2024, at Long Lake, in New York State’s Adirondacks © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

With a huge swath of New York State in the path of totality for the April 8, 2024 Solar Eclipse, we headed to the Adirondacks, cleverly basing ourselves at The Lorca on Indian Lake, which was scheduled to have totality for two minutes, with a plan to drive 30 minutes further to Long Lake, which was scheduled for totality to last a full minute longer, 3 minutes, 1 second, beginning at 3:24 pm, where we based out of the historic (140 years!) Adirondack Hotel, right on the lake.

That proved fortuitous, because though totality spanned a 124-mile wide path stretching from Chautauqua-Allegheny to the majestic Niagara Falls in Greater Niagara, over the pristine Finger Lakes, mighty Adirondacks, and magical Thousand Islands-Seaway, and while Niagara Falls and Buffalo were scheduled to have totality for as much as four minutes, the weather clouded up for most of it. New York State won’t be in the path of totality again for 400 years.

Meanwhile, we had a magical three minutes of totality on Long Lake, starting exactly at 3:24 pm, experiencing the thrill of night-in-the-daytime where you could see stars, then the Diamond Ring, and hearing a dog howl along with everyone’s collective gasps. Then, only a few minutes after, the sun’s crescent started to reappear, but was hazy behind a thin cloud cover, making us appreciate the experience we had all the more.

Here are highlights of the stellar show:

In the path of totality of the Solar Eclipse, April 8, 2024, at Long Lake, in New York State’s Adirondacks © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.
In the path of totality of the Solar Eclipse, April 8, 2024, at Long Lake, in New York State’s Adirondacks © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.
In the path of totality of the Solar Eclipse, April 8, 2024, at Long Lake, in New York State’s Adirondacks © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.
In the path of totality of the Solar Eclipse, April 8, 2024, at Long Lake, in New York State’s Adirondacks © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.
In the path of totality of the Solar Eclipse, April 8, 2024, at Long Lake, in New York State’s Adirondacks © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.
Day turns to night, stars can be seen, and the moon is a tiny dot in the crown of the sun’s corona, during totality of the Solar Eclipse, April 8, 2024, at Long Lake, in New York State’s Adirondacks © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.
Day turns to night, stars can be seen, and the moon is a tiny dot in the crown of the sun’s corona, during totality of the Solar Eclipse, April 8, 2024, at Long Lake, in New York State’s Adirondacks © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.
The Diamond Ring formation lasts mere seconds during totality of the Solar Eclipse, April 8, 2024, at Long Lake, in New York State’s Adirondacks © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.
The moon is a tiny dot in the crown of the sun’s corona, during totality of the Solar Eclipse, April 8, 2024, at Long Lake, in New York State’s Adirondacks © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.
The sun begins to reemerge as a crescent after totality, but soon, clouds make it hazy © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.
Our family enjoys this once-in-a-lifetime experience of a Total Solar Eclipse in New York’s Adirondacks, on April 8, 2024
The Long Lake community gets set for the Total Solar Eclipse © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 
Long Lake was a setting for Hudson River School painter Thomas Cole © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.
The Adirondack Hotel was a fabulous base for watching the Total Eclipse © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.
Staying over before and after the Total Solar Eclipse at The Lorca on Indian Lake avoided the traffic coming and going to the Adirondacks  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

The next time you go:

It may be 400 years before a total solar eclipse returns to New York State, and this may have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for millions, but there will be total solar eclipses coming up around the world. If you are now hooked on pursuing totality or if you regret missing out:

Prepare well in advance – even a year in advance. Research ideal locations based on path of totality and duration of totality (in North America, ranged from two to four minutes, so significant difference). Scout out locations and book hotel accommodations, travel to the extent possible even a year in advance for the best locations. (See: Fjords, Pharaohs or Koalas? Time to Plan for Your Next Eclipse).

Make sure you have solar glasses and necessary camera gear (solar filters, long-focus lens, ie 300 mm. Have TAPE to attach a paper solar filter to camera, as I used, if you don’t have the glass filter, check www.bhphotovideo.com). Practice in advance (the hardest part is switching from partial to total eclipse – you have to remove the solar filter and reset the manual settings). Review videos of techniques and get a list of suggested camera settings.

Go to the location at least the day before. Scout where you will be standing. Take sample photo of where sun will be at the time of the eclipse (usually one hour before and one hour after totality). Fill up gas tank, get supplies (food, water for next day).

Day of: download maps/directions (cell service may not be available). Get to the site EARLY to get parking and a position (set up your chair, so you can roam around, use restroom). Plan for extra traffic/time to get to site. Bring chair, camera, lenses, extra memory cards, SOLAR GLASSES, SOLAR FILTER, tripod, hat, sunglasses, jacket, book, charged cell phone, food, water.

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© 2024 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

European Waterways Alsatian Canal Cruise: Mystery of the Necklace in Saverne, Lalique in Lutzelbourg

European Waterways’ luxury hotel barge, Panache, cruises through the historic city of  Saverne on the Marne au Rhin canal through France’s Alsace-Lorraine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Day 4 Waltenheim-sur-Zorn to Saverne

On this fourth day of European Waterways’ seven-day cruise cruise on the Marne au Rhin canal through France’s Alsace-Lorraine, the luxury hotel barge Panache cruises to the enchanting town of Saverne, boasting a history that dates back 2,000 years to Gallo-Roman times. We will tie up right in the town at the foot of the Château de Rohan, a palace built for a Cardinal that is so grand, it is known as the “Versailles of Alsace.”

Sue, who hails from Australia, and I are up early enough to go with Captain Brian into the village of Waltenheim-sur-Zorn to the most remarkable patisserie I have ever seen to pick up breads and other delights for our breakfast. The boat departs at 8 am on the dot (I had just stepped off for a photo and got back just in the nick).

Stopping into a patisserie in Waltenheim-sur-Zorn to purchase breads for breakfast aboard the Panache © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Captain Brian tells me that I can bike up to lock 32 and the boat should be there around 2 pm. I do my calculation: Locks 42-41 are 4 km apart; locks 37-36 are 4 km (we will be there around lunchtime) while it will take the boat four hours to get to 37.

The biking on the towpath alongside the canal takes me passed some of the prettiest pastoral scenes on the route (especially between locks 39 to 37, from Lupstein to Dettwiller).  It’s classic.

Gorgeous pastoral scene just outside Saverne along the Marne au Rhin canal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I think I get in 20 miles riding all the way to Saverne and doubling back to lock 36 to get back on the boat for lunch

Lunch features French beans with aioli; crayfish with risotto – superb. The white wine is Sancerre La Ferriere 2021 (coincidentally, the book I am reading that day mentioned the same wine!) and the red wine-Sancerre La Louisonne (2016), a Pinot Noir from the Loire Valley.

European Waterways’ luxury hotel barge Panache cruises on the Marne au Rhin canal to Saverne © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We continue our onboard discovery of French cheeses with Mimolette (also known as Boule de Lille), a cow’s milk cheese produced in Flanders and Normandy, has a marvelous story: a French version of Edam, it has a distinctive orange color that was developed for King XIV in the 18th C. A further study reveals that it was developed “on the advice of his finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, that the way forward for the French economy was to export as much as possible and import as little as possible. France was pretty much bankrupt at the time and this strategy was aimed at balancing the budget. Colbert was also a big fan of taxes and micro-management.” (https://brieencounter.wordpress.com/2012/08/31/todays-cheese-is-mimolette/). We also experience Brillat-Savarin, a soft-ripened triple cream cow’s milk cheese with a natural, bloomy rind.

Chef Leo’s crayfish with risotto © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At 3:30 pm, Captain Brian takes us on a delightful walking tour of Saverne, pointing out exquisite architecture – and here, I really appreciate the difference between wandering around and having someone who can point out the interesting details.

Saverne became really important for its geographical location – set where two major Roman roads converge, where you can access the Rhine and Rhone to go to the Netherlands, or where it joins the Seine to go to southern France. Not surprisingly, Saverne’s authority changed between France and Germany several times in history, and its cultural imprint – architecture, food, language – reflect both.

We come to a statue of the city’s emblem, the Unicorn, just in front of the Chateau Rohan,

Here, Brian attempts to relay in abbreviated form the “Mystery of Necklace,” This was a colossal scandal involving “the most expensive necklace of the Middle Ages, most beautiful, with the biggest diamonds in the world” that in today’s money would have been worth $15 million, helped bring down Marie Antoinette for her perceived excess and lead, ultimately, to her execution in the French Revolution. (I subsequently learn, she actually refused the necklace, because she said her country needed ships the money would buy.) But the connection to Saverne is this Chateau de Rohan, because at the heart of the scandal was Cardinal de Rohan who built the opulent palace. The mystery comes because the necklace was stolen and never found. (The events are even more dramatic than Alexandre Dumas’ “Three Musketeers”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affair_of_the_Diamond_Necklace)

A 14th century cloister in Saverne displays 17th century frescoes © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We walk to a 14th century cloister, a stunning example of Gothic architecture with a garden where medicinal herbs were cultivated; it is ringed by a portico and impressive 17th century frescoes which tell of a trial.

We walk to the Hotel de Ville – the city hall – a stunning historic building that manifests the city’s mix of culture: a Germanic balcony and a French balcony.

Saverne’s historic Town Hall © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is adjacent to the oldest and most ornate building still standing, Maison Katz. Built in 1605 by Henri Katz, the Receiver General of the Bishopric, its beautiful façade of sculpted timber is a superb example of the German Renaissance style. Today, it is a popular restaurant. (Taverne Katz, 80 Grand’Rue 67700 Saverne, +33 (0)3 88 71 16 56, https://www.tavernekatz.com/en/restaurant).

The stunning decoration of Maison Katz, dating from the 17th century, in Saverne © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Befitting wealthy property, it is also very close to the Church Notre Dame, built in the 12-15th centuries, with Romanesque arch and a Gothic interior. Remarkably, the Chapel has the original 15th century stained glass; the rest has stained glass from the 19th century.

Church Notre-Dame in Saverne dates from the 12th century © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Musée du Château de Rohan

We walk next to the Château de Rohan, overlooking the Marne-Rhine Canal that we have been cruising. Historically the residence of the bishops of Strasbourg, it was rebuilt by Cardinal de Rohan in 1779 in neoclassical style with magnificent gardens and a 140-meter-long façade made of Vosges sandstone (like the Notre-Dame of Strasbourg).

Chateau de Rohan has been called the “Versailles of Alsace,” and today is Saverne’s city museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The palace today houses the city museum. Founded in 1858, the museum exhibits art from the churches and castle of Saverne, a large archeological collection of Roman and Celtic artifacts from the excavation of the Marne-Rhine Canal, the collection of 20th century and ethnological art donated by feminist journalist and politician Louise Weiss, and a fascinating exhibit about her life and times.

Weiss trained as a teacher (against her family’s wishes), and throughout World War I worked as a war nurse and founded a hospital; from 1918-1934, she published a magazine, L’Europe nouvelle. In the 1920s, she left France to see the world “to discover true meaning,” spending time in Communist Russia, meeting Lenin and Trotsky. From 1935 to the beginning of World War II she committed herself to women’s suffrage and ran for Parliament in 1936. She was active in the French Resistance during the war and was the chief editor of a secret magazine. After World War II, she said she knew nothing of Asian people, and again set off to travel the world. In 1979 she became a member of the European Parliament. She died in 1983.She said her only regret in life was not being a candidate for president. She reminds me of a French Eleanor Roosevelt. (I learn later there is a statue of Louise Weiss at the fountain in the square.)

I walk back to the boat just before 6 pm, arriving as a trio comes on board, to regale us with French (“C’est si bon”) and gypsy jazz. Fabulous.

A French Jazz trio entertains us aboard the Panache © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The joy from the music carries over into dinner: trout with a tomato crumble; cod with tapioca and black garlic; a scrumptious dessert of strawberry with elderflower (that Chef Leo picked from his own garden that day). Every dish is so imaginative, distinctive, and magnificently presented.

Chef Leo, who typically introduces the main course, explains that the cod is cooked slowly at low temperature, the black garlic sauce made with burnt shallots. It gives a wonderful, unexpected flavor. “I love experimenting with different flavors,” he tells us.

One of Chef Leo’s delectable dessert creations © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The white wine is Grand Cru Alsatian Reisling, House of August; the red a Grand Vin d’Alsace, Pino Noir (2012).

The cheeses this evening include a creamy, buttery cow’s milk cheese, cousin to Brie; Abondance, a semi-firm cow’s milk cheese from Haute-Savoie, aged for three months on spruce blocks that has a delightful walnut taste; and Bleu de Gex, a creamy, semi-soft blue cheese made from unpasteurized milk in the Jura region).

Day 5 Saverne to Lutzelbourg

Going through the highest lock on the Marne au Rhin canal, in Saverne © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Leaving Saverne, we go through the most dramatic and highest lock of all – it must be 30 feet high. I watch this feat, then hop off with the bike to ride the route to Lutzelbourg.

European Waterways’ luxury hotel barge Panache cruises on the Marne au Rhin canal from Saverne © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I return to the boat, just in time to see Chef Leo give us a cooking demonstration of the passionfruit crème brulee he is making in response to Sue’s request. It is so much fun to watch his preparation – Captain Brian pitches in, too.

We take note of a (tongue-in-cheek) “firing board” in which Captain Brian keeps tabs on who is in the running to get fired – whoever has the least checkmarks at the end of the quarter gets a prize.

Chef Leo gives the Panache guests a cooking demonstration of his passionfruit crème brulee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lunch features asparagus and cream; beef with cheesy mash potatoes (vegetarian option salmon) and the passionfruit crème brulee (parfait!). The wines are an Alsatian Riesling, Lieu Dit Burg, and an Alsace Pinot Noir (2018), Famille Hugel.

Chef Leo’s passionfruit crème brulee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After lunch, we are driven to the Lalique Museum.

Lalique Museum

Situated in the picturesque village of Wingen-sur-Moder, Lalique Museum celebrates the work of the jewelry designer and glassmaker, Rene Lalique.

Lalique founded his workshop here in 1921. Throughout his lifetime, Lalique crafted jewelry, medals, perfume bottles, vases, chandeliers and glass, and we swoon seeing the collection of more than 650 of Lalique’s most stunning creations, which incorporate enamel, precious stones, and glass, gloriously displayed, with fascinating video projections and huge photographs to tell the story of the Lalique dynasty.

Stunning examples of Renee Lalique’s creations are on view at the Lalique Museum in Wingen-sur-Moder © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The hallmark of Rene Lalique’s jewelry design was its exquisite precision and tiny detail in the insects, fauna, flowers– you can see the wind fluttering the flower petals, every feather on a bird, a hair comb in the Japanese style has a rising sun.

“All were his ideas, his designs. He designed every piece and could name to whom sold. Renee Lalique was a control freak – he never slept more than 3 hours.”

He was on the forefront of the Art Nouveau movement but was regarded as too modern, too eccentric for Catholic sensibility, she tells us. “Too modern for Cartier. But this became the fashion.”

Rene Lalique drew his inspiration from Egypt, from Japan, from the Middle Ages, but gave these inspirations a totally new expression, his own stamp.

He became famous after winning a gold medal at the 1900 Exposition, a celebration of modernism in which electricity in Paris and the first subway were unveiled, attended by some 50 million visitors.

Rene was as brilliant a businessman as he was an artist, inventor and entrepreneur, pioneering branding, marketing, merchandising techniques. “Every perfumer demanded a new bottle, a special stopper.”  

Stunning examples of Renee Lalique’s creations are on view at the Lalique Museum in Wingen-sur-Moder © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He created a joint advertising/marketing campaign (perhaps the first) with the perfumer, Molinar. “He created demand for the next collection, for perfume, then for toilet water.”

For the 1925 Exposition, he created a17-meter high glass fountain that looked like stone during the day but was lighted at night. “People then didn’t have electricity at home – it was too modern for Paris.” At the exposition’s end, he sold the statues as a limited edition.

Stunning examples of Renee Lalique’s creations are on view at the Lalique Museum in Wingen-sur-Moder © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We learn how Renee Lalique, who lived from 1860-1945, innovated new techniques and modern mass-production processes. Though Rene knew the process to turn regular glass into crystal (by adding lead), it was his son, Marc, who took over upon his death in 1945, that steered the company into crystal glass production.

There has been a glass factory in Alsace since the 15th century and they still find pieces. Lalique, who had been producing glass in Paris, came here in 1921 and built a modern factory to produce flat glass (it was cheaper here than Paris and the French government, which had regained control of Alsace after the war, provided funding to build the factory.)

Stunning examples of Renee Lalique’s creations are on view at the Lalique Museum in Wingen-sur-Moder © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The museum, which was conceived in 2000 and opened in 2011, is housed in an old glass factory that dates from 1750, producing flat glass for windows, that closed in 1868. The Lalique factory that is still in use – the only Lalique factory in the world – no longer has any members of the Lalique family involved.

After three generations of Lalique had led the company, with no heirs to inherit, Rene’s granddaughter, Marie-Claude Lalique, sold the company in 1994 to the Pochet Group; it was acquired in 2008 by Arts et Fragrance, a Swiss group owned by Silvio Denz. (Marie-Claude Lalique died in 2003.)

Stunning examples of Renee Lalique’s creations are on view at the Lalique Museum in Wingen-sur-Moder © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Because the Swiss bought the factory and exclusive rights to the Lalique name, our guide tells us, it was difficult to create a museum with Lalique name, but the museum, funded by the state, the Alsace region and the village, ultimately won.

Everything is produced here in the factory (which we don’t see) – “a timeless collection,” our guide says.

The delightful tour finishes with a marvelous video showing production in today’s factory. There is also a wonderful shop.

Musee Lalique, 40 rue du Hochberg, Wingen-sur-Moder, phone +33 3 88 89 08 14, https://www.musee-lalique.com/en/

La Petite Pierre

The 15th century castle at Le Petite Pierre © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From here, we drive to the hilltop town of La Petite Pierre where there is a 15th century castle. It is late in the afternoon (the setting sun makes for gorgeous colors), and the village looks absolutely vacant, abandoned – almost like a movie set. We walk the ramparts of the castle.

La Petite Pierre seems like a movie set © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our drive back to Lutzelbourg takes us passed Wingen-sur-Moder, the World War II battleground where American infantry fought with distinction.

The ruins of Château du Lutzelbourg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But our adventure is not over – we drive up to the top of a rocky promontory, 322 meters high, that overlooks the Zorn valley, the town of Lutzelbourg, the canal and the Panache to walk among the ruins of the Château du Lutzelbourg. Built by Pierre de Lutzelbourg in the 11th century, the castle was destroyed in 1523; in 1840, the ruins of the castle were to be sold to build the railway but saved from demolition by Adolf Germain, a notary in Phalsbourg. In 1900, the owner at the time, Eugene Koeberle, excavated the ruins. The ruins we visit are more interesting that the intact structures – especially in the late afternoon light. And what a view!

The ruins of Château du Lutzelbourg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

People can hike up a trail (and down) from the town, and I am itching to hike back down to the Panache, but am discouraged because it is too late in the evening.

The view from Château du Lutzelbourg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are greeted back on board with “French 75,” a cocktail of gin, champagne, lemon juice and sugar syrup (delicious).

Dinner starts with John Dory served like cerviche, with mint and horseradish in a “veil” gelatin with black lemon, Chef Leo shows us the dried black lemon he uses – it comes from Iran where it is dried for month and presents a smokey, lemon flavor. It is sensational.

Chef Leo’s John Dory served with mint and horseradish in a “veil” gelatin with black lemon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The entrée is a perfectly prepared lamb with truffle and cauliflower with amazing, rich flavors that burst (monkfish is the option for vegetarians)

Chef Leo’s dinner entree of lamb with truffle has amazing, rich flavors that burst © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The wines are a Beaune Premier Cru Basion, 2017 Domaine Chanson Chardonnay, and Gasies Margaux 2014 Bordeaux. The cheeses tonight include Tomme de Brebis, a Basque-style cheese half cow, half sheep milk; a Munster from Alsace and Bleu d’Auvergne. The dessert is a phenomenal blueberry tart with white chocolate mousse.

Chef Leo’s blueberry tart with white chocolate mousse © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Chef Leo sits down to chat with us after the meal. The 28-year old is spending his first season on the barge hotel. Born in central France, he knew since he was just four years old that the only job he wanted was to be a chef. “My grandma cooked. I loved eating.” He moved when he was 14 to attend catering school. He spent 7 years in Alsace and 2 years in London learning pastry.

“I’ve been in many places, many helpful places.” He likes the freedom of having his own kitchen, doing his own shopping, creating his own recipes. “When I fail, it’s my fault. If I could, I would be 24 hours in the kitchen.”

Chef Leo, aboard European Waterways’ Panache, says he loves to experiment with flavors © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

He says he feeds the crew what the guests eat. “They don’t deserve it,” he jokes. “We have a budget for the crew but I pilfer to feed them the same so they understand what I am serving you.”

His dream (of course) is to have his own restaurant, near Colmar in Alsace.

I tell him his plating is gorgeous. He says his friend is a gallerist. “She helped me with art – color, textures, shapes. Presentation is half of the dish.”

I ask his flavor philosophy. “Really clear and simple – not more than 3-4 items on plate. Popping flavor. I’m always trying new stuff. On the barge, I am free to try. Every week I have new ‘guinea pigs.’ I always try to improve myself in the kitchen. It’s best to learn on my own.”

I think we really lucked out on this European Waterways barge hotel canal cruise.

The Panache in Lutzelbourg as morning fog lifts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The next morning, we wake to an atmospheric fog, and as the Panache cruises and I cycle away enroute to Niderviller where the cruise will end, we get a last view of the tops of the ruins of Chateau de Lutzelbourg.

European Waterways, 1-877-879-8808, www.europeanwaterways.com.

See also:

EUROPEAN WATERWAYS’ PANACHE HOTEL BARGE CRUISES FRANCE’S ALSACE-LORRAINE CANALS IN LUXURY

EUROPEAN WATERWAYS ALSACE-LORRAINE CANAL CRUISE: STRASBOURG’S CATHEDRAL, WINE TASTING ON ROUTE DES VINS

Next: A Boat Guillotine, Two Tunnels and a Chagall

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© 2024 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

European Waterways Alsace-Lorraine Canal Cruise: Strasbourg’s Cathedral, Wine Tasting on Route des Vins

Cruising through the allee of trees into Strasbourg on our first morning on European Waterways’ Panache cruise through Alsace-Lorraine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Day 2 Krafft to Strasbourg

Our first morning cruising the canals of France’s Alsace-Lorraine aboard European Waterways’ luxury barge hotel, Panache, takes us from Krafft on the Canal de la Marne au Rhin toward Strasbourg. The route brings us through a spectacularly picturesque allee of trees that apparently dates back to the time of Napoleon. The landscaping of this avenue of trees is a straight line with the trees uniform in shape. You have the feeling of floating through Impressionist paintings – it is so exquisitely beautiful, especially with the morning light creating an ethereal tableau.

Cruising through the allee of trees into Strasbourg on our first morning on European Waterways’ Panache cruise through Alsace-Lorraine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We cruise through locks 81 to 85. A towpath along the canal has been repurposed for biking and walking and I immediately set out to ride. Captain Brian readies the bikes and puts it on the bank for us – it doesn’t take long to get the hang of stepping on or off the boat as it lifts up or down in the lock. (I quickly learn by mistake to watch the signs that tell you when to cross over the canal to stay on the path.)

Biking the towpath alongside the Canal de la Marne au Rhin into Strasbourg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I soon realize that I bike three times as fast as the boat travels, especially since it also spends time going through various locks, so I can enjoy biking the route, then riding back to a lock as the boat approaches, and get to see the scenery all over again from the perspective of the boat’s sundeck (also, it is usually lunch time – don’t want to miss that).

Biking the towpath alongside the Canal de la Marne au Rhin into Strasbourg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lunch this first day is a salad of beet root and goat cheese; chicken with a moelle sauce and polenta, served with Saint Romain Chardonnay from Burgundy and La Baronne Alaric (2014), a Syrah blend from the south of France. The cheeses we get to experience include a cow’s milk blue cheese made from a 1200-year old recipe from Auvergne; a Reblochon from Savoie, made from raw cow milk and aged (not pasteurized) for 6-8 weeks.

Bikers get ready to get back on the Panache as it comes into a lock on the Canal de la Marne au Rhin © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We arrive at Strasbourg, where we tie up at a canal at the outer ring of the historic center, Le Petit France, and walk off the boat to explore on our own before meeting up at Le Pont du Corbeau for a walking tour guided by Captain Brian. (I get lost and after getting directions from a local woman, am staring down at my phone when I hear my name as I am literally walking passed our group waiting at the bridge.)

Le Petit France, Strasbourg’s old city © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Le Pont du Corbeau was originally called the Schindbrucke (Bridge of Tortures): a law from 1411 that specified that anyone sentenced to death be sewn up inside a linen sack and thrown into the river – a practice which continued until 1617. From 1466 onwards, thieves were locked up in a cage on the bridge to be mocked by passersby before being thrown into the River Ill to swim for their lives. In 1502, a stone crucifix was affixed to the beams of the bridge for people convicted of crimes to repent their acts.

I had already had a couple of days in Strasbourg to explore on my own, but really enjoy Captain Brian’s narration.

Le Petit France, Strasbourg’s old city © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We walk through Le Petit France, the section we find so charming and picturesque with its painted houses with wood beams, floral arrangements, and immaculate streets. But Captain Brian notes, before the 18th century, this district would have been the poorest, stinkiest part of town, populated with fishermen, tanners and animals. The structures would have been made with wood beams coated with a varnish made of a mixture of blood and vinegar (“it looks good but stinks”); waste would have been thrown directly into the canal. The closer to the Cathedral, though, the richer you likely would be – the Chamber of Commerce is located a stone’s throw away.

Le Petit France, Strasbourg’s old city © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

That’s when we come to Place Gutenberg, which provides an entranceway toward the Cathedral. At the center, there is an impressive monument to Johannes Gutenberg, the German inventor of moveable type. Brian tells us that it is said Gutenberg got his inspiration for the printing press from the wine presses he saw when he lived in Strasbourg. (I learn more about this when I return to Strasbourg at the end of the cruise and visit the City historical museum.)

Riding the carousel in Place Gutenberg, in Strasbourg’s old city © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gutenberg Place also has a marvelous old-timey carousel and since our fellow passengers, Kathy and Marc, are celebrating their 25th anniversary today and Kathy has expressed interest in riding it, we whisper to Marc he should take her for a ride.

Once the tallest building in the world, Strasbourg’s Notre-Dame Cathedral dominates the city and the Alsace-Lorraine region © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We next walk to Notre-Dame of Strasbourg, a fabulous Cathedral that is considered one of the finest examples of Rayonnant Gothic architecture in Europe, built on a site where a church has stood since the 4-5th century. Construction began in 1015, was relaunched in 1190, and finished in 1439. Erwin von Steinbach, credited as the main architect, worked on it from 1277 until his death in 1318, continued by his son Johannes and his grandson, Gerlach.  

Spectacularly decorated with 300 statutes on the outside and two towering spires supported by two huge pillars, Strasbourg’s Notre-Dame Cathedral is a study in Gothic flamboyance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

With the bell tower at 142 meters (466 feet) high, Strasbourg’s Cathedral stood as the world’s tallest building for 227 years, from 1647 to 1874. It is still the sixth tallest church in the world, and the tallest structure built entirely in the Middle Ages. It was visible across Alsace, as far off as the Black Forest and the Vosges Mountains, from which the reddish-brown sandstone that gives the cathedral its distinctive color was quarried.

Spectacularly decorated with 300 statutes on the outside and two towering spires supported by two huge pillars, Strasbourg’s Notre-Dame Cathedral is a study in Gothic flamboyance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Spectacularly decorated with 300 statutes on the outside and two towering spires supported by two huge pillars it is a study in Gothic flamboyance.

Strasbourg’s Notre-Dame Cathedral is one of the most impressive of Europe’s cathedrals © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The major attractions of the Cathedral include the Astronomical Clock, a Renaissance masterpiece, and its stained glass windows.

The Musee de L’Oeurvre Notre-Dame just across the square, which I visited, is where you can see the original statuary and art that decorated the Cathedral.

The Palais Rohan, which Louis XIV built for the Bishop, today houses three important Strasbourg museums – Fine Arts, Decorative Arts and Archaeology © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also across the square – which is a delightfully festive place – there is the Palais Rohan, which Louis XIV built for the Bishop to cement his bond with the Catholic Church. Today it houses three important museums – Fine Arts, Decorative Arts and Archaeology – which I have visited.

We continue to wander on our own, exploring the narrow cobblestone streets, returning to the ship by 7 pm for dinner.

One of Chef Leo’s fabulous culinary creations aboard the Panache © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dinner features tuna tartare with ponzu (a citrus-based sauce commonly used in Japanese cuisine prepared with soy sauce, lime and fennel), served in a rice paper cup with edible flowers (marvelous – so flavorful but not spicey); octopus in black sauce (squid ink), marinated and baked in the oven with eggplant (it took seven hours to cook). The wines are Santenay La Forge (2021) from Cote D’Or; the red is Mercurey, a Bourgogne from Louis Jadot, pairing perfectly with the meal.

The cheeses tonight include the “Queen of Cheese,” Brie de Meaux, “the most popular cheese in the world,” a salty, creamy cow’s milk cheese from Ile-de-France served uncooked and unpressed that you are supposed to hold in your mouth as it melts; Langres, a cow’s milk cheese from Champagne-Ardenne (the rind is designed to be served with Champagne put into a cross hatch on the top which is absorbed and moistens the cheese); and Selles-sur-Cher,a goat’s milk cheese from the Loire Valley, which is dusted with charcoal, to protect and seal the shape, that has a mineral flavor of rind and a briny, tangy center, served with honey.

Panache’s Captain Brian demonstrates how to slice open a Champagne bottle with a saber, to celebrate an occasion © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then, Captain Brian surprises Marc and Kathy with a ritual to celebrate their 25th anniversary – he removes a saber from a box and shows Marc how to slice open a champagne bottle. Then we toast the couple with Champagne. Marc is far more thrilled with this anniversary gesture than riding the carousel.

We overnight in Strasbourg.

Day 3 Strasbourg to Waltenheim-sur-Zorn

While still moored in Strasbourg this morning, we are taken on a scenic drive into the rolling Vosges hills on La Route des Vins d’Alsace, the oldest wine route in France.

The gorgeous Alsatian landscape on La Route des Vins © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Instead of visiting a conventional vineyard and winery, Captain Brian takes us to Domaine Lissner in the village of Wolxheim to meet a renegade, a true maverick: Bruno Schloegel is on a self-appointed mission to prove how wine can be and should be produced truly naturally, truly sustainably, to protect the environment and the planet.  

Vintner Bruno Schloegel of Domaine Lissner is proud of his “savage” vineyard where he is on a mission to return to natural cultivation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bruno’s neighbors were not happy (and thought him fou) – his vineyard, which he took over in 2001 from his Uncle Clement Lissner, is a wild tangle of vines in contrast to their manicured rows of pruned vines – but some have come around. He acknowledges his yields are not as great, but it costs him a fraction to operate because he doesn’t use any machinery, any extra energy, or any irrigation or pumps, and spends less on labor. He estimates he saves 600 man-hours of work and some E60,000.

The gorgeous Alsatian landscape on La Route des Vins © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bruno, who was a university professor and sociologist, has a deep reverence for the past and a deep concern for the future. Vines have been cultivated here since the 7th century, his family has been here since the 17th century, and this vineyard has been in his family for generations. Wine stock, he tells us, can last 800 years. “I had to imagine 2-3 generations from now,” he tells us. “I am responsible to the next generation; these vines link us from the past to the future. We have to find new ways to live in nature.”

Since taking over the vineyard, he has spent the past 22 years “rebuilding the chains of life – the birds, insects and what is under soil. It is a complex approach. I want to take you in our world, our way of thinking. Our wines are living wines- the result of animals, plants – living systems” served non-filtered. “We had to wait up to 10 years for the soil to be alive. We didn’t plant, didn’t treat, don’t put pressure on the wine stock.”

It took that long for the natural plants, animals, insects to come back and for the soil to be rejuvenated. He depends on the birds, spiders, insects, lizards to maintain the ecosystem. “If you would have to invent this machine (a lizard) to wait for fly – it would cost a lot,” he half-jokes. He stresses the importance of biodiversity, “each place another world.”    

Manicured vineyards, Bruno insists, masks poor soil. “They are not close to a living system. They are ‘slave’ to the plow. What are we doing to the planet?” In contrast, “We don’t disturb the living cycle.”

The gorgeous Alsatian landscape on La Route des Vins © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He acknowledges that this was an experiment in geological behavior, but insists, “Natural methods produce more resilient vines,” and he will be in much better shape to meet the inevitable challenges of climate change. (Researchers estimate that as much as 70 percent of the world’s wine regions will become too warm this century, including as much as 90 percent of wine’s best traditional regions in Spain, Italy, Greece and Southern California.)  

“Energy is not cheap – especially with climate change,” he says. “But even if the climate changes, our system will adapt. We have to find new ways – with this experiment, I can say it works.”

Sounding a bit like a Buddhist monk of winemaking, he says, “More is sometimes less. They cut from the human, machine point of view, not the vine’s point of view” and speaks of “happy vines” free to live their own cycle. “I listen to the wine stock. I let the birds have first growth of grape.” He shows us a plant at the head of a row that presents like a natural cup for birds to drink so they don’t come to vines.

“We regard the vines like a relationship with a living being. We used to have this relationship. It’s a good way to renew the relationship in next century.”

“A harvest is like a wedding – a high moment. We prepare the bride for wedding – we cut only what is dangerous, prune just to make it safe. He says constantly trimming the leaves, prevents the vines from reaching the end of their natural cycle. “There is a time when the leaves should stop growing, so all the energy of the plant goes to grape. But what they do is cut leaves just to make sugar.”

Bruno Schloegel of Domaine Lissner in the wine cellar where the production is completely unmechanized and natural © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From the field, he takes us next into his wine cellar. He spent four years designing it, another year to find an architect and 40 pages of plans to build a sustainable system that relied on gravity and natural temperature control without the aid of machines or external energy. “We wanted a vertical effluent process to let yeast ferment the juice. The old system had too many steps.”

Back in his tasting room, we get to sample a dozen of his wines.

The Panache guests get a private tasting of Domaine Lissner’s wines © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We drive back to the Panache where lunch is being served: a cold black tomato and cucumber soup; spinach and cheese quiche; smoked salmon, horseradish; marinated seabass; strawberry and goat cheese, and chocolate mousse. The wine includes Chateau Aspras, LesTrois Freres, the third generation family winery; a premiere Rose (2022) from Cotes de Provence, a lovely light wine so suited for lunch.

The Panache cruises past the European Parliament in Strasbourg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We pull away from our mooring in Strasbourg to continue cruising, taking us passed the impressive European Parliament building on the outskirts of Strasbourg and on through the Brumath Forest to the picturesque village of Waltenheim-sur-Zorn.

The gorgeous Alsatian countryside just outside Waltenheim-sur-Zorn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

I bike from Lock 51 to 44 (it takes just a half hour), back and forth, thrilled by the pastoral landscapes.

European Waterways’ luxury hotel barge Panache cruises into Waltenheim-sur-Zorn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Tonight’s dinner is in a charming restaurant in the village, A L’Eoile, which, though very good, cannot compare with Chef Leo’s creations – clearly we have been spoiled in just these few days. We also get a view to local life – a 70th birthday celebration is going on and the dancing line carries into the street.

Waltenheim-sur-Zorn at night © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As we have already seen, the Alsace-Lorraine is fiercely French, but the German heritage (having occupied the region multiple times) cannot be denied – in architecture, in cooking, in language.

It is as Bruno said, The Alsace-Lorraine region has a culture that is an inescapably a melding of French and German – “still in the way of thinking, drinking, growing, living together”.

European Waterways’ hotel barge, Panache, moored for the night in the charming village of Waltenheim-sur-Zorn in the Alsace-Lorraine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A few of us go for a walk in the night – the view of the boat on the canal is breathtaking.

European Waterways, 1-877-879-8808, www.europeanwaterways.com.

See also:

EUROPEAN WATERWAYS’ PANACHE HOTEL BARGE CRUISES FRANCE’S ALSACE-LORRAINE CANALS IN LUXURY

Next: 3 Musketeers Intrigue in Saverne, Lalique in Lutzelbourg

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© 2024 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

European Waterways’ Panache Hotel Barge Cruises France’s Alsace-Lorraine Canals in Luxury

European Waterways’ Panache hotel barge cruises the Marne-Rhin canal through the historic city of Saverne in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Reflecting back, it is so interesting that a trip that is so absolutely relaxing can also be filled with activity, interesting, even astonishing, attractions, scenic sights, and cuisine that is Michelin-star caliber, and how, traveling slower than 3 mph, you can see so much, experience so much in a day.

This is European Waterways’ six-night/seven-day Marne-Rhin Canal cruise through France’s Alsace & Lorraine Region, aboard its hotel barge, Panache. The boat sleeps 12 and has a crew of six, so pampering is an understatement – this is like a floating luxury boutique hotel.

European Waterways’ hotel barge, Panache cruising the Marne-Rhin Canal through France’s Alsace & Lorraine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Over the course of our cruise, we have guided tours of charming, colorful, historic cities including Strasbourg, Saverne and Sarrebourg, visit the Rene Lalique crystal museum, see Marc Chagall’s largest and grandest stained glass work, go through a boat “guillotine” and ascend a remarkable boat elevator,  have a private tasting at what can only be described as a renegade/maverick winery on the Route des Vins d’Alsace, and so many more surprises that delight.

Preparing to get back on the Panache as it rises in the lock, after biking the towpath © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The slow pace of the barge proves an advantage because I also get to bike along the towpath the entire length of the route, return to the boat, and see the scenery again from a different perspective of the elevated perch of the boat deck.

The pace is so relaxed, and to be candid, the level of luxury and pampering so great, you don’t even realize how much you have done in a– whether it’s biking the route, sightseeing and visiting villages, historic and cultural places, enjoying fine wine and cuisine, and still have time to just hang out and watch the landscape go by and enjoy the company of fellow travelers.

We do so much in a day, it is mind-boggling to realize (well after the trip), what short distances we actually travel each day (several of the excursions involve us being picked up by van where the boat docks), and where we were the day before and will be the day after. Time and distance just kind of melt.

I have cleverly arranged to arrive two days early in Strasbourg, where the Alsace-Lorraine cruise starts – this takes into account any unexpected flight or travel delays, and gives me two half days and one full day in this picturesque old city (we actually will be visiting here with the cruise on our first full day).

Captain Brian picks us up at the Regent Petit France Hotel, which sits astride the canal with the most picturesque view of the historic district, and chauffeurs us to where the hotel barge is tied up at Krafft, where we are greeted by the crew of six with Premier Cru FrereJohn Freres Champagne and hors d’oeurves, and introduces to the boat, the crew and our fellow traveling companions for the week.

The salon/dining room is absolutely stunning, with comfortable sofas and chairs, a long dining table, large picture windows that let the light and scenery in.

Panache is a hotel barge that has been fitted out in traditional yacht style with brass and mahogany fittings and polished hardwood floors in the spacious public areas and very comfortable cabin accommodation. The salon/dining room is absolutely stunning, with comfortable sofas and chairs, a long dining table, large picture windows that let the natural light and scenery in.  The separated dining area is roomy, providing a congenial setting for up to 12 to enjoy the gourmet meals and fine wines served on board at the grand table. Here we also have access to free Wifi,

Panache accommodates 12 passengers in six spacious cabins (larger than the room at the delightful Hotel Hannong I had just left in Strasbourg), that can be configured for twin or double-bed, with plush linens, plenty of lights and electric plug-ins, our own temperature control, room to store our clothes, and private bathroom (double sinks! oversized shower!). Housekeeping comes in twice a day and leaves a chocolate on the pillow at night. Truly a boutique hotel room that floats us from destination to destination in absolute luxury.

European Waterways’ hotel barge, Panache has just six spacious cabins © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Panache has a very comfortable sun deck with lounging chairs and table and chairs, from which you can enjoy the scenery, have cocktails and dine alfresco, and heated spa pool. There also is a plentiful number of bicycles which I take advantage of each day, virtually biking the entire route (and then getting back on board to enjoy it from the perch of the boat).

Each evening, Captain Brian (who is also the general manager, the cruise director, our tour guide and sometimes the pilot and just 25 years old) orients us to the boat and our cruise, especially the invitation that the crew “never lets a glass go empty, so if you don’t want a refill of wine, put your hand over it” (and they are only half kidding, as we discover). Each evening, he orients us to what we will do the next day – whether to visit a museum or a guided walking tour – and each day is distinguished by a special highlight.

European Waterways’ hotel barge, Panache cruising the Marne-Rhin Canal through France’s Alsace & Lorraine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You expect picturesque scenery and to visit fascinating cultural attractions but what is totally unexpected is the astonishing quality of the cuisine that we are treated to by Chef Leo – a young chef who, we learn, was a contestant on France’s “Top Chef”. Over the course of our six days of cruising, we experience Michelin-star quality dining, as Chef Leo enjoys experimenting. As he jokes, each cruise brings him more “guinea pigs”.

Chef Leo’s tuna tartare © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

His cooking is really distinctive – it is not any particular cuisine, necessarily. He has a vibrant taste palate, likes a lot of flavor without overwhelming the actual flavor of the main item, and most important, is never too rich. He is really imaginative, creative, and the presentations are stunning. There are three courses for lunch and dinner, so each individual course is not too much, but not too little, either, with a different red and white wine accompanying each, and three different cheeses to finish.

Lunch and dinner finish with three cheeses to sample © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Each meal is an event, an experience. Chef Leo comes out to explain each course, and Emily (from England) or Martyna (from Poland) introduce the wines – where produced, the vintage, the pedigree – and the cheeses (which have fascinating stories). By the end of the cruise, including the tasting at a most distinctive (progressive) winery that Captain Brian has found, we must have tasted more than 36 wines and 36 cheeses from throughout France – each perfectly paired for what is being served to bring out the best flavors.

Panache’s crew: Chef Leo, Captain Brian, pilot Bernard, Emily, Martyna and mate Akosh. The European Waterways canal cruises feature a 1:2 crew to guest ratio © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

They do their best to school us in the complicated classifications of French wines. We learn about Grand Cru and Premier Cru, which refer to official designations of vineyards and villages in a specific French region where the grapes are grown. Also “terroir” which describes the complete natural environment (ecosystem) in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, geography and topography, rootstock  and climate that impart the characteristic taste and flavor to the wine. We learn to recognize the region a wine comes from by the bottle – Alsace wines are served in a long, thin bottle, and that France has official appellations that wines and cheeses can use – so Champagne must be from Champagne, Bordeaux from Bordeaux.  I may not have become a wine expert, but all the wines we enjoy are of superior quality and significantly, are paired so perfectly with the food.

Each European Waterways cruise features a private wine tasting. We visit Lissner Winery to learn about pioneering sustainable practices © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

When we arrive back from an afternoon tour, we are welcomed aboard with some sort of cocktail –one day it is Mimosa, another it is French 75 (an elderberry gin spritzer).

We are small enough group that our wishes are usually accommodated – Hylton, who comes from Australia, expresses a desire for steak and Sue, his wife, wishes for passionfruit crème brulee – and don’t you know, we have both for lunch – with Leo doing a cooking demonstration in the morning as we cruise to show how he creates the crème brulee. It is a first for him creating crème brulee with passionfruit and he takes it as a sort of challenge. We watch him create it, with his precise weighing and measuring, and, later, just before serving, firing it up with a torch.

Chef Leo, assisted by Captain Brian gives us a cooking demonstration of his passionfruit creme brulee as we cruise on the Panache © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In fact, the one evening we dine in a pleasant village restaurant, the meal, although very good, does not compare with Chef Leo’s creations. Clearly, we have been spoiled in just these few days.

Captain Brian gives us the safety talk – noting that some of the bridges we go under are so low, we will have to sit down and the bridge has to be taken down; the canals are so narrow, with barely an inch on either side, we need to keep hands inside the boat. And don’t block the navigator’s view of the crossbars at the front of the boat. There are life jackets, an emergency red call button in our cabins (don’t use it to call for a sandwich, it will wake everyone). And another thing, Captain Brian insists: never say the name of the animal with the bushy tail and big ears and eats carrots on a boat – it’s bad luck.

Head down, hands in the boat. Cruising the Marne-Rhin Canal through France’s Alsace & Lorraine requires skill – with only inches to spare to get through the locks and bridges © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For such a small contingent, we bring an interesting variety as well as commonality. One couple is from Australia where they have an 8000-hectare farm (8 km across); another couple is from Australia as well, where he was a wine salesman and since retiring, teaches water aerobics (I have to mention he is 95 and has the body of a fit man half his age); another couple is from Minnesota who also have a farm; another couple comes from Georgia where he is a lawyer and she was a county commissioner. (All of us happen to be senior citizens but young couples, families and solo travelers would enjoy the cruise, and it is possible to charter.)

This first evening, Chef Leo’s talents become apparent: a carrot and orange salad to start with a kind of pesto sauce that surprises with flavor; roasted seabass with leek and champagne sauce, and dessert of peach tart. This evening the wines include Famille Hugel, an Alsace Pinot Blanc, 2019, and an Alsace red, Boitt Geyl Pinot Noir, 2017 (producing wines since 1775!), that pair superbly with the flavors.

The meal finishes with three cheeses: Camembert, “King of Cheeses,” from Normandy, with a golden color and buttery texture and a strong aroma (“We serve it on the first night to get it out of the refrigerator”); Morbier, a cow cheese from Franche-Comte, which traces back to the 1800s and, legend has it, a method of disguising the size of the cheese within charcoal in order to avoid paying tax; and Selles-sur-Cher, a goat cheese from the Loire Valley which, we learn is a cheese deprived of light and oxygen for 38 weeks, and is served in an edible rind.

Notably, Chef Leo doesn’t necessarily pre-arrange his menus in advance because he purchases his items fresh, bursting with flavor.

European Waterways’ hotel barge, Panache, in Strasbourg, where we can just step off the boat to explore the city © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hotel barging offers an immersive and all-inclusive “gentle voyage of discovery” of the culture, history, fine wine, and gourmet cuisine of the destinations. You cruise right into villages, step off the boat, and can wander into neighborhoods and countrysides, where people live.

European Waterways, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding by Derek Banks and John Wood-Dow this year, was one of the early pioneers of hotel barging on France’s canals. They helped ignite a new niche the travel industry and cruising that proved instrumental in the revitalization of Europe’s intricate network of scenic canals and inland waterways as tourism destinations. Like our Erie Canal of New York State, these canals were no longer being used for commercial shipping; tourism and recreational boating has revitalized them, and the villages along the route.
 

European Waterways’ hotel barge, Panache, moored for the night in the charming village of Waltenheim-sur-Zorn in the Alsace-Lorraine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This fascinating network of smaller canals allows for flexibility, spontaneity and ample opportunity to hop off and explore the beautiful surroundings by bicycle or on foot. The itineraries are built around daily, chauffeured excursions “off the beaten path” to wine tastings and visits to stately homes, historic and cultural treasures.

Panache cruises in Holland in the spring when the flowers are in full bloom, and in Champagne in May & June (Champagne itineraries typically include Brie cheese tastings, a tour of the Cathedral at Reims, Epernay and tastings at renowned champagne houses). In summer and autumn, Panache cruises the Alsace & Lorraine.

European Waterways launched its first Christmas Markets Cruises aboard Panache in 2023 in the Alsace & Lorraine region of France. This 6-night/7-day luxury barge cruise visits the Christmas Markets of Strasbourg, Colmar, and Haugenau,  a chocolate museum, a glass bauble factory which is said to be the home of the traditional tree decoration (For more information, visit https://www.europeanwaterways.com/themed/christmas-market-cruises/)

With a fleet of 18 (with the recent launch of its ultra deluxe vessel, Kir Royale), that span nine countries, European Waterways is one of the largest luxury hotel barging companies in Europe.

European Waterways, 1-877-879-8808, www.europeanwaterways.com.

Next: The Panache Visits Strasbourg

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