Tag Archives: cruising France

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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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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© 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