Art and Wine in a Glorious Setting
The serpentine ribbon of road that comprises Alsace’s celebrated Route du Vin is studded with picturesque towns featuring glorious food and sites, many worth overnight stops. The attractive town of Colmar is home to the popular Musee d’Unterlinden (Under the Linden Trees), housed in a 13th-century convent.
The jewel in its remarkable collection is an immense altar screen with folding wing pieces. Considered one of the most exciting works in the history of German art, the Issenheim Altarpiece was created in 1512-16 by Wurzburg-born Matthias Griinewald, “the most furious of realists.” Grtinewald’s carved altarpiece was believed to have had miraculous powers to cure ergotism, a widespread disease of the Middle Ages
Entire books have been written about this masterwork, majestically displayed in the convent’s Gothic chapel, and the museums assemblage of religious art. Colmar itself is rich in medieval and Renaissance architecture and is the birthplace of Auge Bartholdi, designer of the Statue of Liberty.
The Route du Vin begins (or ends) south of Colmar and runs along the lush vineyard covered slopes of the Vosges foothills. The road zigzags and moseys along a string of postcard-perfect walled medieval towns of half- timbered houses with quirky roofs and balconies, overflowing with geraniums. Convivial winstubs (the Alsatian equivalent of pubs) serve wine from hundreds of local vineyards.
Alsace’s fine, fresh wines include Riesling, Sylvaner, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, and Tokay-Pinot Gris. Rich farmland and orchards attest to Alsace’s reputation as “the pantry and larder of Europe,” and the ambrosial pâte de foie gras—one of man’s nobler creations and reason enough for the trip from Paris—is said to have originated here. Of the Wine Road’s 100 or so gabled wine villages, Riquewihr and Kaysersberg share the prize for sheer quaintness, and fortified Turckheim is said to be the best-preserved town in France.
To single out just one great inn is impossible, though a longtime favorite with Wine Road gastronomes and locals is the Auberge de l’Ill, in an idyllic riverside setting. Another star is the Château d’Isenbourg, where the hotel’s stellar Alsatian wine collection, stored in a vaulted 12th-century cave, complements a regional cuisine just as exceptional.