Tuesday, July 3, 2007
The weather had really caved in and we were confronted with miserable rain and dark skies. Dr. Chef and I did an early morning croissant run to Ribeauvillé but things looked grey and wet. We returned to the gite and over breakfast discussed the options. We decided to ride back up the Col de Haut du Ribeauvillé in the opposite direction to yesterday’s ride and then turn towards Aubure and the Col de Fréland. From there, weather permitting, we could do several cols while still remaining within a reasonable distance of Hunawihr.
The ride back up through Ribeauvillé went quite well and we found the intersection to head towards Aubure with no difficulty but as we approached the Col de Fréland (831 m) the rain began to fall quite intensely, as did the temperature. We had a fast, cold descent towards the village of Fréland where it began to really pour. A quick decision was made to shorten the ride and we headed towards the spa town of Kaysersberg before turning onto a bikepath which enabled us to avoid the heavy traffic of the N415 and continue along a peaceful river. Kaysersberg, the birthplace of Albert Schweizer, was very charming, although we had a very bumpy ride over the cobbled streets, navigating around all the tourists.
We soon hooked up with the D10 and the D1B, which were flat and fast and soon we were into full-bore time trial mode. There were three of us at the front, hammering back to Hunawihr, but when I looked around it Dr. Chef had vanished. It turned out that his FSA crank had fallen off, and Chill went back for him with his car.
That afternoon we were back in Ribeauvillé, doing yet more shopping, and taking Dr. Chef’s bicycle in to the local bike shop so that his original Campagnolo crank could be installed. The shopowner, who had repaired one of Chill’s bikes already, looked a bit grumpy but agreed to do the work. The shop was a typical small-town bike shop, featuring lawn mowers and toys in addition to bicycles.
The day had not gone as well as hoped. We had only ridden 48 km, with 711 m of gain, but my computer had decided it did not like the rain very much and had packed things in. But things could be worse: we were in Alsace and there was dinner soon!
Dr. Chef checking out the schnapps
But before dinner we cruised around the corner and visited an artisanal distillery. These exist at many farms in the region and this particular one was operated by the Windholtz family, père et fils. First we visited the barn, where two pot stills are used. The fruits used for the spirits are a wide range: berries, plums, pears, apples. There are different methods of making the drinks, some using fruit only and some with a mixture of fruit and alcohol, and only certain products can be named “eau-de-vie.”
Trying the fruits of the land
We walked back to the tasting room and the senior Windholtz then began to pour out the samples, of which there must have been ten or twelve different types. They produce different grades as well and, at 45 percent alcohol, we soon became experts. Several of us bought some bottles to take home, and Steve Z. was looking forward to a dinner in Paris he was going to as the restauranteur there buys spirits from the Windholtzes.
Steve Z. tucks into the local speciality
Time to eat! This time we went into the village of Hunawihr and enjoyed a typical Alsatian meal in a cave, un underground wine cellar. The restaurant was very folksy and several of our group enjoyed the famous speciality, choucroute garni, sauerkraut with sausages. Although Alsace was not the most vegetarian-friendly of places I have been, I never had an issue finding something good to eat.
Wednesday, July 5, 2007
This was the day that Dr. Chef and I decided to just hang around while the others went out for a ride. We drove over to the town immediately to the south, Riquewihr, and discovered yet another intensely charming Alsatian town where you could sample wine at every street corner. We wandered around and when the rain came down yet again we went off to a wine cellar to try the wares, enjoying a Riesling so much better than my supermarket effort I was embarrassed.
Dr. Chef checking out the macaroons
After the rain stopped, we walked along the main street and looked into the shops. In addition to wine, you could buy a lot of pastry, and Dr. Chef was quite taken with the wares of the Macaroon Girl. Of course, we were obligated to purchase a selection of macaroons, including lemon and pistachio.
Returning to the gite, we were met be a wet and miserable crew. The others had gone back to the Val d’Argent and ridden a new col, but then the weather turned wretched and they got pretty soaked all the way back.
For the afternoon’s entertainment, we drove back to Mulhouse and visited the remarkable Schlumpf Collection. Hans and Fritz Schlumpf (yes, really) were textile barons and over the years they amassed a private collection of antique cars, basically milking their textile business to pay for it. In 1977 they fled to Switzerland, leaving behind a lot of unpaid workers and taxes owing. When some of the workers seized one of the factory buildings, they discovered that instead of it containing textile machinery, it housed, in its 200,000 square feet, one of the world’s largest car collections, numbering around 600 cars. The Schlumpf Collection is now the French national automobile museum. The Schlumpfs were pretty keen on old cars generally, but their Bugatti collection, consisting of around 124 examples, is astonishing. It includes two of the original Type 41 “Royale” models and a third, a reconstruction. These must rank as the most extravagant cars ever.