One of the best things about meandering in the motorhome with only the vaguest of directions in mind, is the discoveries you make along the way. It’s in this mindset that we cross paths with the Alsace Wine Route which winds through the foothills of the Vosges mountain range covering 170 kilometres across five distinct areas. The Route boasts over 15,600 hectares under vine across 4,200 wine growers, of whom 890 sell direct to the public. Sounds like thirsty work to me! It’s extraordinarily pretty, with the vines nestled into every available bit of land as far as the eye can see.
By happy coincidence, one of our Les Plus Beaux Villages, Hunawihr, is also on this route (as was Eguisheim, last year).
It’s included in the list as a typical of the region, with a few additional, very special features.
It has an extraordinary tradition, started in 1687 of “simultaneum” – Catholics and Protestants sharing the same church with services held at different times. Indeed the notice board is divided, a space for each group.
We lap the village, climbing up to the church which also boasts wonderful views over the valley and 15th century frescoes.
It’s peaceful on high, so lushly green. It makes you wonder why we ever built cities in the first place.
Hunawihr is also an important centre for the reintroduction of three key species to the region, each of whom were brought to the edge of disappearing for ever. But first things first… lunch!
Now we had good intentions. Buy a baugette, load it with yummy things purchased from the market and eat in. One small problem though, Hunawhir is one of those rare places – a French village without a bakery. So much for best intentions – it takes no time to convince Himself we’re probably best off going out for lunch. 😉.
It’s a good one too – my favourite goats cheese salad make its first appearance,
whilst Himself has the plat du jour, pork medallions in a mustard sauce with mushrooms, frites and green salad.
Both very good choices from an exceedingly busy family run restaurant. It would have been rude not to have dessert – a very fine apricot tart to share.
We should run out of boulangeries more often. Wink, wink….
Lunch finished and tummies happily full, we stop for a wine degustation to top up the cellar. It seems no matter how much wine we stock, it just keeps running out. Don’t ask me how… it’s like magic.
Then, for me, the absolute highlight of the day is our visit to the NaturOparC to find out more about the stork, otter and hamster reintroduction programs. I jest, of course. Otties!!! Baby storks!!! Cute little hamsters!!! As if I was going to miss them.
It’s just as good as I’d hoped. We see a handler with a series of nests, each set of babies at different stage of growth, hand feeding them and explaining the work they do. Once fed, the little chickies curl up into a deep sleep.
Luckily, we have a brochure in English. Once down to only 3 nesting pairs, the program has built up to 850 nesting pairs since the late 1970s. It’s an extraordinary achievement – they remove the birds’ migratory instinct by housing them over a three year period prior to release.
The hamsters are a bit more challenging to see – they’re just cute balls of fluff, asleep in their burrows. Not the pet version of a hamster you’d expect, but a type of marmot native to the region. They’re bred from a group of around 100 and released into a series of sponsored fields to support the wild population. Agricultural practices are their biggest challenge.
But the stars of the show for me, are the otters, part of an experimental release back into the wild. It’s a slow process that’s showing signs of success – some of you might remember my unbridled joy on seeing a wild otter in the Loire a while ago. Himself claims still that he’s never seen me move so fast, running after my new best friend, down river. We learn it’s considered a “quality certification” if otters adapt a waterway, as they’ll only do so in healthy environments.
Our two are natural show offs, playing up to the crowds in the underwater windows. I’m otterly beside myself with joy. I do love them so.
We also see racoons, fish, lots of water birds, coypus and there’s even a petting zoo…with little creatures and bunnies! Bliss!
Hunawihr also boasts an exotic butterfly garden which is meant to be quite lovely, but it’s too late in the day to visit.
We settle instead at the foot of the ancient church. You couldn’t ask for a better spot for the night.