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ManVanNoPlan Visits Selestat, Obernai & Strasbourg

ManVanNoPlan Visits Selestat, Obernai & Strasbourg

Week 4 of the 2022 Autumn Road Trip Monday 24th of October.
Day 22 – Ribeauville to Obernai (48.459718, 7.485230) via Sélestat (48.253695, 7.448252)
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We’ve read about the heavy rain back home over the past few days with up to a month’s worth falling in a day in some places, well the rain caught up with us here last night with accompanying loud thunder and intense lightning strikes. That said, by the time we were ready to leave it was another lovely morning.

Where yesterday, we chatted to our British neighbours and slightly overstayed our parking ticket, here we had to set the alarm this morning as we must be off before 10.30 am as we have to enter a code to get through the exit barrier, and even if we are a minute overdue, we would be charged for another full 24 hours. The next place we planned to stay at was less than twenty minute drive away, so we set off, and before too long, noticed that the countryside was given over more to crops than vines. The drive was easy enough on good roads, so it wasn’t too long before we were pulling into one of the biggest Lidl’s we’ve seen in France in the outskirts of Sélestat.

After a ‘big shop’ we headed for the Aire in Sélestat and noticed that there wasn’t another van in it but that there were five motorhomes in a nearby car park, so we joined them, thinking it would be more secure to be with other motorhomes than on our own in the official Aire.

After lunch, we had a walk into Sélestat to find it like a ghost town with very few people walking about and most of the shops shut. There were a fair few ancient buildings, but it didn’t have the feel of the medieval towns and villages we’ve visited since arriving in Alsace.

The two imposing churches in the centre were both being renovated on the outside but the insides were pretty impressive as you would expect.


It was also noticeable that Sélestat was not a ‘wine town’ as it didn’t have vineyards surrounding it and no producers offering tastings or selling their wares. You might by now be getting the impression that we were disappointed with Sélestat, and you’d be right, so we made the decision to move on to the next town on our list to see, Obernai. Another factor in this decision was that The Navigator thought the people in the other motorhomes where we were parked looked to be living in them full time and seemed a bit “shifty” to quote her!

“Obernai is a picture postcard pretty town with lots of delightful medieval houses lining the narrow streets and small open plazas, all set within the original ramparts of the town, as well as many notable buildings and historic monuments. Most of the highlights are in, or close to, the central square”.

We arrived in the large open car park to find about twenty other motorhomes already there, but there is probably room for over fifty vans. Parking is free, but there are no facilities at all. The moral of the story being to service your van when leaving an Aire as you never know if there are facilities at the next stopover. We had a cuppa then headed off into the town through the ancient walled fortifications. The ramparts of Obernai run right around the town. In total they are 1,400m long with 20 towers and 4 tower gates, and there is a pleasant tree-lined walk which runs all the way round the outside of the medieval wall.

The market place is a lovely square in the heart of the town. The belfry and town hall are at one end and the corn exchange at the other, and between the two there are lots of lovely half-timber houses. Many of the houses are painted in the resplendent colours typical of Alsace. Each house is a different colour, has different patterns of beams and different shutter colours. It is one of the best and most ‘traditional’ of the lovely Alsace towns and we decided to stay two nights to spend a full day exploring it tomorrow.

I finished off our week two blog and set it to upload onto the website and after dinner we were treated to another thunder and lightning show with accompanying heavy rain.

Tuesday 25th of October
Day 22 – Obernai

We are fortunate that the rain falls during the night and so we can wake to another beautiful day in another beautiful location! We arrived in Obernai yesterday and had a walk around to get our bearings but today we would do it justice and explore it in detail.

Before aiming for the town centre we headed for the nearby railway station to check it out as tomorrow we are getting a train to yet another very famous location. We were due to take Bessie there tomorrow but it’s another city with a clean air zone and it’s not clear that the Aire nearest the centre of the city is in the zone or not. Anyway, The Navigator loves to go exploring in a bus, train or tram, and this will be the first train journey of this trip.

Once the railway station was sussed out, we headed into the main square and it was apparent right away that the town had come to life as all the shops were now fully open following yesterday’s holiday. We knew that yesterday was not a French national holiday and I think that these tourist towns take Monday as a day off after opening all weekend to cater for the weekend visitors.

We picked up a few brochures from the tourist information office and headed for a climb up to the viewpoint which overlooks, not only Obernai, but the surrounding countryside for as far as the eye can see.

On the way we went inside the impressive Church of Saints Peter and Paul or (French accent required) Église Saints-Peter-et-Paul. I don’t think we’ve been in a church or cathedral on this trip that hasn’t had the wow factor one way or another, and this one was breath taking in it’s scale.

From the church we carried on towards the Memorial at the top of the hill which was erected in 1956 by the town of Obernai in memory of the 272 victims, dead or missing from the canton during the Second World War. The viewpoint offers a superb panorama over the town of Obernai and a view of Mont Sainte-Odile and the castle on its summit.

It was a warm day which made the steep climb more challenging for two unfit pensioners, but the view from the top made the effort worthwhile. We could have taken the tractor train from outside the tourist information office, but we needed the exercise, and the €15 saved would go towards a rewarding lunch later!

After taking in the view we headed onwards to take the circular route back down to the town and in the process got a glimpse of the modern day reason why Obernai is so prosperous, the massive Kronenberg brewery, the largest brewery in France. It seems odd that a town that is surrounded by vineyards making delicious crisp white wines is probably better known for its lager!

The road takes a circular route down the hill but we found a small lane that went straight downhill and we opted for that. We did see the sign that indicated that the slope was 30% but went for it anyway. It took us quite an effort not to start running, it was that steep, but halfway down an old lady was at the roadside getting her mail from her letterbox and that gave us the excuse to stop and exchange bonjours. The Navigator asked in her best schoolgirl French if snow was a problem in the winter and the lady answered it was. Unless she had a car, I’m not sure she could have managed to get up and down to the town on foot, it was that steep.

Can you spot The Navigator?

It was lunchtime by now and we celebrated our hill walking achievement by having a typical light lunch of Croque Monsuir and Onion Quiche washed down with a bottle of Kronenburg. After that we wandered about the town before heading back to Bessie to rest up as tomorrow will be another full day of walking and sightseeing, but hopefully without a steep hill to climb!

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Wednesday 26th of October
Day 23 – Strasbourg

We were up fairly sharpish as the train we were aiming for was the 9.46 am from Oberdai to Strasbourg, the largest city in the Alsace region. The first train from Obernai is 5.00 am but this being France, the ticket office did not open until 9.30 am which meant 9.35 am before the attendant actually opened the door.

There was one man in front of us in the queue and it appeared he was buying a season ticket as his transaction took for ever with a prolonged debate with the attendant. We only had a few minutes to get our tickets and get to the furthest away track via an underpass so when I was charged €28 instead of the expected €12 there was no time to argue about it. The fare is €7 per person each way, hence the €28, but when I checked the times online last night the fare was shown at a discounted rate of €3, but as we could hear the train approaching I had to accept it and leg it to the other platform.

The train was modern and comfortable and it deposited us at Strasbourg Gare just over half an hour later. The station is a massive structure as you might expect from such an important city but what makes it so impressive is the modern glass addition to the front of the building.

We were only going to be in Strasbourg for one day so we had to be selective in what we had time to see. There were two main areas we wanted to explore in the city, the area around the cathedral, and an area known as ‘Petit France’. The walk to the cathedral takes about fifteen minutes from the station and the impressive spire can be seen from a distance. On the way there the first part of the street is full of busy restaurants and cafes serving breakfast and we succumbed to a McDonald’s offer of two breakfast buns and two hot drinks for €5.

As we were heading for the cathedral we came across a fairly disappointing market, made worse by the fact that it had started to rain. I say disappointing, which may be an overstatement, but in France you expect to have mostly local food products on sale at a market, with the chance to try something new or different, but this market had no food stalls at all, although it’s saving grace was the location in a beautiful square.

Thankfully the rain didn’t last too long and our brollies weren’t required for the rest of the day. The street we were on began to get busier and what could be described as more touristy, with the upmarket shops giving way to souvenir shops and restaurants. And then, all of a sudden, you turn a corner and WOW, the cathedral is there, and the scale of it takes a few seconds to comprehend.

The single spire height is 142 metres (466 ft) and the outer dome height is 58 metres (190 ft). It is incredibly impressive and the closeness of the surrounding buildings makes it impossible to stand back far enough to get a decent picture of it.

“The Strasbourg Cathedral was originally erected in 1015, but was later destroyed by a fire. By the time reconstruction began in the twelfth century, the Gothic architectural style had begun to develop and can be seen throughout much of the church. The building was not completed until 1439.

Since its creation, it has become a significant cultural and religious monument to the people of Strasbourg. Due to its importance to the city’s inhabitants, it has often been a target during times of upheaval and unrest.

Over the course of its life, it has endured many scars and acts of violence but has always remained standing. It suffered damages in the three wars that raged around it. In 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, it had its choir stalls and the roof of its nave set aflame. It saw all but one of its bells removed during WWI and, during WWII, Hitler ordered its priceless stained-glass windows be dismantled and squirreled away. Luckily, American soldiers discovered the glass in a German salt mine in 1945 and returned them to their rightful home.

This cathedral is filled with breath-taking art. Two of the most intriguing aspects are the world-famous astronomical clock, ingeniously put together by a team of experts, artists and mathematicians, and a green ray of light that, due to a built-in meridian, marks the autumn and spring equinoxes when the sun shines through the green stained-glass windows.

Whether you’re captivated by the history that surrounds the Strasbourg Cathedral or the beauty that lies within, one thing is certain – this enthralling French landmark is not one to be missed”.

But miss it we did as we did not have enough time to do it justice. The area around the cathedral has some very impressive medieval buildings and as it was now lunchtime, the area was busy with locals and tourists alike. We walked past a small bric-a-brac market and I became transfixed by the guy in the red jacket, his mate and their wives who were very interested in buying this large picture, but were trying to act cool by walking away, coming back, discussing it and examining it a bit more, walking away, coming back and this went on for ages. The stall owner must have called the owner of the picture who arrived and serious negotiations began. I had to move on, so have no idea if a deal was done, but it was a great painting with a lot of intricate detail which my picture does not capture.

The Canal du Faux-Rempart was just a few yards further on than this market and large tourist boats were setting off for trips around the city.

We had a good and remarkably cheap lunch at a restaurant called ‘Black & White’ and carried on towards ‘Little France’. The streets got narrower and busier as by this time the grey overcast skies of the morning had given way to clear blue skies and people were sitting out having lunch and drinks in the sunshine.

The city tourist guide describes Little France better than I could so…
“The Ill River is everywhere in the Petite France, which is why this district is sometimes compared to a little Venice. The district is spread across an amazing river delta, formed by the five arms of the river. Seen from the sky, they look uncannily like the fingers of a hand trying to grab the whole city. Both peaceful and impetuous, the River Ill irrigates the whole district with its charm. Take a leisurely stroll along its quays and admire the reflection of the colourful facades of the old houses.

The charming Place Benjamin Zix Square is where you can sit back and simply appreciate the beauty of the place. In the shade of the plane trees on this square, which is very lively in summertime, you’ll get wonderful views of the river and of an exceptional set of half-timbered houses. The Maison des Tanneurs (House of Tanners), generously laden with geraniums from spring to autumn, is the crown jewel of the site.

From Place Benjamin Zix Square, you can reach Rue du Bain-aux-Plantes, which features a set of remarkably homogeneous half-timbered houses. They are so mesmerizing that you won’t be able to look away. In this former tanners’ street, each house is absolutely white, highlighting differing shapes and sizes of half- timbering and an additional roof, largely open, which was designed for drying animal skins. The street, with its old-fashioned paving stones, takes you on a journey into the past”.

The hype given to this area by the tourist guide is justified and it’s a lovely historic part of the city. We walked about this area and then found some wooden steps to sit and admire the view in front of us.

By now it was mid-afternoon and our feet were beginning to ache so we meandered through some very pretty streets back towards the station. This is day twenty three and we’ve been out and about most days and have covered anything between 5,000 steps, if it’s a village, and up to at least 15,000 steps in a city. Nothing too extreme you might think, but most of these steps were on uneven medieval cobblestones and it’s this that was now taking it’s toll on our feet!

We arrived back at Bessie thoroughly knackered and after a bite to eat we were resting in bed before 7pm! We watched some YouTube videos then caught up with Only Connect and The Navigator beat me 4 – 2, her first victory of this series. The missing vowel round is her speciality and my Achilles heel!

I watched the Barcelona v Bayern Munich game and The Navigator watched TV on her tablet then read until lights out as we are moving on tomorrow.

Thursday 27th of October
Day 24 – Obernai to Heidelberg (49.391417, 8.671281)

Today we leave France for Germany and the pretty city of Heidelberg, about two hours to the north of here. We’ve been three days in Obernai and loved it and would recommend this as a stopover if you are touring Alsace or passing through on your way south, maybe to Switzerland.

This has been our first visit to Alsace and we’ve loved every minute. Alsace is a perfect blend of German old world charm and French chic and style. The medieval architecture is so well preserved and the countryside is a well tended combination of vineyards and forests which at this time of year have been blanketed in autumnal colours.

Our highlights have been Eguisheim, Kaysersberg, Colmar, Obernai and Strasbourg, in fact just about everywhere we’ve visited! There are more scenic delights to be visited in this region and we’d love to come back and explore more.

After breakfast, and returning Bessie to travelling mode, we were about to set off when we noticed that market stalls had been set up on the nearby ramparts at the edge of the car park we were on, so we decided to go and have a quick look. Of all the markets we have seen so far on this trip, this one was by far the best as it had a really good mix of (mostly) food vendors, with some non-food stalls as well.

From this yesterday…

To this today…

It was a misty, damp, autumnal morning but with the promise to get better once the sun rose and burned off the mist. The journey began after negotiating our way out of the packed car park and the first port of call was to a nearby Lidl to top up on some favourite French produce, including some (hopefully) top wines to be enjoyed with the family on Christmas Day.

From Lidl we seemed to do a few laps of Obernai due to another ‘route barre,’ but we escaped in the end to head north towards Strasbourg. As we approached the city, we saw overhead signs announcing we were on a clear air route which was a bit of a surprise as I thought we were by passing the city not going through it.

In reality, it’s a bit of both as the dual carriageway is a bypass but it does go very close to the city centre, probably within walking distance of the cathedral, who’s spire can be clearly seen over the rooftops. I think we dodged a bullet (and fine) as the category 5 restriction does not come into effect until the 1st of January.

We were then diverted off the motorway by Google Maps, with my approval, as there was a toll section ahead and I’d rather take the scenic route than pay tolls! It didn’t add much time to the journey as we were now on a good stretch of dual carriageway and it was odd to see all the place names signposted off our road were all German, although we were still in France, obviously due to the fact this region passed backwards and forwards between Germany and France down the centuries.

Once in Germany, we passed signs for Baden-Baden and I recounted a story to The Navigator she had never heard before. Back in the day, and after Dad’s Army had run it’s course, Arthur Lowe starred in a Galton & Simpson Playhouse episode on TV playing a bumptious Englishman (typecasting?) on holiday in the Swiss Alps with his wife. They get on a large cable-car and get talking to a German man and an exchange they had has lived with me to this day.

Arthur Lowe asks the German man where he’s from in Germany and the reply is “Baden-Baden” and when asked where he’s from in England, Arthur Lowe not to be outdone, replies, “Twickenham-Twickenham”. It made me laugh forty years ago and it makes me laugh now having seen it again. The episode is on YouTube if you want to check it out.

The Stellplatz in Heidelberg was found easily enough and we had lunch before servicing the van. I sat outside in the 23° heat and The Navigator did a bit of washing (a woman’s work eh?) before joining me to enjoy the rest of this lovely day.

Tomorrow we would head into Heidelberg city centre to explore what is claimed to be the prettiest town in all of Germany. (SPOILER ALERT – it is!

I will end this blog post here as the next one will have loads of pictures and Heidelberg deserves to be featured at the top of a blog post, not tucked away down the bottom of this page…  

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We will be exploring the beautiful city of Heidelberg and the old Roman city of Trier, before driving up the Moselle Valley. 

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PS – The Fyne Editions website has had a makeover and tons of new titles have been added in the past few weeks so check it out HERE and find lots of inexpensive stocking fillers for Christmas…

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