Last Thursday, 09 June, was a great day. Jerome, a friend from church who is also a corporate pilot working out of Geneva, invited me to accompany him on a day-trip to Alsace.
From Geneva, the 330km-long road to Colmar in Alsace is pretty straight and runs parallel with the sloping vineyards that flank Lake Léman. After 170 km the Bernese Oberland, which has to rank amongst some of the world’s most stunning mountain scenery, is visible in the far distance over to the right. Make sure you open your window when you pass the NESPRESSO factory just before Berne (coming from the south) for some delightful aromas, which should also wake you up. As you're on a Swiss road, you just need the vignette costing CHF 40 a year, which entitles you to use all of the Swiss motorway network. So no expensive toll roads, which you encounter from here on the road to the Ardèche via Lyon.
'Bah the Ardèche! Best thing to do is drive through it!' Jerome remarked as we sat back and marvelled at the beauty of God’s creation whilst listening to a lifetime's collection of Genesis and Peter Gabriel CDs.
I can only agree and as Jerome is a Frenchman he must be in a position to judge!
Last September, we drove to the Ardèche for a two-night stay. When we arrived at the hotel at about 2.30 pm on the Sunday, everything was mysteriously locked up! Mein host, who later strutted around the restaurant with the mischievous half-grin of Basil Fawlty, arrived at 5.45 pm after his Sunday lunch and siesta. Too bad for the unfortunate French chap who'd been walking all day and had left his belongings in the hotel after breakfast as he subsequently missed his connection to Paris.
As in Fawlty Towers, the wines on offer were appalling - yet we were a stone's throw from Tain l'Hermitage where the excellent Crozes Hermitage is grown!! – and the food was decidedly canteen/ school dinners.
Personally, I don't think you can compare the Ardèche with Alsace, where you'll always find a warm welcome.
After arriving in Bergheim at noon, we had lunch at Chez Norbert, http://www.cheznorbert.com/ where the service and food were excellent and I’ve never seen such a varied collection of 150 cl bottles of eau-de-vie – there must have been sixty! Three courses for two with wine, beers and coffees came to just €69 so top quality at bargain basement prices, which just about sums up Alsace!
Not wanting to imbibe too much before a visiting a favourite vintner, Koeberlé-Kreyer in nearby Rodern, http://koeberle.kreyer.free.fr/, we declined the lemon sorbet accompanied by a glass of marc de Gewurtztraminer for arrosage purposes and opted for the non-alcoholic rhubarb and raspberry sorbet. Alas, these arrived with two small glasses of 45 % kircsh. Well, when in Alsace do like the ........
But Alsace isn't really French or German, though some Alsacians may claim to be French. It has the best of both countries, which is perhaps why it is so unique. When I first visited le val de Villé,
http://www.ot-valdeville.fr/, for a two-week holiday in July 1982 I never wanted to leave.
Certainly returning to work in London on the smelly, overcrowded 7.47 from Ascot after this trip wasn't easy. So, thanks Dad – it was your idea that we went to Alsace in the first place.
Now, almost 30 years later I'm hooked on Alsace. It just has everything: great people, superb wines, flavoursome beers - producing half of France's beer, and fairytale scenery. The climate in Colmar is the second hottest in France, after Bordeaux. Any one of its picturesque Medieval villages with half-timbered houses nestling amidst a sea of vines would be a great place in which to retire.
Hence the necessity of regular visits!